Football: Ferguson offered to resign twice

LAST SUMMER, just weeks before Manchester United embarked on their treble-winning season, Alex Ferguson twice offered to resign as the club's manager.

Ferguson, now Sir Alex, was responding to a suggestion from Martin Edwards, the football club chairman, that he had lost his focus on the club since becoming a celebrity and being involved in racing horses.

His offers came during a crisis meeting in London which he had interrupted a family holiday in France to attend. They followed weeks of turmoil behind the scenes at Old Trafford with Ferguson suspecting that he had lost the backing of both Edwards and Brian Kidd, then his assistant. The revelation, which emerged as Ferguson yesterday launched his autobiography, Managing My Life, partially explains the reason for his criticism in it of Kidd, now manager of Blackburn. Speaking at Old Trafford yesterday, Ferguson admitted that he had felt "lonely and vulnerable last summer" and tried to "present the facts as they happened".

The seeds of Ferguson's discontent began in January last year when he began renegotiating his new contract. Having been given a positive initial response, he found the club stalling as United were overhauled in the Premiership by an Arsenal side which also won the FA Cup. The subject was still unresolved when Ferguson left for the south of France to combine a family holiday with media work at the World Cup.

Ferguson had left behind a shopping list of players including Dwight Yorke. Towards the end of the World Cup he rang Edwards to ask him how the transfer was progressing. Edwards replied: "We are not sure if he is the right man?" Pressed on the "we" by Ferguson, he said "one or two of the directors and Brian Kidd." "Brian Kidd?" snapped Ferguson. "Who's the bloody manager?"

As the conversation developed Edwards told Ferguson that Kidd had been "moaning" about aspects of his management and was considering moving to Everton. After an hour on the phone talking to Edwards, then Kidd, then Edwards again, Ferguson accepted the chairman's request to attend a meeting in London with him and Sir Roland Smith, the chairman of the plc. This took place at the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. In it Edwards, according to Ferguson, made the comments about his "becoming a celebrity" and "not focusing on the job". Ferguson replied: "Do you want to call it a day?" It was an instinctive comment, borne of frustration and anger rather than a planned one, but Ferguson, who had already produced 10 trophies in 11 years, meant it. Pushed to the brink, both Edwards and Sir Roland pulled back, saying "no, no".

The conversation, having still failed to resolve the issue of Ferguson's new interest in horse racing, moved on to his buying record. Having listed a string of successful purchases, from Mark Hughes to Eric Cantona, Ferguson said: "If you don't recognise that I am the best person to judge which players should be bought by the club I may as well leave now." Again the chairmen demurred. Now they moved on to the future of Kidd, who was waiting outside. Edwards told Ferguson to choose whether his assistant "stayed or went" saying: "It's entirely up to you, but if you want to get rid of him say so now."

Ferguson said he wanted to keep Kidd, who was promptly called into the room and, after affirming his loyalty to Ferguson, offered a new contract.

Ferguson returned to France pondering en route the fact that Kidd, having been given one new contract in the March, was now being offered another while his negotiations were still "under consideration". That contract has now been settled, but it underlined the constant pressure on Ferguson to produce results and his feeling that there are times when his board's faith in him wavers.

"It is not something you can understand unless you have been a manager," he said yesterday. "There are periods when you are vulnerable, periods when you are lonely, that summer I felt both vulnerable and lonely. It is no use fudging things, you tell the truth. That was a difficult period for me at Manchester United."

Ferguson was similarly unrepentant about his comments in the book on being frozen out at Ibrox as a Rangers player, and over the pounds 40,000 "bung" he was offered by Andrei Kanchelskis' agent. "It's been no problem for me telling the truth because these episodes affected my life," he said.

Would he sign another Russian or Ukrainian. "I wouldn't dismiss it, but I would have to look closely at who was looking after him, I would check it all out."

It was put to Ferguson that many of the people criticised in the book are those who have let him down in some way. He agreed adding: "I don't let anybody down, ever. Do I forgive people. Oh yes, you forget. A lot of things are not worth bothering about."

Review, Richard Williams,

page 22

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