Sir Alex Ferguson – Taking The Gloss Off Greatness

Published by Rob Howgate on October 6th, 2009


Choosing the best footballers of all time? That’s relatively straight forward. You simply take your pick of Pele or Maradona and work your way through a mouth watering list that could include the likes of Cruyff, Puskas, Best and Zidane.

To choose the best managers of all time is a lot more difficult though. After all we’re not just comparing different eras and different nations with different leagues but we’re also pitting club managers against those that are renown for their work on the international stage. Additionally do we opt for the great one-club men or those who proved they could succeed all around Europe ? Do you give extra marks for the game’s great stylists? And do we necessarily take into the account the quality of the opposition and competition? It’s not an easy task..

Having said that Sir Alex Ferguson would sit at the top of most football pundits lists. After knocking the Old Firm off their perch during his time with Aberdeen, he has gone on to build a modern-day dynasty at Manchester United to match Liverpool’s before him and he’s done so with teams of flair, adventure and guile and with players that have lit up the modern game such as Cantona, Giggs and Ronaldo…

Just look at his record….

After domestic and European success in Scotland, Sir Alex has become the most successful domestic manager in the history of English football, having guided the red side of Manchester to eleven league championships and two Champions League titles as well as being the only manager to win the FA Cup five times. He is also the only manager ever to win three successive league championships in the top flight in England with the same club (1998-99, 1999-2000 and 2000-01), repeating the feat again in 2006-07, 2007-08 and 2008-09.

Given this, Fergie, famed for his half time “hair dryer” treatment, his will to win, and is refusal to let any one player be bigger than the club ( exit Beckham, Stam, Van Horse etc.) is, without a doubt, a footballing great. Of course he is.

But is that enough?

Maybe, but a great manager doesn’t necessarily make a great man, and Sir Alex’s outbursts that shoot from his hip like an AK47 are really starting to taint his managerial gloss. He’s outspoken yes, cantankerous definitely but surely a great man should exude class in the face of friends and foes alike?

Ferguson does sometimes of course, his moving tribute to Sir Bobby Robson at the recent service of thanksgiving was exceptional, but he doesn’t a lot more. And so on Saturday when he launched an astonishing attack on referee Alan Wiley, he really let himself down because, like a blind, modern day King Lear, he stubbornly refused to accept any other reality than the one he chose to create.

And thus after a pitiful first half performance against an okay Sunderland side who probably couldn’t believe their luck, and after scraping a very typical late, late goal to secure a point in a 2-2 draw – who did Sir Alex vent his frustrations at? An under performing team? A error prone goalkeeper? No, an allegedly unfit Alan Wiley, who was not only blowing out his backside apparently before Sir Alex started talking out of his, but his ability to clock watch was also questioned too.

Fergie fumed:

“I’m disappointed with the referee. The pace of the game demanded a referee who was fit. He was not fit.” adding “He didn’t add on any time for the goal [United's equalizer in injury time]. He played four minutes and two seconds. He was also walking up the pitch for the second goal needing a rest. It was ridiculous”

The 49-year-old Wiley was of course the fourth official in the recent Manchester derby when United beat City with a controversial 96th-minute goal, after four minutes of stoppage time had been signaled much to the frustration of Mark Hughes.

It’s a funny old game. What goes round comes around and Sir Alex should know a lot better.

He will of course leave a legacy of unrivaled success when he finally hangs up his managerial boots, his record is extraordinary, but unless he chooses his words and his outbursts more carefully this record and great manager will also be tarnished by the image of a tiresome and ordinary man…. And he probably deserves just a little bit more…

Post script: The Football Association has written to Manchester United to ask Sir Alex to explain the comments he made about referee Alan Wiley. He could face a lengthy touchline ban.


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