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All Things Footie | Tuesday, March 2 | Jordan

The ballad of Sir Alex

Watching the post match reaction to Manchester United’s 1-1 draw at Fulham on Saturday, you’d have thought they just got beaten at home by the bottom of the league. “He was a great manager, but he’s lost it, he has to go”. An over-reaction? Of course, but is Sir Alex without fault here? Of course he is, just as Roy Keane didn’t mean to stamp on Victor Baia, just as Beckham is a load of rubbish and United are better off without him, and just as Rio Ferdinand is innocent. While the chopping board should be kept in the cupboard, there are some harsh questions that Ferguson leaves unanswered.

Selling David Beckham was a mistake, I dare anyone to argue on that one. Whether it was a business decision by the club, or because of personal problems between him and Ferguson, it was certainly not a footballing decision. Roy Keane has been on the turn for a couple of seasons now; last year during their incredible run-in, it was David Beckham who kept the side’s heart beating, who covered every blade of grass, who gave everything he had for the shirt he wore. A lifelong United fan and a fantastic footballer maturing into an even better and more versatile one, he’d have played for United the rest of his career and loved every minute. Ferguson pushed him out of the club because he didn’t like his wife, and with no idea how to replace him.

When Rio Ferdinand missed his drugs test, phoned a Urulogist, went shopping, then claimed he was moving house, had his mobile phone turned off and forgot about it, Ferguson defended him. Instead of concentrating on football, he and the club focused on gettig Ferdinand off a charge he was so blatently guilty of it’s hilarious in hindsight. His delaying tactics and proclamations of innocence and ignorance (reminding me of a legal defence Arnold Rimmer once tried in an Episode of Red Dwarf) has cost England Ferdinand’s services at Euro 2004. With Ferdinand about to ‘go down’, Ferguson strengthened the defence by spending £12m on a striker, even though he only had one dodgy centre half and three full-backs in reserve.

Then he starts a public row, claiming stud rights to a horse he co-owned with some extremely rich and powerful Irish millionaires who also happen to own nearly 30% of the ocmpany he works for. Apart from being plain stupid to think he could win, this distracted his focus from football and hurt his and United’s reputation terribly.

In numerous games this season, Ferguson has ‘rested’ important players and it’s cost them. Manchester United simply don’t have a good enough squad to be able to leave out Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Ryan Giggs or Roy Keane, and teams aren’t afraid of them anymore in the way they used to be. I hear people talk of him saving up for Europe and not caring about the Premiership anymore this season—anyone who thinks that clearly doesn’t know much about Alex Ferguson—there were only seven points between them and Arsenal at the start of play on Saturday.

To make it all worse, Ferguson’s unsportsmanlike behaviour towards the Porto coach last wednesday (with whom he wouldn’t shake hands at the end of the game, despite losing fair and square) and his refusal to accept any responsibility for his teams results and performances by blaming officials (who have hardly been disproportionately cruel to United this year) smacks of being a very bad loser.

If I were a United fan, I would have to seriously question whether Sir Alex Ferguson has the best interests of my club at heart anymore. The summer will tell, I can’t see Ferguson quitting football on a league defeat—it’s the reason he recinded his planned resignation in 2002—and I would have thought it was in John Magnier’s interest to keep Ferguson busy, so I fully expect Ferguson to be at United next season. The question is whether this is a temporary loss of mind from the manager, or if it’s a symptom of something much more: the end of Sir Alex Ferguson, manager of Champions.

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