Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 28 August 2014

Alan Green :He’s no friend of mine ... but we should all salute Sir Alex Ferguson

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

I think we can safely assume that Fabio Capello’s grasp of mathematics is as reliable as his use of English. This week the England coach said he could see Sir Alex Ferguson still managing Manchester United in 2030. What? When Fergie will be approaching his 90th birthday?

Mind you, it’s always been dangerous making assumptions as to when, if EVER, Sir Alex will step aside at Old Trafford. I’ve certainly guessed wrongly on at least a couple of occasions and have now settled on thinking that the United manager will leave when we’re least expecting it.

There were a number of reasons to regret Sunday’s postponement of the match at Stamford Bridge. Whatever the weather in London (you’ll have noticed that the ‘weather’ only overwhelms national media coverage when it strikes the capital city) I found it hard to understand Chelsea’s reasoning behind calling the game off fully 27 hours in advance.

It certainly robbed Manchester United of an opportunity to take advantage of their opponents’ still stuttering form to move six points clear of the Champions and with a game in hand.

But it also denied everyone an appropriate occasion to salute a landmark in Ferguson’s glittering career. Sunday was the day he surpassed Sir Matt Busby’s (over two spells) longevity as Manchester United manager. The achievement is all the more remarkable in an era when the average ‘tenancy’ of a Premier League boss is usually measured in months rather than years.

I remember vividly talking to the then ‘plain’ Alex on the day in 1986 that he took over: on a one-to-one basis; we were almost ‘friends’ back then.

I caught him glancing upwards, marvelling at the height of the stands around Old Trafford. I asked him if he really knew what he’d taken on.

Unfortunately, our ‘friendship’ wasn’t destined to last long. Sir Alex took on board most of the advice Sir Matt passed on to him except in regard to how he dealt with criticism, particularly from within the media. On newspapers, Sir Matt said: “Why are you reading them?”

My problem was that I wasn’t prepared to act as one of Fergie’s stooges, to pass on the ‘misinformation’ he wished to circulate that was probably intended to confuse opponents rather than the public at large. Either way, I wouldn’t do it and we had a major falling out. The last time I had a meaningful conversation with Ferguson — he was mostly swearing at me — was in 1992 when he was on ‘holiday’ at the European Championship in Sweden!

But I have always refused to let our substantial personal differences stop me praising the guy, albeit at times through gritted teeth. And he has had incredible success.

It is, I believe, pointless trying to compare managers from different eras but, undeniably, Sir Alex is amongst the very best we’ve ever had: as good as Busby, Stein, Revie, Clough, Shankly and Paisley. Who knows? If he really does go on for another 20 years, Fergie may stand alone.

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