Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Attacking the media is Alex Ferguson's tried and trusted way of defending his players when heat is on

Sir Alex Ferguson

It is not the least of Sir Alex Ferguson's weapons that the kind of rage that can seriously unbalance, even disable some men is in his case supplied by a tap — one that can be turned on or off exactly according to needs.

For a passing example, yesterday still another journalist was targeted for doing no more than his job when he asked about the importance of Ryan Giggs in the Champions' League final against Barcelona.

The formal response was anodyne. All of United players were important in their different ways. Then he told a press assistant to deal with the miscreant. Robert Di Niro couldn't have done much better in the sullen menace department in the clothes of a Mafia chieftain.

For Ferguson-watchers the pattern is familiar enough. It goes something like this: get a gnawing problem, one to inflame all of your waking hours, then transfer the responsibility, in this case from the erring Giggs to the dutiful reporter, and, almost effortlessly, the siege mentality of a most successful football club is cranked up another significant notch.

It worked well enough in the Eric Cantona eruption at Crystal Palace, David Beckham's fraught exit to Real Madrid, Rio Ferdinand's failure to take a drug test and long suspension — and even the rebellion of Wayne Rooney.

So why not, Ferguson no doubt speculates, a similar triumph for Giggs in his moment of ultimate exposure in Europe's biggest game?

Winning is not a precise science, of course, and it will take more than a few psychological lunges to turn back the brilliant tide of Barca, but in the demeanour of the Manchester United manager yesterday we saw still another glimpse of the unremitting style which earlier this week earned him his third Manager of the Year award from his professional peers.

At the heart of the aura, dwarfing all of the rancour, the ferocious selective morality, is not just to win, but to win in a certain way.

Not, perhaps as exquisitely as Barcelona, not with a passion to make football art but then certainly without the cynical functionalism of Jose Mourinho.

Ferguson may play games of the mind through every working week but he doesn't trifle with a core philosophy. He doesn't see his players as mere extensions of himself.

It is inconceivable that he would be reproached at the turning point of a huge match, as Mourinho was by Cristiano Ronaldo, for providing not a framework for his players but so many straitjackets.

That he is competing in his fourth Champions League final this week, having already secured his 12th Premier League title, at the end of such a season of trial is astonishing by any standards.

His mood is not improved though when he is told that this may be his greatest achievement, one forged from within the limits of what many believe is his least talented championship team, because any such acknowledgment from him would inevitably be seen as a slur on his players, a betrayal no less. It would offend the tribal instincts that were as visible, and as abrasive, as ever yesterday. It would say that there were frailties at a place where they cannot be allowed to exist.

About such things there is supposed to be a rule of silence. If we had forgotten, we have been reminded once again.

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