Telling it like it is

2013-11-29 11:00

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Sir Alex Ferguson’s new book is a bestseller. It’s a riveting read – but it’s been ruffling feathers too.

As far as no-leak releases went, it rivalled the secrecy that shrouded each Harry Potter book before it was unleashed on feverish fans.

No extracts were trumpeted in the tabloids, no word of it was breathed on Twitter.

Sports journalists weren’t even sent advance copies – they had to stand in the rain in snaking queues outside the publisher’s offices to get their hands on the book.

The release was as controlled as could be, which is fitting as control is what Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography is all about: his control of Manchester United over his astonishing 26 years at the helm and his control of the players.

Some of those players he lays into with the kind of ferocity you’d expect from the gum-chewing manager, who spent decades pacing up and down football pitches in a florid-faced rage.

The book is not Sir Alex’s first – he has written three about his life before – but this is the one everyone wants to read as it comes at the end of one of the greatest careers in sporting history.

And it’s showing at the tills. My Autobiography sold 115 547 copies in its first week on the shelf in the UK, and 102 828 in the second.

It is the fastest-selling non-fiction book since records began in 1998 and one of the top-10 bestselling books of 2013. Novelist Dan Brown’s Inferno is the only hardback to have sold more.

The controversy it has stirred has only heightened interest – especiallyas Fergie tears strips off some of the biggest soccer stars of modern times.

David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and especially Roy Keane all come in for a walloping.

Reviewers have criticised Sir Alex for being ‘selective’ about what he chose to write about. He all but ignores the scandal that nearly brought Manchester United down in the early 2000s: a £100 million racehorse called Rock of Gibraltar.

A shareholder owned the animal and gave a share to Ferguson, who later sued for a slice of the stud fees, sparking a potentially disastrous legal battle that was eventually settled out of court.

His eight-year spat with the BBC – which erupted after the broadcaster aired a documentary about transfer deals that involved Ferguson’s son – is dismissed in a single sentence. ‘They were wrong and I was right.’ ‘But what he does choose to tell us,’ says Jim White of British newspaper The Telegraph, ‘is riveting. This is a book that fizzes with yarns. Each page is packed with detail, insight and observation.’

Here’s what the fiery Scot says about certain characters:

Club legend Roy Keane was once Alex’s friend and confidant. But a furious row ended it all and in the book Fergie describes him as ‘a wee man who would argue with his own shadow. He gave me a lot of problems, I can tell you. Everyone hated him. He had no respect for the game. You can’t just shout at referees. That’s not how the game works. It’s just not professional.’

Keane would also not embrace change, which Fergie regards as essential – and his eagerness to get to grips with shifts in sports science, methodology and technology helped keep the 71-year-old legend at the top of his game.

In one nose-to-nose confrontation Keane yelled at his manager, ‘You’ve changed!’ Fergie’s reply? ‘Of course I have!’

Sir Alex was very fond of David Beckham and regarded him as a son in the early days. But then he ‘threw it all away’ because he ‘thought he was bigger than Alex Ferguson. Mistake. No one is bigger than Alex Ferguson. I sincerely believe that. If David is honest with himself, he knows that too.’

Beckham’s fundamental problem was falling in love with Victoria Adams – then Posh Spice of the Spice Girls – and getting sucked into a life of celebrity. He was the beautiful boy wonder of British football with a gorgeous pop-star girlfriend – it was media heaven. But it drove Sir Alex nuts.

He didn’t think Beckham cared about the game as much as his star quality and the whole thing came to an ugly head in 2003.

Fergie noticed Becks was jogging instead of running in a 2003 FA Cup game and confronted him in the dressing room afterwards. Furious, he kicked a stray boot, which connected with Beckham’s face and resulted in a small cut above his eye.

The next day a photograph of Beckham with what Fergie witheringly calls an ‘Alice band’ to keep his hair off his face and show his wound to maximum effect made its way around the world. And that was the end of that relationship.

Wayne Rooney is regarded by many as a footballing genius but to Sir Alex he is ‘a good player who could have been great’.

‘His problem is he thought he knew better than me. If he’d eaten a few less pies and learnt to speak English as well as [Cristiano] Ronaldo [one of Fergie’s all-time pets], he could have been nearly world class.

Wee Ryan Giggs wasn’t bad either. Would have been better if he’d kept his trousers zipped up around his brother’s wife, mind.’ (In 2011 Giggs was accused of having an eight-year affair with his sister-in-law Natalie.)

Rio Ferdinand’s lifestyle annoyed his boss too. Ferdinand arranged to interview rapper P. Diddy when he was in America and Fergie saw red. ‘Give me a break, Rio, is he going to make you a better centre half?’ Sir Alex yelled.

Although he was a big admirer of Ferdinand’s skill he felt the player’s ‘life expanded in more directions than we were happy with’. He warned him he ‘wouldn’t be with us much longer’ if he didn’t change his ways.

Fergie saves his harshest criticsm for former United goalkeeper Mark Bosnich, who was a ‘terrible professional’ with eating habits (he was particularly fond of Chinese takeaways) that made him almost impossible to manage.

‘We played down at Wimbledon and Bosnich was tucking into everything: sandwiches, soups, steaks. He was going through the menu. I told him, “For Christ’s sake, Mark, we’ve got the weight off you, why are you tucking into all that stuff?”’

As enthralling and titillating as it all is, some critics have been left with a bad taste in their mouths.

Former Scottish football player and manager Kenny Dalglish is one of them. ‘Sir Alex has written so many books already I’m not sure why he chose this one to settle old scores,’ he wrote in The Mirror newspaper.

‘The timing is bad. It’s a bit strange to bring it out when the new manager at the club needs help and support. The publication – and some of the upset it has caused at Old Trafford – is hardly ideal for David Moyes.’

The Daily Mail said while the book ‘offers brilliant insights into one of Britain’s great sporting minds’, Sir Alex has also ‘broken countless codes and confidences’ – one of them being what happens in the dressing room stays in the dressing room.

‘It’s probably only a matter of time before similarly titanic egos decide to write their own versions of events.’

Still, Sir Alex does have endearing moments of warmth in between all the arrogance. ‘I’ve no regrets about anything in my career,’ he writes.

‘I’m proud of what I’ve done for the club. And in particular for the players. Most of them would have done nothing without me. I’ll treasure their leaving present forever. A mirror. “Something for you to shout at.”

Good wee lads. Great wee lads. Wee great good wee lads.’

» Get your copy of iMag in City Press on Sundays

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