So as I’m sure some of you have realised, Alex Ferguson brought out a book the other day. Unsurprisingly, it’s sold rather well. Even less surprisingly, it’s upset quite a few people. The last few days have seen column inches filled with revelations from the book and retaliatory interviews with people slighted by the man. In short, the media seem to be having a jolly old good time reveling in the controversy caused by the Scotsman and the vitriol that is being thrown back in his direction.
One of the things that is certainly worth remarking upon in the aftermath of Fergie’s book release is that the press are far more keen to denigrate the Scot than they were when he was still Manchester United manager. It’s almost as if a gagging order has been lifted, and in a very real sense, it has.
Ferguson frequently used to ban journalists from his Old Trafford press conferences, and whilst he was still numero uno at Old Trafford, members of the press didn’t dare ask him anything too controversial (or even write anything too contentious) for fear that they wouldn’t be allowed back. Now that he no longer has that power, they seem to have taken the opportunity to ask and write what they want.
‘So what’, you might say, ‘it’s their prerogative’. And indeed it is. But am I the only one for whom all of this negative press and mocking attention leaves a rather sour taste in the mouth? The way the press are behaving reminds me of a teenager who has just turned 18, and is finally outside parental control, defiantly telling his or her mother to ‘screw your grounding, I can do whatever I like’.
Both the teenager and the press are well within their rights to do so, but to me it just smacks of the destruction of a legacy. The right time to criticise Ferguson was whilst he was still a football manager, when the criticism for his (no doubt) many faults was valid. Now it just seems like the press are lining up to put the boot in over crimes committed in the past and without giving Ferguson a real chance at retaliation.
My detractors might point towards the fact that Ferguson has various unsavoury things to say about former employees and colleagues in the book and therefore has done nothing more than shape a rod for his own back, and that may well be true. However, has Ferguson really said anything in his latest book that people are surprised by? Has he even said anything that is a real revelation? He doesn’t like Victoria Beckham and felt that David had to leave for the good of Manchester United. Old news. He had to get rid of Roy Keane. Old news. He fell out with Ruud van Nistlerooy. Old news. You get the point. There is nothing really of note in Ferguson’s autobiography that has not already been previously documented, and therefore my point is: if Ferguson is deserving of criticism now, why was he not criticised before, when these issues first came to light?
The short answer is that the press were scared of him, and scared of the power that he could invoke. Now that fear is no longer there, reporters and journalists up and down the land are lining up to put the boot in. Given that these were the same reporters fawning over the great man following his decision to retire only five months ago, you can no doubt appreciate the irony.
What is additionally ironic about this piece is that I have no real affection for Ferguson. From what I know of him I find the man to be arrogant, petty and dislikeable and for the last 20 years I have loathed the smugness he and his side have exuded. Nevertheless, I just feel that for the criticism of a no doubt great manager to suddenly come in the wake of a relatively innocuous biography and smacks of the media trying to sell a story and have a laugh at an old man’s expense. Why flatter someone in May and then systematically take them to pieces in the wake of old information? Ferguson may not be a likeable man, but there’s no doubt that the Scot is a legend of the game, and what he has done for English and European football should be enough that we refrain from disparaging the man now that he is no longer a fixture on our screens.