In his final Old Trafford farewell as manager, Sir Alex not only showcased his humility but also the emotional intelligence that powered his title-winning record writes Scott Jenkins…
Sir Alex Ferguson bid farewell to his reign as manager of Manchester United in the most befitting style possible; as a champion. He also reminded us of how football can be guilty of forgetting the very nature of the people involved in the beautiful game. Behind every player or manager is a man with their own story and views on life.
There can be little disputing that Ferguson is the finest manager the game has ever seen. He has won a record haul of 38 trophies during his time as United manager including 13 Premier League titles, 5 FA Cups, 4 League Cups, 10 Charity/Community Shields, 2 Champions Leagues, 1 Cup Winners Cup, 1 Super Cup, 1 Intercontinental Cup and 1 World Club Cup. And last Tuesday he announced that his position as the longest serving domestic coach at the biggest club in England was coming to an end with his impending retirement next weekend.
Amongst the many things that Sir Alex is famed for beyond aforementioned success include: his infamous half-time hair-dryer treatment, 26 years’ service at United, persistently chewing gum, wearing coats and of course, “Fergie time”. Yet one of the most underrated qualities he shows is his sincerity when it comes to the value of life and hard work, instilled in him from his working class background growing up in Govan, Glasgow. His appreciation of the intrinsic balance between these two vital qualities allowed him to get the best out of the temperamental Eric Cantona, gave strength to David Beckham following his dismissal at the France 1998 World Cup and the national vilification that followed, and defused the Ronaldo-Rooney issue post World Cup 2006.
Minutes after lifting the Premier League trophy himself, these human qualities were on full display once more in an interview with Sky Sports:
Interviewer: When did you actually decide, ‘actually I’m going to go (retire)’?
Sir Alex: Last Christmas.
Interviewer: As long ago as that? What were the facts that made you decide that?
Sir Alex: Yeah, yeah,yeah. Well basically, things changed when Cathy’s (his wife) sister died. She’s isolated a lot now and I think a lot that I owe her my own time. 47 years she’s been the leader of the family, looked after our 3 sons, and sacrificed for me, now she’s got lots of grandchildren, they all adore her and I think she’s lost her best friend, her sister Bridget.
As followers of football, fans and media alike fall into the same trap. On the pitch, the player or team we see become characters. They are praised or denigrated and always demanded of at all times with any action they make on or off the field. What is always forgotten however is the story of the man behind the football related portrayal we have made our judgment on. In essence, they play a real life part but are treated and viewed as actors or artists.
For the past 20 years Fergie, the performer, has been built to be an all-conquering man that should be feared. A battle-hardened general that demands no mercy from his men on his quest to knock Liverpool off their perch domestically and internationally. The demigod that intimidates the biggest of playing stars and that referees aim to please.
Today Sir Alex Ferguson, the person, reminded us that he was also a loving 71 year old husband of Cathy, a father to three sons and a proud grandfather to 11. The life of professional players and managers at an elite Premier League team while competing in Europe impacts significantly on the amount of time that they can spend at home with their family. Taking part in nearly 70 games for successful seasons both home and away results in extensive travelling which means missing out on precious time with loved ones in their private lives. For all the money and glory, the lifestyle is incredibly demanding too. Meanwhile in the post-game speech, his affectionate comments for Paul Scholes on his retirement and for Darren Fletcher’s recovery from ill health reminded us that he also took an adopted paternal role with many players too. This contrasts the image of that mythical creature and further cements the view that he is a man that has achieved all he could have ever wanted from the game, in the style that he dreamt of, and is happy to head into retirement with his status intact and with lost time to make up with his beloved family.
With his name written history as the greatest manager ever it is clear that Fergie will forever be immortal to the world of football. Sir Alex Ferguson has shown however that he is mortal after all and that there is life beyond football.
Thank you Sir Alex.