A soccer saga

Lead review

A soccer saga

One of the most popular managers in the history of football, Sir Alex Ferguson played an important role in Manchester United’s success story. In his book, ‘My Autobiography’, Ferguson narrates his experiences, writes Utkal Mohanty 

Anyone with a cursory interest in British Premier League could not have missed the Manchester United coach with that stern, determined look on his face pacing outside the touchlines with  nervous concentration. That’s Alex Ferguson — he never loosened up for a moment, never smiled. I am not paid to smile, he says. This is his story. 

The book rose to the top of the British bestseller list immediately on release and it is not difficult to see why. As the manager of 27 years for Manchester United, the team that has won a record 20 league titles, Ferguson not only straddled the game like a colossus, but also transformed it into a major entertainment spectacle globally. But the book is not so much of an autobiography as a memoir of his stint at Manchester United, with abundant tidbits on players and matches. But what players and what matches!

From David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo to Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Paul Scholes, Ferguson has handled some of the most talented, most charismatic and most celebrated footballers on the planet. He expresses his unhappiness at Beckham’s choice to chase fame and celebrity status instead of concentrating on being a great football player. He narrates the incident of a team dinner where Beckham refuses to take off his beanie hat that hid his shaved head, meant to be revealed the next day under full media glare.

He confesses that Ronaldo was the most gifted player he ever managed, and narrates the fascinating story of how he signed on the prodigy while he was playing for Sporting Lisbon. After the decision to sign him was taken, a private plane was hired to fly him, his mother, his sister and his lawyer for the signing of contract the next day. Later Ferguson had to let Ronaldo go to Real Madrid for a jaw-dropping 80 million pounds. 

The book is littered with anecdotes involving the club’s greatest stars. There is mention of managers and players from rival teams. Jose Mourinho, who managed Chelsea and Real Madrid, gets full praise. He singles out Barcelona as the best team ever to line up against Manchester United teams. He is amazed at the accomplishments of Lionel Massi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, the ‘ wonderful mites, 5 feet 6 inches tall, with the courage of lions’. 

If you are a follower of British Premier League, there is enough for you to feast on. What about the lay reader? I am afraid the book neither offers any compelling insights or a coherent narrative. Chapters on players are intersperse randomly with chapters titled ‘Family’ and ‘Psychology’. In the ‘Family’ section one learns that for 47 years, Ferguson’s wife Cathy kept up with the routine of waiting to open the door as he came home at two or three in the morning. And that she did not like socialising much after they left Glasgow. In the ‘Psychology’ segment, we learn about his habit of tapping his watch, which spooked his opponents.

They falsely believed that there was more of extra time available than actually was the case, and knowing Manchester United’s record of scoring late in the game, they feared the worst. The episode of corruption charges against his son Jason related to player transfers through his involvement with Elite Sports Agency levelled by the BBC documentary titled Fergie and Son is dismissed in a single sentence as ‘not true’. 

If you are not particularly well-versed with British Premier League or the British football scene in general, you will find the opening chapter of ‘Glasgow Roots’ the most engaging. Here, Ferguson sketches a fascinating picture of the middle-class Scottish obsession with football intertwined with the pub culture. The other section where he dwells on things other than football is in a section titled ‘Outside Interests’.

This is in fact the most revealing of Ferguson as a person. He talks of the values that were ingrained in him by his parents and the values that he was bequeathing to his children. ‘Labour politics and the great vineyards aside, America was the source of my main intellectual interests. JFK, the Civil War, Vince Lombardi and the great American ball games: these were among my escapes from the pressures of football’, he writes.  

But, in the end, this is a football book, about football, about British football to be more precise, narrated by the most imposing figure in the British football scene in the last 50 years. Paul Hayward, the chief sports writer of the Daily Telegraph, who is credited as the co-writer does a good job of faithfully reproducing Ferguson’s voice all through the book. The book features some three dozen colour photos, and for the statistically minded, there are 30 pages summarising Ferguon’s impressive career record. 

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