Over the next few days, we’ll all have to swallow gallons of journalistic effluvium about the great Alex Ferguson, who announced his resignation this morning. We will be told about the legendary gum-chewing manager who transformed humble, working-class Manchester United into a world-topping global brand. We should, however, be expressing relief that a man who has done so much damage to English football is at last quitting.
First off, we now have the cheering possibility that Manchester United’s boring dominance of top-flight football will finally end. This year they won the Premier League without at any stage playing all that well. Other teams just couldn’t get their act together. This makes a mockery of the Premier League’s claim to be the best in the world.
Man U have been impressive to watch, of course – they always are. Sir Alex’s sides play good attacking football, most of the time. But their relentless success – and the media’s excessive reverence towards it – is now tedious and frustrating.
There’s a darker side to Fergie’s legacy, too. Sir Alex helped cultivate the with-us-or-against-us, win-at-all-costs mentality that has taken over English football – and removed whatever tiny vestiges of sporting decency might have been left in the national game. Fergie’s Manchester United taught the rest of English football how to bully the ref. The sight of pig-thick footballers surrounding match officials, screaming and gesticulating psychotically, their faces twisted in mindless indignation, is now an integral part of the Premier League circus, and every team does it. But Man U mastered the act before anyone else.
Can you remember Alex Ferguson ever criticising his players for foul play? Nope, me neither. I can, however, recall him standing by Roy Keane after he admitted conducting a pre-meditated assault on Alf-Inge Haaland.
And let’s not forget his outrageous arrogance towards the BBC, which had the temerity to produce a documentary about Manchester United’s business dealings with his son Jason. Ferguson refused to talk to the Beeb for eight years – even though the Beeb pay huge amounts of money for the broadcasting rights of Premier League highlights. He only gave up his protest after football’s authorities threatened to fine Man U every time their manager refused to be interviewed. It’s hard to imagine that, with any lesser manager, the league would have taken so long to act.
In the post-match interviews he does give, Sir Alex is notoriously sulky and ungracious. He says the worst side won if his side lost. Last year, after United were knocked out of the Champions League by Bayern Munich, he even accused the German team of influencing the referee. Ha!
Perhaps you think football is too money-orientated these days. Well again, Ferguson ought to take some blame. Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea and Sheikh Mansour’s Man City may have bought their way to success, but they were only imitating United’s heavy spending tactics. It was Fergie who, after missing out on Rio Ferdinand for a transfer-record breaking £18 million in 2000, signed him two years later for a staggering £30 million.
So cheerio Fergie. No doubt you are the most remarkable manager in the history of English football. But I for one won’t miss you – not a jot.