x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

Sir Alex Ferguson's siege mentality manifesto

If you catch the whiff of boiling oil around Old Trafford, that is because Sir Alex Ferguson is in siege mode again.

Sir Alex Ferguson, right, promotes an “us against the world” attitude that Wayne Rooney and the rest of Manchester United have used for motivation. But sometimes he takes it too far, says our columnist.
Sir Alex Ferguson, right, promotes an “us against the world” attitude that Wayne Rooney and the rest of Manchester United have used for motivation. But sometimes he takes it too far, says our columnist.

If you catch the whiff of boiling oil around Old Trafford, that is because Sir Alex Ferguson is in siege mode again.

The Manchester United manager is convinced that he and his team are the victims of a pan-global conspiracy, the latest evidence being his own five-match touchline ban for calling a referee a cheat and the two-match ban slapped on his pet chimp Wayne Rooney for cursing a global television audience.

What is the English Football Association's problem with a bit of harmless banter?

Asked if United were victimised, Sir Alex adjusted his tinfoil hat and replied: "I don't even need to say that. But we'll use it. The players are brilliant. They're just defying everything."

Poor Ferguson. Still, at least he had a horse running in the Grand National on Saturday to take his mind off things. What A Friend was pulled up towards the end of the race, but I expect Ferguson took defeat with the usual good grace. Maybe something like this:

"Aintree? Well, what can you say about that? Not a lot, probably. I'm no' gonnae stand here and make accusations about a racecourse which just happens to be in the middle of Liverpool, who huvnae won the league for 21 years. I'll let you draw your own conclusions about that.

"But is it normal for some wee guy in a blazer, probably never been recognised in his life, to pull your horse aside before the race and say it has to carry some weights?

"Oh, here we go, it's Sir Alex Ferguson's horse, so let's weigh it down with 12 stones of lead in the saddle bags. Very nice, that. But that is the price of success, right? They build you up then chop you down. Or sometimes they just weigh you down. Either way, we're used to it.

"It was the same story with the timing of the race. Some wee guy in a tweed hat says it has to start at 4.15pm, no matter how much you tap your watch or tell him you have to be in the dugout - OK, the stands - at Craven Cottage."

Starter's orders, Ferguson was told. "But who is the starter taking his orders from, over there in Liverpool? It's no' for me to ask that question, but maybe someone should. Maybe they should also ask who played that funny business with the fences. What a palaver. The lad comes around the first corner and some clown has thrown up the Berlin Wall, camouflaged with branches so he cannae spot it.

"Was that a deliberate ploy to unseat Sir Alex Ferguson's horse? That's no' for me to say, but it wouldnae be the first time, if it was.

"But, still, we rode on, like we always do, even after some other jokers decide they want to ride in front of our boy - who gets no protection whatsoever, by the way - but he holds his own and makes it around the course, and he's delighted. So what do they do? Some wee guy in flannel trousers decides you have to go around TWICE! So that's that.

"They move the goalposts, they get their way, and our boy pulls up, exhausted. They win the battle but we'll win the war.

"Is it any coincidence that the winning horse belongs to the owner of Preston North End, who sacked my son, Darren, in December? That's no' for me to say. But no. It is definitely not a coincidence."

‘We’re No 2’ is a chant that Wenger is happy to shout


Compare and contrast the following attitudes towards winning.

“I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfilment of all that he holds dear, is the moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle, victorious.” – Vince Lombardi, the legendary NFL coach.

“Second place? Yeah, that’ll do.” – Arsene Wenger, the legendary Frenchman.

OK, that second quotation is paraphrased, but only slightly. The Arsenal manager’s exact words were:

“As long as you are second in the league, I am ready to sign for the next 20 years and stand up for that.”

Wenger was hitting back after the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust (AST) released a statement expressing “considerable disappointment” at the season so far.

Wenger’s logic was that his team has qualified for the Champions League for 15 years – although never actually won it – and that such a record of lucrative European football is more important than picking up the occasional FA Cup.

He was backed by Peter Hill-Wood, the club chairman who described the fans’ complaint as “stupid comments by silly people”.

In fact, the AST’s statement is possibly the least stupid expression of frustration ever uttered by football fans.

It is measured, reasonable and it urges against leaping to hasty conclusions midseason.

It is also indescribably dull.

Surely the whole point of being a football fan is to shout one’s half-baked opinions at every opportunity in the safe knowledge that they will be ignored – not write them down in mild-mannered statements, like some junior council press officer.

When fans act in such a dead-eyed corporate fashion, is it any wonder they get a dead-eyed corporate response from the manager, in which the club’s balance sheet appears to be more highly valued than the idea of having a good day out at Wembley Stadium?

Thomas Edison, not a legendary sports figure but a fairly illustrious American inventor, once said that success is 10 per cent inspiration and 90 per cent perspiration.

Wenger’s idea of success is more like 10 per cent perspiration and 90 per cent rationalisation.

sports@thenational.ae