Book review: Ferguson fails to deliver
Dealing with massive expectations was always a key component of Sir Alex Ferguson’s managerial career. It was something that he was used to delivering and yet the expectations of the follow up to his 1999 autobiography ‘Managing My Life’ were always going to be set too high. Ferguson and ghostwriter Paul Hayward were still expected to a deliver a tome worthy of the man. Unfortunately, they have combined to formulate a book that is lacking in structure, content and full of factual inaccuracies.
The format that one would expect of an autobiography would surely be chronological. It can hardly be the most complex system to write a series of events in the order that they happened, perhaps even season by season, thereby giving a sense of flow and continuation to the events. What we are given instead is a book that doesn’t read as an autobiography at all, merely a series of Ferguson monologues on various events and people. We begin in 2001, but instead of focussing on seasons and the various events of them, we are ‘treated’ to chapters on David Beckham, Rio Ferdinand, Ronaldo, Roy Keane, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Wayne Rooney, as well as other chapters devoted to Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, Liverpool FC, FC Barcelona and Manchester City. Whereas the legendary Hugh McIlvanney was able to structure Ferguson’s words expertly in 1999, Hayward has presented the work in a disjointed way that makes the flow of the book very awkward to read.
There is a feeling that certain episodes are glossed over or ignored completely. which gives me the sense that we are not getting the full picture. One such example is when discussing the Rio Ferdinand missed drugs test, Ferguson writes “Rio Ferdinand was not a drug taker. We would have known. It shows in their eyes.” The obvious question would be in whose eyes has Sir Alex looked to see a drug taker? Again more questions that go unanswered. Some events are covered in the briefest of ways. Much has been said about the coverage given to Ferguson’s feud with the Coolmore Mafia, which ultimately lead to the arrival of the hated Glazers, although his comment regarding Roy Keane – “I could never understand his obsession with the Rock of Gibraltar affair”, perhaps speaks volumes.
One area of detail that is sadly lacking relates to missed transfer targets. The ‘Ronaldinho Affair’ of 2003 is covered in one brief paragraph – “had he not said yes, then no to our offer”. No mention is made of the involvement of Peter Kenyon in the disastrous negotiations that saw United lose the Brazilian when he was seemingly in the bag. Additionally, there is no reference to Arjen Robben (who was shown around Carrington before signing for Chelsea)and Michael Essien (who was once on trial) amongst others who were missed out on at various times such as Aaron Ramsey, Didier Drogba, Wesley Sneijder, Eden Hazard etc. What made Ferguson’s previous books fascinating was his analysis of potential targets – such as reviewing the various attributes of Stan Collymore, Andy Cole, Teddy Sheringham and Les Ferdinand in his diary of the ’94/95 season. This is sadly lacking on this occasion and the coverage of the failure to sign Ronaldinho is a sad indictment of the little detail given to this particularly interesting subject.
But at least it gets mentioned. Some events and players have been ignored completely. For many, one of the most defining moments in recent United history was Federico Macheda’s last minute goal against Aston Villa, which tipped the title balance in United’s direction following competition from Liverpool. Neither Macheda nor the goal are mentioned at all in the book. Young players who didn’t make the grade, but who would have had undoubtedly interesting stories are also ignored – Giuseppe Rossi, Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison are all omitted from the book. Even when honestly discussing his transfer mistakes between 2003 and 2006, while David Bellion, Kleberson and Djemba-Djemba are rightly acknowledged, the worst of the lot, Liam Miller is left out. Unless, like the rest of the United support, Fergie has tried to erase him from memory.
It is not to say that it is a book without insight. Ferguson describes the tactical threat that Barcelona posed in detail, although his contention that the hotel the players stayed in contributed most to the 2009 defeat will surely rank alongside his “grey shirts at The Dell” in the list of bad excuses. The description of Anderson when being scouted by Martin Ferguson as “Better than Rooney” will certainly raise eyebrows, and also call into question why he was played as a defensive midfielder if he was scouted as an attacking playmaker. Patrice Evra giving Fergie stick for giving William Prunier a two game trial is a highlight of the many anecdotes that are told and these are anecdotes that provide the reader with some insight to what goes on away from the spotlight of the media.