When most coaches retire, they usually become consultants, TV analysts, motivational speakers or they just fade away. Not Sir Alex Ferguson.
The legendary coach of Manchester United, who won a record 13 Premier League titles and 36 other major trophies during his 26 seasons, has unveiled a 350-page autobiography filled with glowing pictures, a 40-page statistical summary of his career and scathing comments about players, media, referees, rival coaches and even Man U fans.
And it comes barely five months after he stepped down.
Aptly called My Autobiography, Ferguson pulls few punches, taking on former Man U greats David Beckham and Roy Keane, along with current star Wayne Rooney. Few were spared, including Calgary-born Owen Hargreaves, who played barely four years at Man U but was lambasted by Ferguson as a “disaster” and “one of the most disappointing signings of my career.”
Such is the power of Ferguson that the book, which is his second autobiography, climbed to the top of Amazon’s bestseller list before it was released and prompted so much speculation about what it would contain that Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said earlier this week: “We all fear the worst.”
At a carefully crafted news conference last Monday in London, Ferguson sat under glaring television lights in a neat suit and gave no apologies for what he wrote, while also making it clear to the 100-plus reporters in attendance that he’d rather be anywhere else. He insisted in his thick Scottish brogue he was not trying to get back at old foes.
“With the number of players I’ve had there will be issues and it’s not about settling scores,” he said. “It’s about explaining decisions.”
One of those decisions was what to do with Beckham, one of the most talented players of his gene-ration who arrived at Man U in 1991 as a teenager full of promise.
Ferguson said Beckham’s playing career suffered after he married Spice Girls singer Victoria Adams, aka Posh Spice, in 1999. He was sold to Real Madrid in 2003 for £25-million ($41-million), before bolting for Hollywood in 2007 and joining the L.A. Galaxy, giving the fledgling Major League Soccer some badly-needed star power but marking the decline of his playing days.
“I think the big problem for me, and I’m a football man, was he fell in love with Victoria and that changed everything,” Ferguson said.
In the book, he goes farther, saying Beckham surrendered his career by chasing the glamour of Tinsel Town and describing him as “the only player I managed who chose to be famous, who made it his mission to be known outside the game.”
Beckham’s greatest sin, however, was thinking “he was bigger than Alex Ferguson.” That sealed his fate and led to the sale to Real Madrid. “You cannot have a player taking over the dressing room. … That was the death knell for him.”
Keane also felt Ferguson’s wrath after tangling with the manager once too often, and fiercely criticizing his teammates in a video in 2005. Ferguson quickly unloaded Keane even though he was among the team’s best players. “The one thing I could never allow was loss of control, because control was my only saviour,” he wrote.
This week, Keane shot back, accusing Ferguson of disloyalty and saying he found it strange the ex-manager runs down players who brought him success.
There are plenty more tales in the book, of trouble with reporters, Rooney’s lack of fitness, facing off against angry fans, confronting referees, boycotting the BBC and battling rival coaches.
He ventured into topics as diverse as racism – “we have to find a way of living together” – and why as a proud Scot he twice turned down offers to coach England’s national team. “There was no way I could manage England. Think of me going back to Scotland. Deary me,” he said this week.
The book comes at a tricky time for Man U. The Red Devils are off to their worst start in years under new manager David Moyes, stuck in eighth place in the Premier League. Moyes, who was hand-picked by Ferguson to be his successor, has spent months trying to put his own stamp on the storied club. That hasn’t been easy given the relentless scrutiny and the fact Ferguson remains a club director.
Now, the autobiography has once again reminded Man U fans of the glory years.
Ferguson, however, offered some encouraging words for his replacement.
“Manchester United are the only team that can win that league coming from behind,” he said. “[Moyes] is in a great position and will get the same support I got. They will be fine.”