Sir Alex Ferguson's Recent Banning of Journalists Suggests the Tyrant Is Out of Control

Although this is not an extraordinary occasion - Ferguson has made a habit of excluding journalists and newspapers for years - it is an exceptional one. For it is perhaps the first time Ferguson has meted out an exclusion for writers being right.

It was the tyrannical Robert Mugabe who said "We don't mind having sanctions banning us from Europe. We are not Europeans." Sir Alex Ferguson, football's greatest tyrant, doesn't mind banning journalists because they are not part of Manchester United.

Lost amidst news of Wayne Rooney's four-week lay-off, Robin van Persie's exquisite first goal and the narrow 3-2 defeat of Fulham was the revelation the Scot had banned two more newspapers from his pre-match Friday press conferences at United's Carrington training ground.

Although this is not an extraordinary occasion - Ferguson has made a habit of excluding journalists and newspapers for years - it is an exceptional one. For it is perhaps the first time Ferguson has meted out an exclusion for writers being right.

The Daily Telegraph's Mark Ogden wrote a report on Saturday 18 August detailing that Rio Ferdinand had sustained a groin injury during the squad's Friday training session and would miss the season opener against Everton. That accuracy has now cost him and the Daily Star Sunday's Paul Hetherington their seats for when Ferguson holds court every Friday.

Ferguson's latest pathetic and puerile crusade warrants a belated intervention from the Football Writers' Association. He probably uses a different 'F' and 'W' as the acronyms for their members, but as The Guardian's Daniel Taylor said, the bee in his bonnet is buzzing out of control.

United's Trafford Training Centre in Carrington, opened in 2000, resembles a James Bond villain's fortress. Surrounded by 30,000 trees, photographers' prying lenses can't snap any training ground altercations like down the road at Manchester City and this is exactly what Ferguson wants. In-house and no leaks.

Maybe he was so infuriated by Ogden and his colleague's story because it was leaked. It is not a stretch to imagine the fastidious Ferguson entering a room and interrogating players or staff as he attempts to weed out a mole like George Smiley, albeit more animatedly. His value of loyalty throughout his career is renowned.

Taylor himself delivered the news of the latest bans on Sunday, safe from any rebuke since he was ostracised by Ferguson over five years ago.

His barring stemmed from his exceptional 2007 book This Is The One: The Uncut Story of a Football Genius. A diary written over two of the most contrasting successive seasons in United's history under Ferguson, it is a fascinating, anecdote-ridden read that sheds light on what may make this footballing enigma tick.

Alas the operative word in the title is 'uncut' rather than 'genius'. Despite extolling Ferguson Taylor revisits the moments when the hairdryer was turned up to 11.

Since the year This Is The One was published, Ferguson's press conferences have been televised by United's in-house channel MUTV. Taylor told yours truly last year as a consequence of this "Ferguson knows he can't 'Hairdryer' anyone" and described the press conferences as "tense, joyless affairs".

"It would be on News at Ten if he did [the hairdryer]. Seriously, I've seen it many times. Everything you've heard, it's worse... believe me." Maybe Ogden isn't missing out.

At 70 and fitted with a pacemaker, Ferguson can't subject his health to the tirades of old. So rather than lose his temper he will most likely instruct United's PR expert Karen Shotbolt to inform a journalist they won't be allowed to return for the foreseeable future.

But there's a contradictory side to his media marauding. Last season Ferguson suddenly lifted the BBC's seven-year ban and welcomed them back with the quote: "The FA treat us like s**t." He had vowed the BBC would only be allowed to return if they apologised for their investigation into his son's dealings as an agent, but none had been made. So why the sudden u-turn?

The previous month, DHL struck a partnership for United worth a staggering £40m just to have their logo appear on the club's training kit for four years. The BBC, who stream portions from managers' pre-match press conferences and are arguably the most renowned media organisation in the UK, would afford DHL greater exposure. Cynical it may be, but that is what Ferguson has become in the Glazer Age.

Paying lip service isn't necessarily defunct in these social media times, but the competitiveness has intensified and the competition isn't always fair. Ferguson may not be around for the new batch of journalists who venture to Carrington, although his disobliging conduct may dissuade budding writers enthusiastic about a media career. Not that he will care.

Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini broke bread with journalists covering the Mancunian clubs last year in what was a rare act of solidarity in the modern football age. Ferguson meanwhile may rather break their fingers.


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