x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Petulant Sir Alex Ferguson is silently fuming

Manchester United's top man has long suffered by a sense of injustice. His latest treatment of media is one example, says Richard Jolly.

Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, has used his club's ability to overcome minor setbacks with emphatic wins to silence the masses, but a recent string of losses have left him speechless. Tim Hales / AP Photo
Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager, has used his club's ability to overcome minor setbacks with emphatic wins to silence the masses, but a recent string of losses have left him speechless. Tim Hales / AP Photo

It is a rare individual who can make news both by speaking and by not speaking. Sir Alex Ferguson is such a man, one whose dislike for the rules and regulations that others conform to make him a law unto himself.

By avoiding the broadcasters Ferguson was not previously boycotting at Anfield on Sunday, the Manchester United manager did not become the new JD Salinger.

It could be argued he is following the reclusive Glazer family's lead, but it did appear petulant, depriving Liverpool of the praise their performance merited for comprehensively beating his side 3-1, and encouraged the suggestion that his team are in meltdown.



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Actually, they are having an excellent season: they are top of the league, with a home quarter-final in the FA Cup and a fine chance of progressing to the last eight of the Champions League.

Ferguson's absence reflected upon a traumatic week for United but it said more about him than their situation.

There is the misplaced sense of injustice that has long tarnished a great manager's reputation.

Jamie Carragher's ugly lunge at Nani may have merited a red card but, in a season when Gary Neville (twice), Wayne Rooney and Rafael da Silva were all similarly fortunate to escape serious sanction (and all, significantly, in the first half of games), it is hard to argue that either systematic bias or human error has harmed his side. But Ferguson is growing old gracelessly. The contrast is provided by Kenny Dalglish, the Liverpool manager, sharing his sense of humour while adhering to his self-imposed code of talking about opponents and officials respectfully.

At Old Trafford, meanwhile, relations with referees and the fourth estate are at an all-time low.

A self-proclaimed socialist, Ferguson belongs to the totalitarian variety. Free speech is fine, providing all opinions echo his own. Democracy may be impossible in the dressing room, but it is not in the outside world.

A man who has endorsed the Glazers because they do not interfere, Ferguson objects to scrutiny.

He is not alone in that: many a football manager is entirely reasonable until the first hint of criticism. But because of the way Ferguson wields his vast power, much goes unexplained at Old Trafford.

Does he, as he insists, enjoy a large budget that he chooses not to spend because there is no value in the transfer market? Or, as most others suspect, have the Glazers deprived him of the chance to spend the £80 million (Dh477.5m) proceeds of Cristiano Ronaldo's sale to Real Madrid in 2009?

Either way, fault can be found. When Bebe and Gabriel Obertan are signed on the basis of a promise few others have detected, when squad players such as Darron Gibson and Michael Owen cannot be trusted in major matches, when Wes Brown, Jonny Evans and Michael Carrick have regressed - and the latter is still rewarded with a new contract - either United's is an underfunded challenge or there is evidence of managerial mistakes: both, some would say.

Ferguson often has the ultimate defence: results. There has always been a precariousness to United's position, one that has been disguised by their ability to avoid defeat.

Over the past seven days, that has deserted him. Much as he objects to depictions of United as the best of an undistinguished bunch, that has been their role in this title race. The alternative - ceding that tag to Arsenal - is unenviable. United still merit the billing as favourites, and Ferguson, with his winning habit, is a major reason why.

He has displayed a sure touch for much of the campaign but, by playing 4-4-2 against both Chelsea and Liverpool, made two serious tactical misjudgements in the space of a week.

Past experience shows that the greatest mistake possible is to assume that it is sign the 69-year-old is in decline. Proving people wrong ranks highly among his hobbies and Ferguson has recovered from worse weeks than this one before. He is not raging against the dying of the light, but he is probably raging. Albeit privately.


Last week, Dalglish, now in his second stint at Liverpool, said he feared "the ones who shout loudest" received preferential treatment from officials.

That brings us to Roberto Martinez, as the Wigan Athletic manager is one of the most polite and respectful managers in football and has the added impediment of working at one of the Premier League's smallest clubs.

Last week, Rooney should have been sent off against Wigan.

This week Micah Richards could have been.

Neither were and Wigan lost to teams with a full complement of players.

It is to be hoped Martinez's reasonable nature is not counting against him.


The theory that players tend to perform better against their former clubs has rarely seemed truer.

Former Aston Villa defender Gary Cahill scored twice against them in Bolton Wanderers' 3-2 win, just as Fulham's Damien Duff, who began his career at Blackburn, delivered a brace for Mark Hughes, a former Rovers manager, in a similar triumph.

Then there was the win with the twist: Demba Ba who, but for a failed medical would have been plying his trade at the Britannia Stadium, set West Ham United on their way to victory over Stoke City. And he looked notably fit in the process.