It’s here, the great publishing event of the sporting year, the memoirs of the finest manager in the history of English football; Alex Ferguson, My Autobiography. Note the absence from the title page of his “Sir”. For the period covered by this, his second career opus, Ferguson has been Sir Alex, knighted in 1999. Perhaps in deference to his Govan shipyard roots and his leftist, trades-union sympathies, he chose to present his working life as the stuff of a common man. But in football terms he is anything but.
As expected there are some explosive passages dealing with the signature players in the latter half of his reign as manager of Manchester United, as well his rivals in the dugout. Ex-Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez is labelled a “silly man”, who his own players could not understand. The noisy neighbour at Manchester City, Roberto Mancini, “let himself down” in a stand-off with one of his star players, Carlos Tevez.
But it is two of United’s iconic figures to whom Ferguson takes the big stick. Roy Keane, the great United and Republic of Ireland midfielder, is dismissed as a malevolent, pernicious presence in the dressing room who simply had to go after a scatter-gun attack on his team-mates during an interview he gave on the club’s TV channel. “It was unbelievable. He slaughtered everyone. Darren Fletcher got it. Alan Smith got it. [Edwin] Van der Sar. Roy was taking them all down.”
After the interview was screened privately to the squad at Keane’s request, a row erupted between Keane and senior players as well as with Ferguson’s assistant Carlos Queiroz. Blending drama and humour like no other, Ferguson writes: “His eyes started to narrow, almost to wee black beads. It was frightening to watch, and I'm from Glasgow.”
David Beckham was another who had to be sacrificed once it became clear to Ferguson that celebrity had warped the golden boy of English football beyond repair. Ferguson dedicates 11 pages to Beckham. “The big problem for me ... he fell in love with Victoria and that changed everything.” And in a damning passage he added: “He lost the chance to become an absolute top-dog player…His [Beckham’s] eye was off the ball. A shame because he could still have been at Manchester United when I left. He would have been one of the greatest Man United legends.”
Their relationship finally soured during a half-time contretemps in 2003. United were on their way to losing to Arsenal, and Ferguson blamed Beckham for one of the two goals conceded, kicked a boot at the most photographed face in world sport. No player was bigger than the manager or the club, was the message.
Then there’s Wayne Rooney. In 2010 he accused United of lacking ambition and rebuked Ferguson for not attempting to sign the German star Mezut Ozil, who went to Real Madrid instead (and now plays for Arsenal). Ferguson reckons Rooney was speaking from a script prepared for him, presumably by his agent.
Cristiano Ronaldo comes out top of Fergie’s list of greats, the best player he managed, he says. Liverpool and England captain Steven Gerrard gets classified as a sub-Paul Scholes, despite Ferguson making tentative inquiries about his availability in 2005.
Oh, and we learn that Ferguson twice turned down the chance to manage England, first following Glenn Hoddle’s departure, and then after Kevin Keegan’s exit. “There was no way I could contemplate that. It wasn't a bed of nails I was ever tempted to lie on.” Most of this stuff is known. Little is revelatory. It is the drilling down into the detail that will appeal, the stripping bare of the most prolific period of plunder in English football. Fergie, bloody hell!