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Michael MacLennan

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Celebrating Alex Ferguson: Is It Championing Success Over Decency?

Posted: 14/05/2013 16:25

Sir Alex Ferguson

I guess it's just as well that Margaret Thatcher has both feet in the grave. Otherwise the former Prime Minister would have been horrified to find out that her passing was greeted with death parties, while a football manager retiring weeks later has led to the sort of veneration that would have led to Henry VIII feeling a bit bashful.

The unexpected news of Sir Alex Ferguson leaving the Manchester United hot seat at the end of this season has seen the Scottish gaffer showered with praise.

That especially seems to have been the case north of the border, where we Scots traditionally waste no opportunity to lord it over the English - carefully glossing over the fact that he was in charge of an English side stuffed with English talent.

If this was a political leader being talked about then the current appraisal of Sir Alex's achievements would be nothing less than a whitewash, with dissenters seemingly shoved off to the side of any major media outlets.

This sort of treatment is symptomatic of the malaise that our society finds itself in - and which Fergie could function as a poster child for. His 26 years at Manchester United has seen fees for players balloon - with their wages also skyrocketing - and it was his club that seemed to be at the forefront when the most outrageous prices were being paid.

Fergie's self-proclaimed socialist background didn't seem to be in much evidence when his club splashed out £30.75m for Dimitar Berbatov in 2008, spent £27m to snatch 18-year-old Wayne Rooney from Everton in 2004, or used £24m to take Robin van Persie from Arsenal - the manager overseeing a side which used financial clout to wrest star players from rivals, apparently trampling over the little guys in the process.

Although, who cares when they were winning, eh? Famed for his "hairdryer" treatment, he actually seemed to allow the likes of Eric Cantona, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo extra rope so that those most odious elements of superstar footballers' personalities could flourish. In doing so the example they set to young fans appears to have become a mere triviality compared to whatever extra success might be provided on the football pitch.

And what of those such as David Beckham who apparently considered themselves to be treated badly despite the loyal service given to Manchester United? It may have been the case that there was no one at the club bigger than Fergie himself - but in some instances that doesn't seem such an admirable trait.

The same goes for rants against referees or his treatment of other managers. But such behaviour seemed to inevitably be forgiven because he won stuff and, hey, what's better than winning stuff? (Dignity, be damned.)

Again, acting in a way that could barely be described as mature, he boycotted the Beeb when they dared to look into some alleged dodgy dealings involving him and his son. (For which no guilt was established.)

The fact that he was allowed to exert such pressure over a broadcaster, and strong-arm opinion in his favour, seems nothing short than disgraceful - and if such behaviour was exhibited by an official in public office there surely would be an almighty outcry about censorship. But because it was football - which in this century seems to have lost any of the moral decency it once had - then a weak-minded media seemed to pretty much just shut up and forget about it.

It is a shame, because if they had stopped kowtowing to him and removed the blinkers, football journalists might have recognised the reasons why Fergie failed to attain the further European success he must have craved to match or better Bob Paisley. (Most probably thinking that this would render him the greatest football manager of all time.)

The sort of attitude Manchester United has embraced under his rule - and spread throughout British football thanks to his influence - is not the sort of thing that should necessarily be cherished. Were they responsible for a proliferation of vile brats on the pitch and show-off billionaires off it, all thinking that the beautiful game is about them and not the fans who actually pay for the increasingly pitiful spectacle?

No wonder this season sees two German clubs in the Champions League final, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich hailing from a country whose priorities appear far more focussed on those who love the club - and where business isn't about exploiting the "consumer base" or whichever management-speak is used to describe those so invested in their team that in the UK they are deemed ripe for exploitation.

That's the sort of legacy that Fergie leaves behind, and is football in the UK really in a better state than when he took over at Manchester United? His successes are undeniable, but perhaps they came at the expense of a greater victory.

 

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