LONDON – It is difficult to judge which produced the bigger laugh in “Sir Alex Ferguson — My Autobiography,” launched this week in a manner that makes Hollywood premieres seem like a quiet evening in.
There was Ferguson’s assertion that Rafa Benitez is a “control freak,” the same Ferguson who has constantly repeated the necessity to control the dressing room — “Before I came to United, I told myself I wasn’t going to allow anyone to be stronger than I was. Your personality has to be bigger than theirs. That is vital.”
Or when the former Manchester United manager said that in 2009 Nemanja Vidic told him he wanted to go to fight for Serbia in Kosovo. Problem is, it was 10 years after the war in the Balkans had ended, which is taking Fergie time to the extreme.
What raised few smiles, however, was the way Ferguson, who was almost paranoid about dressing room secrets leaking out, revealed details from Old Trafford’s inner sanctum.
The man who preached loyalty and trust has not practiced what he preached, with Roy Keane, Ruud van Nistelrooy and David Beckham, who did so much to help Ferguson and United dominate English football, prime targets for what many see as post-managerial hypocrisy. What happens in the dressing room, stays in the dressing room . . . until there is a book to be considered.
Assuming Ferguson does not need the royalties to enjoy his retirement, what were his motives in another autobiography?
Why does the most successful manager in British football history feel the need to start spats and spill beans?
These days, football books tend to be judged by their level of controversy, an exercise in score-settling or making the public aware of (allegedly) what really happened.
In respect of headlines his latest offering does not disappoint — given Ferguson’s profile, wall-to-wall publicity was guaranteed — though while so-called revelations are good for sales, they can leave the author open to criticism and retaliation.
There is the puzzling claim in the book that Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard is “not a top, top player” which goes against Ferguson’s view of the England captain nine years ago. “He has become the most influential player in England, bar none,” said Ferguson in 2004. “More than (Patrick) Vieira. Not that Vieira lacks anything, but I think he does more for his team than Vieira does and has way more to his game. I’ve watched him quite a lot. Anyone would love to have him in their team.”
His views on Beckham combine an arm around the shoulder and a stiletto in the ribs. “I like Beckham, he’s a wonderful boy,” writes Ferguson and you wait for the inevitable “but.” “But you should never surrender what you are good at and David was the only player I managed who chose to be famous, who made it his mission to be known outside the game.
“The big problem for me, and I am a football man, is that he fell in love with Victoria and that changed everything. I had to think of my control at the club.”
But not being a control freak, of course. Ferguson added: “At some point in his life he may feel the urge to say: ‘I made a mistake.’ “
Those who know Beckham would never question his love of football, his work ethic, his commitment to United or to any of his clubs or his country. Beckham is more likely to have the urge to say: “After leaving United, I won a league medal with Real Madrid, another with Paris St.-Germain and two with the Los Angeles Galaxy, becoming the first English player to win titles in four different countries. My total of 115 England caps is the highest of any outfield player. And I made a mistake . . . ?”
Ferguson accused van Nistelrooy of swearing at him and abusing him, something the manager has never done to any match official, of course.
Roy Keane received both barrels, Ferguson particularly unhappy at his former captain’s criticism of his teammates. The same Ferguson who had said of Gordon Strachan: “I decided this man could not be trusted an inch. I would not want to expose my back to him in a hurry.”
The most subtle, yet damning, response to Ferguson’s occasionally poisoned pen came from Wayne Rooney, whose fitness and physical condition were questioned in the book.
When asked, after the 1-0 win over Real Sociedad why he is playing so well, Rooney replied: “The new coaching staff have come in an given me a new lease of life. I’m really enjoying working with David Moyes.”
Message received and understood.
The book is not all controversy and whistle-blowing, but inevitably the juicy bits will be remembered most. The man who united United has made a mistake by going public though he will never have the urge to admit this.
MAURICIO POCHETTINO has yet to do an interview in English because, like everything else the Argentine does, he wants it to be the best possible. The Southampton manager understands English, yet speaks through a translator for the time being just in case he makes an inadvertent mistake.
His team is making few errors on the pitch. Southampton is sixth in the Premier League with the second-best defensive record in Europe after Roma, having conceded only three goals in eight games.
When Southampton chairman Nicola Cortese sacked Nigel Adkins last January two questions were asked.
Why fire a manager who had taken Saints from the lower reaches of League One to the Premier League in successive seasons? And who on earth is Mauricio Pochettino?
Adkins’ dismissal after the club had lost only twice in 12 games may have been brutal, but it has turned out to be an inspired move by Cortese, a Swiss banker who places success and hard business decisions above popularity. Southampton was in administration when he came to the club in 2009 and it now has genuine hopes of a European place next season.
“It seems cold, but I do everything in order to progress. I don’t want to lose five matches in a row before I sack the manager — I do it before that happens,” said Cortese who has claimed Pochettino is “basically just a department head like the others.”
There was little on Pochettino’s CV to suggest he would make such a significant impact. His only previous coaching job was with Espanyol, which he joined in January 2009 and left, by mutual consent, in November 2012 with the Pericos bottom of La Liga having won nine points from 13 matches.
Cortese backed Pochettino in the transfer market to the tune of £36 million during the summer and all three players have proved shrewd, effective investments.
Central defender Dejan Lovren (from Lyon) and former Celtic ball-winning midfielder Victor Wanyama have been instrumental in giving Southampton the most solid defense in the Premier League. Italy international Pablo Osvaldo looks a class act despite scoring only one goal.
Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for the London Daily Telegraph.