“I’m glad to say that the simple act of reading is a marvellous release from the hassles of life. If I were to take a guest into my library, they would see books on presidents, prime ministers, Nelson Mandela, Rockfeller, the art of oratory…
“Then there will be all volumes on Kennedy. Then I have my despots section,” Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United’s record-breaking ex-manager writes in his ‘My Autobiography’ (ghost written by Telegraph’s Paul Hayward), leaving a fleeting mention about relating to Vince Lombardi’s (Green Bay Packers coach) incessant obsession for winning.
‘Pride Still Mattered’, Lombardi’s biography by David Maraniss, makes its way, as the only sports book, to his bookshelves.
Perhaps to this United manager despotic control mattered a little more than the joys of victory. As early as the second chapter, Ferguson reveals his dictatorial nature. “In October 1974, in the next stage of my apprenticeship, I went to work at St. Mirren. First day, a photograph in the Paisley Express. In the print I noticed the captain making a gesture behind my back. The following Monday I called him in and said: ‘You’ve got a free transfer if you want it. There’s no place for you here. You’ll not be playing,” he writes.
From thereon, this fascination for control becomes a recurrent theme of his book. Be it his treatment of Frank McGarvey at St. Mirren or his savage assault on one-time confidant and enforcer, Roy Keane or his take on David Beckham. “The minute a Manchester United player thought he was bigger than the manager, he had to go. David thought he was bigger than Alex Ferguson. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Alex Ferguson or Pete the Plumber. The name of the manager is irrelevant. That was the death knell for him.”
Ferguson, though, is not frugal (contrary to the popular perception about Scots) in his praise for the England star. “From the moment he first laid boot on ball, David Beckham displayed an unbearable urge to make the best of himself and his talent. He went out at Paris St-Germain much as I did at United: on his own terms,” he writes, blaming the “celebrity aspect of his (Beckham’s) life” as the factor behind his failure to become “an absolute top-dog player.”Spat with BBC
But to the disappointment of many, Ferguson refuses to throw any light on the swinging-boot episode between the duo. The master tactician surely reveals his cards selectively, sparing only a few words to describe his sparring with the Irish Coolmore Stud firm about the breeding fees of Rock of Gibraltar, a charger that almost brought his empire down. His take on his seven-year long spat with the BBC, when he refused to give them post-match interviews, is also brushed aside dismissively: “They were wrong, I was right and they should have apologised.” Ferguson was miffed with BBC for a Panorama programme in 2004, that investigated the business activities of one of his sons, Jason, then a football agent.
About the debt-driven takeover of Manchester United by the American Glazer family in May, 2005, Ferguson devotes only a few pages, absolving himself: “The takeover was not down to me in any way. The Glazers were supportive from day one. They let me get on with the job.” His unabashed admiration for a few of his players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Eric Cantona, the Neville brothers and assistants like Mike Phelan and Carlos Quiroez, gives us the best few chapters of the book, providing us a rare insight into their minds and also their working relationship with Ferguson.
Overall the book’s narrative is hardnosed, often moralising, bringing out the cockiness and righteousness of the Scot. It definitely lacks coherence and often comes across as random musings, hastily put together, perhaps to be on time for release right after the end of Ferguson’s extraordinary career. It fails to become a detailed post-match study and leaves the reader yearning for a more thorough account from arguably the most powerful man in world football over the past decade.
With 45 factual errors already unearthed, the book surely is a flawed endeavour, and Ferguson, the connoisseur of fine wine and fine literature, will agree with us if we refuse to find a place for it in our much-smaller bookshelves, no matter how entertaining the first read is.