Manchester United: Sir Alex Fergusson

Sir Fergie’s Top Twenty Rifts, Rows And Ructions: Part One

Posted 08/11/06 09:13

There’s been the occasional angry word or two since Sir Alex Ferguson arrived at Old Trafford on November 6, 1986…

Sir Fergie v Player Power
Ferguson’s reputation as a disciplinarian is as justified as it is infamous. One of the first players to suffer the Hairdryer treatment was Aberdeen winger John Hewitt. The offence? Overtaking Ferguson on a public road.

Upon arriving at Old Trafford, Fergie introduced himself to his new charges by announcing: “I don’t care who you are, or what reputations you have – I’m the new manager of this club and I’m in charg.”

He was to prove as good as his word. ‘Shocked’ at the heavy drinking culture he uncovered within the first-team squad, Ferguson embarked on a complete overhaul of the playing personnel, regardless of their reputation. Of the 11 players who started Ferguson’s first match, only Clayton Blackmore was still at Old Trafford beyond the summer of 1990. Seven were offloaded within 24 months of his arrival.

The list of high-profile casualties included Gordon Strachan, Norman Whiteside and Paul McGrath. In many respects, the overhaul set the tone for a 20-year reign which, even after the introduction of the Bosman ruling and the Sky/Premiership millions, has been the vanguard in the struggle against the rise of player power.

Sir Fergie v The FA
As a paranoid anti-establishment socialist with a persecution complex, it is hardly surprising that Sir Alex Ferguson has endured a few run-ins with the English game’s governing body.

“There is no chance of this happening if it wasn’t United,” is a familiar growled lament whenever a discplinary charge arrives at Old Trafford with a Soho Square postmark.

Nor has Ferguson ever attempted to disguise his belief that FA have a running vendetta against ManYoo.

Earlier this year he announced, “There is a scenario for every club in the country and another one for us – you know the FA and Manchester United.” Although that particular tirade referred specifically to the bannings of Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney following their Amsterdam Tournament dismissals, he may as well have been providing his commentary for any number of punishments meted out over the previous 20 years.

Prospects of a ceasefire are bleak. Ferguson and current FA chief executive Brian Barwick have a turbulent relationship stretching back to the days when the Liverpool-supporting Barwick worked at the BBC. Already convinced that the corporation had an anti-ManYoo agenda, Ferguson accused him of bias when the club failed to land the BBC Sports Personality of the Year team award in 1996.

Such is the extent of Ferguson’s paranoia that he even blamed Barwick for the number of former Liverpool players populating the Match of the Day studio.

Sir Fergie v Jim Leighton
One of Fergie’s least-acknowledged attributes is his ruthlessness. The decision to axe Paul Ince was partially motivated by a mistake by the midfielder that directly resulted in Everton’s winning goal in the 1995 FA Cup final. He never played for the club again.

Five years previously, Ferguson had stunned the football fraternity by dropping Jim Leighton for the FA Cup final replay against Crystal Palace after the keeper had endured a nightmare in the 3-3 draw. “I knew it would be controversial but I knew I was right,” explained Ferguson. No matter that the decision effectively brought Leighton’s club career to a juddering halt: “There was only one question to be asked – would Manchester United have a better chance of winning the Cup with or without Jim Leighton?”

A 1-0 win vindicated Ferguson’s decision, but the omission of the Scottish number one in favour of the relatively unknown Les Sealey still dominated the next day’s back pages. Leighton couldn’t forgive his manager for the snub -“Jim was selfish,” responded a testy Fergie – and his wife greeted the ManYoo manager at the post-final banquet with a two-fingered salute.

Yet the controversy served as a salient lesson to the ManYoo players that complacency – and the potential for failure – would not be tolerated. Ferguson’s impassive ruthlessness also left many of his peers in awe. “The decision showed how brave a manager he is,” commented Steve Coppell, manager of Palace in 1990. “Changing a player, to whom he had shown great allegiance, showed that cold, cutting edge which all top managers need.”

Sir Fergie v The Media
Sir Fergie regards the press with the same level of suspicion that a Scot holds for happiness.

In recent years, the ManYoo manager has boycotted the BBC, Sky and even the club’s in-house station, MUTV, over perceived criticisms.

Last December, Ferguson announced that “the media have a hatred of Manchester United” before marching out of a press conference precisely 74 seconds after it had begun. Nor is his criticism restricted to their treatment of ManYoo. A month ago, he announced: “The problem in this country is that the media have a perverse way of looking at success. They want to ruin young people. It’s different in America. Time and time again you’ll see tickertape parades down Fifth Avenue. We don’t praise our heroes that proper way here. They’re always looking for faults so they can sell a newspaper, get a front page.”

Ferguson has never hidden his contempt for the Fourth Estate. Even hapless hacks have been known to suffer the infamous Hairdryer. The threat of a boycott is constant – and often inflicted.

Arguably his most infamous confrontation with the press occurred in the spring of 2002 when it was suggested that the £28m purchase of Juan Veron hadn’t been entirely successful. “I’m no f**king talking to youse. Youse are all f**king idiots,” thundered a purple-coloured Ferguson before summoning club security to escort the offending journalists off the premises.

Sir Fergie v Brian Kidd
In view of the level of success they shared at ManYoo, the relationship between Sir Fergie and Brian Kidd, his assistant manager for ten years, was surprisingly fractious.

Ferguson’s autobiography records a series of niggling disputes, culminating in an enraged Fergie aghast at news that Kidd had, unknown to him, advised the club’s board against signing Dwight Yorke and recommended John Hartson instead. “Hartson? Are you serious? Do you think of John Hartson as a Manchester United player?” was the printable gist of Ferguson’s understandably incredulous reaction.

