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Sir Alex Ferguson - The Imperfect Role Model; Getting Off The Hook?

Editor's Pick 31 Dec 2012, 12:38 IST
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Manchester United v Newcastle United - Premier League

Alex Ferguson – setting a dangerous precedent?

More often than not, people who are considered true heroes and icons across the world for their impact on scores of people of different walks of life, have always had a concealed, mysterious flip-side to their lives. A side that the aware do their utmost to conceal, a side that the aware would prefer the general public were ignorant to, for their own good.

Take Mahatma Gandhi. Given the spectacular title of the “Father of the Nation” for his influence on the independence struggle in India, not many people are aware of a number of eccentricities from his personal life, some of which were explored by Jad Adams in her book “Gandhi: Naked Ambition”. While many have argued that this provides just one opinion or approach to Gandhi’s life, what is history but a recollection of incidents influenced by the author’s opinion or approach?

Applying this to the world of professional football, one would be hard-pressed to find someone who could make a cohesive argument that went along the lines of Sir Alex Ferguson not being a true hero in English football. If not for taking Manchester United from being just another successful club to being the biggest in England and possibly the world, then simply for his achievements at the highest level. 12 Premier League titles, 5 FA Cups, 2 UEFA Champions League victories – he’s won it all, and at 71, shows no signs of slowing down, 26 years since he took over at Old Trafford from Ron Atkinson.

But it would be silly to say that his hands are absolutely clean and he is the quintessential football manager, the perfect idol for budding learners, as many people believe and wholeheartedly surmise. His flip-side may not be as concealed as other heroes in other walks of life, but it is just as real. And this (intermittent) ugly manifestation reared its head briefly during United’s home fixture against Newcastle United last week, as Ferguson delayed kickoff following half-time by bizarrely walking on the pitch, and yelled himself hoarse at Mike Dean (and his assistants) before finally heading back to the dug-out.

Make no mistake – managers should have every right to make themselves and their opinions heard, especially in the case of a contentious decision, as it were in the case of Jonny Evans’ own goal. But as the proverb goes – there is a time and place for everything.  And if his actions on the pitch were not uncalled for, his post-match comments, where he attacked Alan Pardew and subsequently referred to Newcastle United as “a wee club in the North East”, most definitely were.

The crux of the issue involving Ferguson’s behaviour, however, is the lack of proper reprehension on the part of the FA. Not only did Mike Dean not file a complaint of any sort regarding the conduct of the gaffer during the game, but the body language of Dean along with his counterparts during Ferguson’s outburst said all there was that had to be said. To put it simply – referees, officials and the media alike, are all terrified. They are afraid of a man who at the end of the day, is just another manager.

Alan Wiley was openly criticised by SAF

Alan Wiley was openly criticised by SAF

This is obviously not based on one isolated incident. Take the case of Martin Atkinson. He has been heavily criticized in the past by Ferguson – to the point where Ferguson once said that he “feared the worst” when he saw that Atkinson had been appointed to a fixture between Manchester United and Chelsea. Take the case of Sky Sports News being banned from covering press conferences because they broadcast footage of a contentious incident several times. Take the case of Alan Wiley, another referee heavily criticized by Ferguson as “not fit in enough”, who eventually (according to some) “agreed” to retire less than a year after Ferguson’s scathing attack. Take the similar case of Keith Hackett – another referee who conspicuously retired a year after being on the receiving end of criticism on the part of Ferguson.

These incidents amongst others have all contributed to the conclusion that his approach to both the media and the referees alike might not be the most ethical or righteous, especially for someone who is as influential as he is in this, as the Telegraph’s Henry Winter put it, “wonderful, maddening game he has done so much for”. Mike Dean’s actions (or lack thereof) have possibly set a dangerous precedent, giving the impression that managers have the power to confront officials as and when they please without facing any appropriate consequences in terms of reprehension.

Ferguson might be regarded as one of the greatest managers there will ever be, but it would be daft to assume that he is the perfect football manager, or the perfect role model for that job coveted by so many across the world. Like any other hero, he has his imperfections; but in his case, the sheer power and influence that comes with being the man behind the most successful club in England seems to imply that he can get away with murder – and that is an incredible risky benchmark to set.

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