LARRY RYAN: Fergie’s leading role in a league of his own

Sometimes, I switch on A League of Their Own and leave it on for a few short moments.

It almost serves as a vaccination. Brief exposure to controlled levels of industrial strength bantz.

At the heart of it is James Corden, who you would have to describe as a great success in his line of work. A reported multi-millionaire, a man with profile both sides of the Atlantic. A near-ubiquitous presence on screen.

Within seconds of switching on ALOTO, you hear it; the great shrieks of laughter. Loud, desperate, disturbing, forced, heart-breaking shrieks.

Somehow, switching it off, there is a cloud of sadness at the sheer futility of the human condition. A gnawing panic at the vivid certainty that satisfaction will always lurk out of reach.

I somehow had the same feeling looking at the cover of Alex Ferguson’s new book, Leading.

Fergie’s leading role in a league of his own

In a Daily Mail profile, that one has no more than the usual reasons to disbelieve, we learned that James Corben once told his friend that all he wanted was to look at a magazine and see the headline: Is This The Most Important Man In Comedy?

We might never have imagined Alex Ferguson in that place of great need. But we can now.

As book follows book, it would be easy to take it that Fergie’s burning need is for more and more money, and we certainly have to factor that in.

Probably the chief insight his co-author Michael Moritz — a billionaire venture capitalist — delivers into Ferguson comes in an off-the-cuff interview with the Daily Mirror to promote the book. Asked if he’d ever seen Ferguson in a rage, Moritz replies: “Yes, when he got terrible advice from his accountants.”

It is hard to read Leading. The cover itself is an obstacle. On the cover of his last book, Ferguson faced us head on, though it was still notably impossible to look him in the eye.

The pose then was The Most Important Man in Football. Here, ambition has been scaled up. Fergie looks into the middle distance, visionary, presidential, the jowls perhaps deliberately slackened to reflect the kind of men who might be dipping in, eager to divine a universal truth for an AGM address.

They may be disappointed. Early inspection suggests Moritz and Fergie do their best to deliver the necessary aphorisms, albeit ones well worn to threadbare. An old chestnut roasts within the first passage: “There’s a reason that God gave us two ears, two eyes and one mouth.”

We soon hear that for young players, nothing is impossible. “They will try and run through a barbed-wire fence, while older players will try to find the gate.” It is a line Brendan Rodgers has used before.

There is nothing influential men hate more than be sold out-of-date gurus.

As he brings us to the core of leadership, Fergie explains how, in his dealings with players, he acted like a priest, a father and a lawyer.

We are not invited to recall how he broke the dressing room confessional in his last book or that Manchester United looked into suing Roy Keane for criticising their leader. Though Fergie the father does remind us he once sold his own son.

The ‘world class’ debate that raged this week might as easily have belonged in Corden’s autobiography, May I Have Your Attention Please?, so transparent a ploy it was to command headlines.

Was Roy Keane a ’world class’ player? Neville O’Donoghue, Peter McNamara and Robert McNamara discuss Alex Ferguson’s comments on the ’world class’ players he worked with.

Of course the omissions of Keane and Schmeichel and company reveal a pettiness as saddening as Corden’s peals of fake mirth, reinforcing the impression that no success will ever be enough if there is even one dissenter left standing.

In fairness, the book is worth it for one possibly accidental gem.

“A leader who arrives in a new setting, or inherits a big role, needs to curb the impulse to display his manhood.”

It serves as a rebuke to David Moyes for disbanding Ferguson’s backroom staff, and possibly for banning chips, but can work just as well as distaste for the famous motivational trick Louis van Gaal unveiled to good effect at Bayern Munich — jocks at half-mast.

There isn’t a lot here on Moyes or LVG or the tasks they faced. The great leaders of our time probably share Fergie’s lack of focus on succession planning, though they might want a little more rhetoric about it, for box-ticking purposes.

Fergie does, at least, remind us how far down the list of candidates Moyesy was. More priestly work. As we plod through how it was all done, how his empire was created, it is impossible not to consider how much all of this revelation has impacted Moyesy’s task. And LVG’s task.

When the people who this book is aimed at get to talking about leadership, the words of Lao Tzu are never far from their lips. Perhaps his most famous line on leadership is this:

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: We did it ourselves.”

When we consider United’s mini-collapse after Fergie departed, we have to consider nobody has been left in any doubt who did it all.

The man who was once in a league of his own.

TMO has ventured offside this time

Fergie’s leading role in a league of his own

The Rugby World Cup didn’t waste any time cementing the impression that every rugby match is the most momentous ever played. By day two, Japan gave us the most momentous sporting event ever.

Eventually, once that hullaballoo died down, and we found that even in the game of unlimited human reserves of fortitude, bravery can’t blossom twice in a week, another hot topic presented itself.

Turns out all that lingo learned was for nought. After all that jackalling and crocodile rolling, just four words are now required to participate in any rugby conversation: Overreliance on the TMO. It is a sobering warning to those who constantly lecture us that technology will tidily clean up all football’s ‘controvassy’, clamour that grew in the wake of Mike Dean’s calamitous handling of the Costa-Gabriel spat last Saturday.

In reality, one simple poser should confound those TMO enthusiasts: Have you ever seen a goal scored from a corner, where there wasn’t some kind of minor foul committed, unseen by the referee?

And do you really want to hang around waiting for every single one to be analysed from every angle?

Heroes & Villains

Stairway to Heaven

Apres Match:

Another magnificent outing, particularly a note-perfect reunion of George Hamilton and Jim Beglin.

Jim Gavin:

Speculation was he reined in the joy on The Sunday Game to deny Kerry any further motivation for next year. We have reached peak GAA self-denial.

Hell in a Handcart

Jose Mourinho:

“To win derbies, you need emotional control.” Eye-gouging an opposing coach doesn’t sound any better now it seemingly was a calm act of reason.

Keith Curle:

Bastien Hery shipped most of the heat for the missed penalty at Anfield, but who sends up a man with the Nando’s logo on his head to take your fifth?


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