This article gives me little pleasure to write.
Alex Ferguson is, has been, and always will be something of a hero to me. Thanks to him my time supporting United has coincided with a seemingly endless run of success. A glorious chapter that could never have been foreseen by those, like my Dad, who have spent the bulk of their football life clinging onto the occasional cup success. However one of the sobering experiences of growing up is recognising your heroes to be less than the faultless, supreme beings you thought they were. Rightly or wrongly, I perceived Alex Ferguson as ‘different’, a bastion of truth, someone who understood what our great club means to the fans. No longer can this be argued to be the case; over the last half decade our manager has become not only distant but purposefully misleading in his communication with the fans.
In short; Alex Ferguson is a liar.
‘So what?’ I hear you say. ‘Tell me something I don’t know!’ In the past I have not only been aware of Ferguson’s deception but actively revelled in it. The misleading team news that so angers self-important wind-bags like Alan Green has had me chuckling along with the rest. His dealings with the press have long been a Cold War of his own creation; Fleet Street’s finest tip-toe around him for fear of being the next victim of his regular purges from the press-room, television interviews are conducted on his terms as networks desperately seek to avert yet another blackout. All of this has regularly been celebrated by Reds who classify this as ‘mind-games’, all part of Ferguson’s master plan to create or perpetuate the ‘siege mentality’ which has so often galvanised the team to perform.
I simply don’t buy it anymore.
The way Ferguson behaves is a consistent two fingers up to the fans. I believe that as manager of Manchester United he has a duty to communicate with, and be accountable to, the fans who give up so much time and income to provide support to his team. For a long time now he has failed to accept this. At times his treatment of the fans has been verging on contempt. Traditional avenues for manager and fans to build a relationship – such as supporters club events – have been jettisoned. His infamous airport response to fans who confronted him over his role in the Glazer takeover has even been immortalised in song by the breakaway club FC United. Even MUTV – a station which makes Pravda appear balanced and impartial – has been cut off on a whim on more than one occasion. Part of me thinks that those who shell out on such sanitized garbage deserve what they get but it is yet another forum of dialogue with the common supporter that Ferguson no longer feels to be worth his precious time. Recent condescending comments regarding blogs like this one are further evidence of his belief in his own omnipotence and total disregard for the hopes and concerns of loyal supporters.
In reality Ferguson’s refusal to enter into dialogue actively fuels the suspicion that all is not well at the football club. If you have nothing to hide, you should have no reservations about engaging with those who may question your judgment. Could it be that when faced with questions from those who are well versed in the impact of the Glazer regime, Ferguson would be unable to counter their evidence based arguments. Arguments that far from ‘doing their job well’ our Floridian overlords have placed all the progress made over the previous two decades in jeopardy. Given our phenomenal financial turnover, and steady diet of on-field success, there should be no reason why we cannot compete with the billionaire boys’ club. The owners have engaged in a process of milking as much as possible to serve their own interests – as shown by a net spend lower than Stoke City and Sunderland over the past five years. To make matters worse this has coincided with astronomic rises in match going costs which has forced many loyal fans to give up their fortnightly pilgrimage to Old Trafford.
So how have they got away with this?
Alex Ferguson. The Tampa boys got lucky when choosing a club with a genius of a manager in charge. Ferguson deserves immense credit for continuing to deliver success in spite of the Glazer hand brake yet in the long-term – what does this mean for the legacy he leaves? Infuriating platitudes claiming ‘no value in the market’, ‘no players of sufficient quality available’ and ‘money to spend if I want it’ provide a handy smoke screen for the owners whilst treating the fans like fools. A man of Ferguson’s unrivalled footballing knowledge KNOWS it is insufficient to achieve success when selecting Korean wingers, Brazilian full backs and thirty-eight year olds to carry out the task of commanding the central midfield. I do not believe for one moment that Ferguson believes that our midfield depth is enough to challenge City. We aren’t asking for Xavi and Iniesta, we’d just quite like to see two players line up alongside each other who’s job description could legitimately read; central midfielder. Yet rather than use his considerable clout to challenge the owners to back him he instead performs the role of Iraqi information minister to try and keep the heat off his bosses.
The saddest part is it appears to be working.
In the summer I wrote about how on pitch success had seemingly derailed the anti-Glazer campaign. I speculated over whether attention would return to the boardroom should the damage of our underinvestment be exposed but as yet this hasn’t happened. Looking at the issues facing United today they can all be traced back to the owners; unbalanced teams featuring a mish-mash of out of position players in lieu of sufficient quality investment in key areas, the pricing out of vocal supporters leaving Old Trafford eerily quiet when once upon a time the crowd would roar the team on to victory, and the alleged disillusionment of an under-performing, over-indulged player who was richly rewarded little over a year ago for fear of losing their most marketable asset. The issuing of a statement denying a news story which had yet to break seemed to me like a Stalinist act of paranoia rather than a rational response to apparently baseless speculation.
In spite of all this, such is Ferguson’s ability to fashion winning football teams that we will most likely continue to compete at the top end of the table until his inevitable retirement at most five years down the line – and then what? As a result of Ferguson’s refusal to recognise the concerns of the fans his successor will inherit a side suffering from ten years of underinvestment and a fanbase dangerously isolated from the club they love.
In amongst Roy Keane’s embittered rant against his former mentor was the claim Ferguson acts for himself rather than the club as a whole. Do what’s right for all of us, prove him wrong, open up and tell it like it is Alex.
Your legacy depends upon it.
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