Gooner Layth Yousif offers his thoughts on a retiring long-time foe.
As a lifelong Arsenal Fan who has attended more than fifty Arsenal Manchester United games over the last 30 years it would be hypocritical of me to shed a tear for Alex Ferguson.
A teak tough manager who has intimidated refs, linesmen, fourth officials, administrators, other managers who don’t agree with him, who has banned journalists from press conferences, hell he’s even banned his own TV stations from Press conferences. A man who has cultivated certain managers to the detriment of away performances at Old Trafford, a man who has raged against everyone in his time does not need any sympathy from an Arsenal fan.
Especially not one who has been on the receiving end of pies and golf balls from the K Stand when the majority of Old Trafford was standing room only. Nor one who has seen his team lose 6-1 there or seen their side pipped to a league title or two after nine months of the most intense jockeying, mind games and mind blowing football.
I have also been devastated to the point of disbelief at a raucous Villa Park in April 99, witnessing in the flesh a Denis Bergkamp penalty kick that was saved from Schmeichel in a momentous game that not only ruined our chances of a cup final but a double, whilst fuelling their belief in a treble when they were on their knees. (Even now I can’t look at Giggs goal that night or his ridiculous chest hair without being completely gutted).
In the eyes of my club and the majority of supporters, as well as I suspect in certain other clubs up and down the land, Fergie is seen as a bogeyman, a bully and an angry man.
You can also add into the mix any number of poor buys from Ralph Milne to Bebe. Or the fact that his loyalty only extended to if you did the business on the pitch for him, witness Horse-faced van Nistelrooy being bombed out. Or the way he simply shifted players out he felt had gone as far as they could such as Kanchelskis in 1994. Or those who were seen to have betrayed the “family”, whether it be through big headedness (The pomposity of the self-styled “Guvnor”), an obsession with celebrity (Beckham), those who possessed a self-destruct button (Lee Sharpe), those who revealed secrets of the inner sanctum (Jaap Stam), those who were simply arseholes (Bosnich) or brooding and intense characters who raged at the dying of the light by slagging off younger teammates in public ala Roy Keane.
He was not only successful. He re-built teams. And won again. He saw off overhyped younger rivals. He saw his club become the biggest in the world.
As someone who still loves football after all these years, how can you not take your hat off to someone who has won 13 Premier league titles (13!? Spurs have won it twice in 131 years for god’s sake), 2 European cups, 5 FA Cups, 4 League Cups, the European Cup Winners Cup and a partridge in a pear tree.
I have to acknowledge the sheer longevity of those achievements (and that’s not even counting what the man did at Aberdeen), and admire the energy expounded in living football every minute of every day of your life.
I also have to pay tribute to his strength of character. To still believe in yourself when criticism against you almost reached a tipping point in Jan 90, or November 2005.
And I don’t need to ask any true United fan what they thought of his defiance in standing firm in the defence of his club against the world real or imagined to get an idea.
He may have won every feud and confrontation he ever faced or provoked in football but I did take great satisfaction in seeing him cut down to size by Coolmore over the Rock of Gibraltar stud rights: the fact he came back stronger is testament to his mental strength.
In these days of social media and instant gratification – something he was truly disdainful of – his never to be repeated 26 year list of achievements surely deserves respect. Even from people who truly hated him. Which at times included myself. Not any more though.
I don’t think even Arsene hates him these days. Fergie certainly doesn’t hate Wenger. Not since he stopped being a threat. Yet the Frenchman went from being seen as a sophisticated urbane gent to a frothing maelstrom when roaring to journalists during the height of their rivalry: “Don’t speak to me of that man. I will never speak of him again”.
Although to be fair, Arsene did have a few gems of his own in return. One memorable response to a jibe from the Scotsman about his team being superior to an Arsenal league winning side was: “everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home”. And another time, when asked whether Fergie had issued an apology over a spat, he replied with tongue firmly in cheek “I haven’t received it. Perhaps he sent it by horse”.
Ferguson made Kevin Keegan have a meltdown live on TV. He certainly intimidated all those weaker managers who wanted the Scotsman’s favour and a glass of expensive post match red and a pat on the head after the invariable defeat. He was canny too, offering a few hours in Carrington to those he knew would never be a threat, thus cultivating them if they did make it, or ruthlessly turning on them if they dared speak out (Alan Pardew anyone?).
Ferguson bloody hell.
Not content with stealing City’s thunder when the won the Cup Final of 2011 by winning the league hours before, I wonder what topic will get the most coverage this Cup Final weekend?
There was a gap of 26 years between league titles for United that coincided with Sir Matt Busby retiring and moving “upstairs”. A wake of football men failed to thrive under the shadow of his achievements, nor did they manage to shake off his influence whilst Busby remained at the club.
As an Arsenal fan I can only look forward to the “impossible job” the next manager has.
I also welcome spotting the 21st century equivalents of Frank O’Farrell, Wilf McGuiness, Dave Sexton and Ron Atkinson. There will be lesser men than Fergie crushed under the weight of expectation at United.
Maybe it’s me mellowing as I get older, but sometimes you simply have to hold your hands up and say “well done” to a man’s achievements. Life has taught me you can respect someone even if you don’t like them.
And to be honest I don’t like him. Certainly not as manager of Manchester United. Of course I admire and respect his staunchly working class Govan roots, his old Labour Trade Unionism, his work ethic and the fire that still burns, but that’s not really the point.
Even at the age of 71 there are still certain things such as his haranguing of officials, his sheer bloody-mindedness and his ability to bully and intimidate that leave me annoyed as they did when my beloved Arsenal were fighting it out with United at the top of the league.
But if you can’t respect or even acknowledge his longevity, his adaptability, his general love of attacking football, his never say die attitude and his ridiculous amount of success brought on through a passion for this wonderful game of ours then it’s probably best to lock yourself in a darkened room and stick your fingers in your ears for the next week or so.
I have no doubt I’ll be doing that too at some stage.
Just not today.
Follow Layth on twitter @laythy29