The impression fostered by Fergie’s good book is of a peculiarly remote relationship. “I saw Kidd as a complex person, often quite insecure,” wrote Ferguson.

When Kidd left Old Trafford in December 1998 to take charge of Blackburn it was the timing rather than the departure itself that dismayed and irritated Fergie.

In April 1999, the pair clashed in public – as opposing managers with ManYoo travelling to Blackburn for a game that the home side had to win to ward off relegation.

Ferguson’s put-down was withering in its contemptuous indifference. Feigning ignorance, he claimed that he had failed to console Kidd on Rovers’ relegation following the goalless draw because he hadn’t realised the terminal significance of the result. Yes, and the Pope doesn’t know where the Vatican is situated.

Sir Fergie v Paul Ince
Of all of the many, many changes Sir Fergie has made to ManYoo’s playing personnel over the past 20 years only the decision to pursue Ralph Milne rather than John Barnes can be definitively stated to be more contentious than the sale of Paul Ince.

After a trophyless season, the summer of 1995 was a momentous period for ManYoo, witnessing the departure of Ince, Mark Hughes and Andrei Kanchelskis and the birth of Fergie’s Fledglings. The public were incredulous. Alan Hansen’s double-negative observation in August that “you don’t win nothing with kids” stuck in the public’s mind because it chimed with what many had already concluded.

Doubts even spread as far as the Old Trafford board. Yet Ferguson was adamant: Ince had grown into a ‘Big time Charlie’ and too big for his boots. “I felt Paul was no longer playing to the discipline I demanded,” he explained. “If footballers think they are above the manager’s control, there is only one word to say to them – goodbye.”

Eight months after bidding the self-titled ‘Guvnor’ farewell, Ferguson celebrated the capture of his second double. As for Ince, he failed to win another club honour after leaving Old Trafford.

Sir Fergie v The Grey Shirts
As the official ManYoo website soberly notes: ‘Third kits are usually all blue but the club has also used all black and on one occasion in the mid ’90s used all grey.’

Such bland commentary barely hints at that extraordinary one and only appearance however.

It occurred in April 1996 when ManYoo travelled to Southampton. Trailing 3-0 at half-time in the grey shirts, Ferguson ordered his team to change strips. With what remains one of the most famous excuses for a defeat ever provided by a football manager, a livid Ferguson complained that, as the shirt had been designed to be worn with jeans rather than by a football team, his players were camouflaged on the pitch by blending into the fans in the background.

The shirt was immediately withdrawn two years ahead of schedule. Perversely, it was a favourite of the fans and reportedly one of the club’s best-selling shirts of all time. ManYoo fans must be fond of jeans.

Sir Fergie v Kevin Keegan
The precursor to football’s most famous televised breakdown was, Sir Alex continues to maintain, entirely innocent.

“The widespread assumption that remarks I made after our home match with Leeds United on 17 April 1996 were designed to upset Kevin Keegan, the manager of Newcastle United, was quite wrong,” Fergie wrote in his autobiography.

And even with the benefit of knowing the incendiary effect they had in the vulnerable mind of Keegan, Fergie’s post-match remarks appear to fall short of ‘cunning mind games’. The suggestion that Leeds wouldn’t be in the wrong half of the Premiership table if they had replicated the determination they showed against ManYoo throughout the season could hardly be quibbled with. Nor was Fergie’s “hope” they repeated that same determination against Newcastle 12 days later unreasonable.

But, whether by design or otherwise, the comments were the spark that saw Keegan’s inner turmoil, already building a momentum of its own as his side spurned a 12-point lead, dramatically explode after the Toon’s 1-0 win at Newcastle.

“A lot of things have been said over the last few days, some of it almost slanderous. I’ll tell you now, I would love it if we beat them. Love it!” a hysterical, finger-jabbing Keegan wailed to a stunned audience of millions live on Sky Sports.

Keegan claimed that he had lost respect for Ferguson. The rest of the footballing fraternity concluded that he had lost the plot and Fergie, who collected the title a week later, was depicted as a modern-day machiavellian mind games genius.

Sir Fergie v Manchester Police
Upstanding citizen of the community that he is, Sir Fergie isn’t accustomed to falling foul of the law. However, a black stain was cast against his name when he was arrested for driving along the hard shoulder of the M42. Yet, as his lawyer revealed, he had a very good reason: The avoidance of a very ugly brown stain.

Ferguson, a Manchester court was informed, was suffering “from severe diarrhoea”. Given the uncomfortable circumstances as he queued in traffic, two options presented themselves: “One is unthinkable and one is to take evasive action.”

Ferguson was subsequently acquitted.

Sir Fergie v Liverpool
Ferguson hates losing. And so his hatred for Liverpool after they spent the first five years of his Old Trafford premiership winning trophy after trophy is considerable.

Fours years ago, in an unusually reflective interview with The Guardian, he announced: “My greatest challenge is not what’s happening at the moment, my greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their f**king perch. And you can print that.”

Such is the bile-stained antipathy towards all things scouse stemming from the manager’s offfice at Manchester United that many suspect that a persuasive factor in his u-turn over retirement in February 2002 was Liverpool’s victory at Old Trafford a month earlier. In all competitions, it was Pool’s fifth successive victory over ManYoo.

For Ferguson to depart in such circumstances was inconceivable.




~ by badkow on November 9, 2006.

2 Responses to “Manchester United: Sir Alex Fergusson”

  1. Great site — extremely thorough. You have helped me to understand what goes on at Man United.

    Would you be interested in publishing some of your articles?

    All the best,

  2. sir alex you are the second father i have on earth
    you are simply great. i need you to know whom i am please respond tom e
    one united one love forever.

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