As Sir Alex Ferguson reads his morning newspaper spread under his purple nose, his reign at Old Trafford would’ve stretched to an impressive 25 years and 8 months. He has without a doubt done more than enough to share the pedestal with the likes of Paisley, Herrera, Clough, Hiddink, Michels and another Old Trafford legend Sir Matt Busby.
The reign of Sir Alex Ferguson
A characteristic feature of the Sir Alex’s reign is his club before player philosophy. As a boot in the dressing room with a bit of Beckham’s eyebrow on it would tell any willing listeners, you do not cross paths with the gaffer in these parts. However influential or skillful a player may be, if he challenges the authority of the boss, the only way is out.
There is no shortage of instances, none more telling than the Roy Keane episode where harsh criticism of his teammates on MUTV resulted in Ferguson banning the interview to be aired and Roy Keane parting company with the club by “mutual consent” a couple of months later. This is the same Roy Keane who had been the heartbeat of the United teams under Ferguson.
The Roy Keane saga
This was the same Keane who came to his teammate’s aid when Patrick Vieira was taking the mickey out of Gary Neville before the Arsenal-Manchester United clash of March 2005. Such was his presence as a leader on the pitch that the United players lamented his departure even after they had got an earful during his interview which was later banned.
The same Keane scored the goal that brought United back into the Champions’ League semifinal against Juventus in ’99, even though he was suspended for the final. Ferguson praised Keane’s performance calling it an “emphatic display of selflessness“, “competing if he would rather die of exhaustion than lose, he inspired all around him. I felt it was an honor to be associated with such a player“. Honor bestowed, but not at the risk of undermining the boss’s authority, Keane had to go. Other notable examples include the giant Dutchman Jaap Stam, the flying Dutchman Ruud van Nistelrooy and the very British Beckham.
More recently, the promising youngster Ravel Morrison had been reluctantly released by Ferguson. Nicknamed ‘Rebel Morrison’ due to his off the pitch antics and ill discipline, Ferguson thought Morrison was too much of a disruption to handle and showed him the door. Not surprisingly, rumors have been rife about West Ham United, Morrison’s current employers, following suit.
United have tried hard to placate the youngster and inspire him with the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Brian McClair and even Sir Bobby Charlton assisting him. But to no avail. Morrison’s court appearances, assaulting his girlfriend, mother and witnesses have led Ferguson to believe he is not worth the trouble, talented though he is.
Even the Paul Pogba saga has to an end with the midfield prodigy opting to move to Juventus in all likelihood. Ferguson has made no secret of his displeasure at learning that Pogba had agreed a secret deal with Juventus long before Ferguson had introduced him to the first team fold at United last season. The bottom line for Ferguson here is respect and character of a player and not the name on the back of the shirt.
There is a famous incident that did the rounds at United’s Carrington training ground canteen back in 2008, where youth team forward Robbie Brady opened his mouth to order, only to be cut in line by the recent Ballon D’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo (maybe with a wink). Brady stepped aside to let the man of the hour order his food. Ferguson, watching all this from the corner took Brady aside and on asking him why he let somebody cut in line, was told “Well you know….it’s Ronaldo boss.” Ferguson then told Brady “You’re here to try take his place son. Don’t let me see you do that again.“
The manager’s authority is always more important than the player’s ego. The same cannot be said of Roberto Mancini allowing Carlos Tevez back after claiming he was “finished” at City while he was manager. Or a defeated Raymond Domenech slumped in his dugout chair during the France vs. South Africa game at the 2010 World Cup after the entire French team had walked out on training in support of Nicolas Anelka’s dissent against his manager. Or the crate of managers who have indulged Joey Barton and his antics, in return for his occasional footballing genius.
The jury may be out on which managerial technique is the best, but Ferguson has stuck to his principles for 25 years. And the records speak for themselves.
- Dushyant Sinha