Football – Bloody Hell!, by Patrick Barclay

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The Independent Culture

Do we really need another biography of Sir Alex Ferguson? A search on Amazon returns 997 works by, with or about the Manchester United manager. So it is a tribute to Patrick Barclay that for his clear-eyed contribution to the Fergie listings the answer is unequivocally in the affirmative.

It is strong on Ferguson's early years as a player and manager in Scotland, indicating that the complexities and contradictions of his character were formed well before he rose to prominence.

The Fergie temper is well-known – his disciplinary record as a player was appalling – but Barclay, who used to help him pen his newspaper columns, highlights many examples of loyalty and kindness: innumerable phone calls, financial help and hospital visits to those fallen on hard times, the willingness to attend funerals whenever and wherever requested.

Yet the minus column also includes stubbornness, quickness to bear a grudge and a willingness to airbrush from history some of those, such as Brian Kidd, his former assistant at United, who had helped him on his way to the top.

But Barclay does credit him with more subtlety as a man-manager than he is often given, instancing his turning of a blind eye to Eric Cantona's eccentricities since he intuited the hairdryer treatment would be counterproductive. (This awareness might have contributed to the resolution of the Rooney saga.)

The title is taken from Ferguson's remark after United's astonishing extra-time victory in the 1999 Champions' League final, but despite his impressive tally of trophies Barclay's final judgement is that unlike Brian Clough or Jose Mourinho at intervals in their careers Ferguson is no genius.

Perhaps no man is a hero to his ghost-writer.

Published in hardback by Yellow Jersey, £18.99