What’s left to say? Even if there was anything new, nobody is listening. This narrative is written. The capsule buried.
Late, on the day of the announcement, long after even Paddy Crerand had been told, Sky Sports News revisited that winner against Forest with Mark Robins and Martin Edwards.
Edwards confirmed Alex Ferguson would not have been sacked regardless. Robins dismissed as a myth his role as saviour.
Back to Jim White in studio. “Mark Robins there, whose goal in the FA Cup kept Sir Alex in a job all those years ago.”
Even myths are immovable now. All positions are entrenched. All stories told. Trophies tallied. Greatness assessed. Flaws underlined. Sheet balanced. Nobody will change their minds about Fergie at this stage.
There’s only room left for a little speculation.
We heard, last week, why Jose couldn’t have succeeded him. Just over a decade into his serious management career, Jose is already looking for love.
Is there any part of Fergie that wanted love? Not just the conditional love of the United family — conditional, as we saw in the fraught Djemba-Djemba years, on the trophies continuing to pile up.
But did he ever want a place closer to hearts like Busby or Paisley? Or is he content now with admiration, with awe, with fear? Could he have won it all slightly differently? Would his genius have been diminished by 10% less belligerence, 20% less intimidation, 30% less invective, 40% less rage? Could he have won it all without telling John Motson he’d “never get in this fucking club again”? Without bullying the journalists on his patch? Without training the mind ray on referees? Without landing the boot on Becks? Without telling Wenger to shut his mouth?
Or was every outburst an important line in the master plan? A tactical reducer. Like one of Scholesy’s ‘mistimed’ tackles.
Does it matter a damn now how he won it all? Talk often turned this week to what Fergie has given the game. The answer, of course, is nothing. Not deliberately anyway. Everything he gave was to Manchester United. Or Aberdeen, or his other causes.
As Gary Neville put it: “He just thinks about people on the island of Manchester United. Everyone outside of that island; sharks. Go away.”
Even the sharks circling Old Trafford can feast on his meaty achievements. A popular tribute this week: he changed the landscape of English football. But mustn’t we also examine the terrain his bulldozer left behind? A game where ‘Respect’ campaigns cannot deliver anything of the sort for officials. Where every penalty kick informs a conspiracy theory. A game where media bullying is endemic, where clubs like Newcastle United ban journalists on a whim. A game awash with bile between supporters, where United’s rivalry with Liverpool has scarcely been more toxic.
Knocked off their fucking perch. How many fans, on both sides, take their cues from that sentiment? How many other feuds does that venom infect? Football thrived on enmity long before Fergie, but anger is now the default setting. What responsibility must English football’s dominant personality take for shaping the game’s character these past decades? Unfair? There are enough accounts of his private geniality and kindness to suggest islander Fergie is a gross caricature. A game face.
Belligerence couldn’t have inspired generations of men to those heights, at least not without a sense of fairness and an incredible ability to give and gain trust.
Perhaps the big pity of this week is the news he is staying on the island. That nobody has sent a boat.
That will be the game’s loss. Neville himself — a true islander in his pomp — has done remarkably well to swim across the red sea. His time at Sky has polished United’s image — and informed us all on the mechanics of winning. A human face after the game face.
Fairness allowed flourish.
Fergie unmasked could have written a beautiful final chapter. It would have been an education. We might even have grown to love him.
Persuasiveness prized above track record
There is a famous poster in the Taffs’ Tavern pub in Liverpool which David Moyes has signed.
It bears his likeness, the legend ‘Manager of the Decade’ and the unforgettable ruling: “10 years at Everton for boss who proves you don’t need trophies to be a winner but he is a winner”.
It might have been taken down by now, but the message still stands, not just as testimony to some Scousers’ disregard for orthodox sentence structure, but also to the leap of faith Manchester United have taken.
Moyes might bring less belligerence, intimidation, invective and rage to his new position than his predecessor. But maybe not that much less. You have to suspect, in their desperation to maintain an influence over all aspects of English football, United have prized a certain ‘persuasiveness’ above track record.
Perhaps Moyes’ final audition was passed last month when he brusquely reminded Arsenal you are allowed to tackle up north. Or maybe as long as three years ago when he first squared up to Roberto Mancini.
For now, hard evidence of his persuasiveness is largely anecdotal.
This week, Martin Baker, author of Moyes’s unpublished autobiography, told The London Independent how Moyes recently shot the breeze with a photographer in the Goodison tunnel. Two children, the snapper confirmed. How’s the wife, wondered Moyes. Not married. A look.
Two children and she’s not your wife? The guy proposed later that day.
If everything goes well for him, it might be Moyes’s last involvement, for a while, with the business of love.
The danger in going out swinging
When the sun peeped last Monday, I almost rooted the old racquets out of the shed. They’re a little unwieldy yet for the twins, but you’re never too young to start swinging.
Then word filtered through of John Tomic’s latest scrape. Charged with landing a Croatian kiss on son Bernard’s hitting partner, breaking his nose.
We stuck with the big ball. It’s just too risky. What if they could play? Might I contract the lunacy epidemic that seems to grip so many tennis dads? Tomic is a seasoned menace. Then there was Mary Pierce’s oul lad and his courtside demands to “kill the bitch”. Jelena Dokic’s pa and his weakness for bomb threats. Christophe Fauviau, who got his first serve in early by drugging his children’s opponents. The pushy ‘Papa Merciless’ Graf. The tough love of Richard Williams. Cash-hungry Emmanuel Agassi who, literally, bet his house on his nine-year-old son’s match. There are many more.
There appears to be something about the tightly sealed confines of pro tennis that attracts the control freaks. Or maybe it’s just the money.
All told, it’s probably best stick with a couple of hurlogs. I’ll hardly go cracked on the GPA grant.
HEROES & VILLAINS
STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
Phil Babb: As one decent managerial career winds up, has another journey just begun? Hayes and Yeading United – Babbsy’s East Stirlingshire?
ESPN: One final parting shot at making a day of the cup final, for tradition’s sake. They haven’t been the worst, all things considered.
Ronnie O’Sullivan: Made a mockery of every convention in sport. Snooker must bring in the tackle if that’s what it takes to keep him interested.
TO HELL IN A HANDCART
Massimo Cellino: The Cagliari chief was banned for selling tickets to a match set to be played behind closed doors. What was it that Fergie said about sauce and pasta?
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