Date: 6th November 2011 at 11:05am
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Power and Control.

These were the two things Sir Alex Ferguson outlined as the issues he faced as a manager when speaking at Trinity College in January 2010.

As he enters his 25th year as manager at Manchester United he can happily say, amidst all of the scandal and success, that his power has never waned and that he has remained in control at all times.

There are various moments in his quarter of a century spell at the helm of the biggest football club in history that that you could highlight in praising Sir Alex.

Knocking Liverpool off their perch in May must rank highly, as will securing the club’s second and third European Cups in such dramatic fashion.

The number of quality players that he has overseen the development of will be a personal badge of pride too as it is something he did as far back as at his days as boss of St Mirren.

At the same time there are situations that haven’t portrayed Sir Alex in the best light too.

He himself will say that he didn’t handle Jaap Stam in the best manner, selling the defender after his tell all book and the disruptive influence of his row with John Magnier over the ownership of the horse Rock of Gibraltar is also something people hold against him.

But that is the nature of the beast, nobody is perfect and we admire Sir Alex more for the good than we dislike him for the bad, anyway what good would it be having an angel manage a team called the Red Devils?

As a man much can be said about Ferguson too, for all the negative that is written about him and how he is portrayed in a media that he shows great disdain, he appears a good person.

For a person in his position of power he is remarkably grounded, owing to his working class upbringing in Govan. It is often said he affords the same amount of respect to the tea lady as he does a millionaire star striker and that is a brilliant quality to have especially as a leader.

But that is just one of his better qualities and in a recent situation he put them all to good use.

It is a rarity for Sir Alex to have his authority challenged, nobody is above the law, but for the work he has put in and years he has been in the game I, like many, would see it like a massive lack of respect for someone to question him.

Power and Control.

These are the two issues Sir Alex spoke of in January 2010 at Trinity College and months later he would face one of his biggest crisis’s as his star striker Wayne Rooney attempted to publicly defy a man that had been in his job since the Rooney was a year and a few days old.

This wasn’t the first time someone had attempted to rock the boat, Stam’s book, Beckham’s openly showing his stitched eye after Sir Alex had accidentally kicked a boot at him, these are just some examples but this instance was different.

What Rooney did was not only a slight on Sir Alex but on Manchester United, a club that the Scot had at that point poured 24 years of his life into.

Rooney’s questioning of the club’s ambition as well as defiance in claiming he was fit after Sir Alex said he wasn’t rocked the club to the core.

But having been in the game as long as Sir Alex has you learn how to control situations. Sir Alex has friends in high places, his relationship with Alistair Campbell is no secret, and will have learned a thing or two from them as well so it’s no surprise that this episode brought out the brilliant best of Sir Alex.

All it took was one week, 7 days, for Sir Alex to reaffirm his position as the boss to anybody that was in doubt and whilst we didn’t realise at the time, after we would marvel at how he did it.

On the Tuesday 19th October we saw one side of Sir Alex as he went before the world’s press to speak on Wayne Rooney. It would be remise of me to call it a performance as that implies he was putting on an act, I feel he was 100% sincere in everything he said, but it was surely one of his greatest moments on camera.

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He spoke honestly from the heart and with conviction as he always does. I remarked at the time it reminded me of King Lear in that a man that we were so used to seeing in an omnipotent position opening himself up.

Manchester United is like a child to Sir Alex and it is something he has become fiercely proud of. To have an upstart try and soil the club’s name and reputation will have offended him deeply and you can gauge that from his words.

“I told Wayne I want only one thing from you – to respect the club. I demand that.”

Vulnerable, whilst not quite the right word, is the closest I can use to describe him in the press conference but at the same time he retained his aura of power. Only a man with power can make demands and he made sure to state that he didn’t just ask that of Wayne, he demanded it.

He was still in the driving seat here.

His words gave the impression that in wanting what was best for the club he wanted what was best for Rooney and at no time did he have a go at Wayne.

He continually asserted that he and Wayne hadn’t had a falling out and it worked two fold. It meant that fans would be dumbfounded as to why the player would want to leave, the onus was now on Wayne to explain himself, but also it didn’t make it seem like Wayne had shown personal disrespect to him, something that if he had done would not have allowed for reconciliation at any point (we’ve all seen Wayne lose it on the pitch, now try imagine him trying to mouth off to Sir Alex like that, makes you uneasy, slightly angry doesn’t it?).

By the time he had finished the press conference, there isn’t fan in the world that could or would back Rooney. I don’t think it was his intention to make Rooney the villain as he said Rooney was a player he wanted to keep but at the same time you couldn’t help but resent the fact that Rooney had made Sir Alex take such steps.

Rooney fired back with his own comments but this only served to make his position worse and Sir Alex sensed the end game. Following the game with Bursaspor, where United backed up the manager’s words with a win, he came out more powerfully, more defiantly in response to Wayne’s criticisms.

“As I said, three Premier League titles in a row is fantastic and we were within one point of a record fourth… There’s nothing wrong with Manchester United, not a thing wrong with it. So we’ll carry on.”

With this press conference he seemed revitalised, and whereas on the Tuesday he spoke of the club and it’s traditions, on the Wednesday he spoke of the here and now.

He refuted Rooney’s claims with evidence, 3 titles in 4 years and then finally he let Wayne know exactly where he stood: ‘We’ll carry on.’

Sir Alex left out the words ‘without Rooney’ but that is essentially what he said and despite stating that he would prefer to keep the striker, his last statement let him know that as was the case when stars bigger than Wayne left before, United would carry on.

We don’t know what took place behind the scenes after this but there was an almighty scramble and by the Friday, Wayne had backtracked signing a new deal.

In Gary Neville’s book he says Wayne came in on the Thursday saying he would be staying, this was just a day after he released his statement questioning the club and it’s players, so Sir Alex’s words must have had some effect!

There are small-minded people that will say that Rooney got his way and was the winner of the whole saga but look at it and realise that Sir Alex was the real winner, he manipulated the situation in a way that would ensure that he would come out on top.

Wayne apologised for any disrespect that he showed the club and Sir Alex kept his man, despite the player stating he had no intention of entering contract talks and had his heart set on leaving.

Despite taking a while, Rooney would shake off the saga and get into sumptuous form, pairing with Javier Hernandez to fire us to a 19th title as well as the Champions League final.

If you had told someone that United would end up in that position on Tuesday 19th October, many people would have questioned your sanity. But if anyone could have steered the ship that way it was Sir Alex Ferguson. It is something that should be commended more than it is especially as most fans screamed that we should get rid of him, but Sir Alex had the intelligence to know we would be better keeping him

The situation has been called by some as the finest moment in Sir Alex’s 25 years at the club and there is a strong case for it.

We saw the man at his best; his man management skills in getting Rooney back on board and back in form, his love for the club in the press conferences, the winning mentality in making sure that he would come out of the whole affair on top.

There was pride, humility, defiance and probably one hell of an inspirational team talk before the Bursaspor game urging them to go out and prove Rooney wrong.

And these are things we have seen from Sir Alex at various points in his 25 years and these are the things that have seen him become as successful a manager as you are likely to see.

Phil Neville described Sir Alex as a headmaster in an interview with the BBC  this week but I think a father is a more fitting description.

Whilst you may fear your father, at some point fear always gives way to love and respect and there is no player that has played under Sir Alex that can say that they don’t respect him.

Out of respect comes the feeling of never wanting to let a person down so you can attribute a fair bit of our success to that.

I will put my neck on the line and say it will be a long time before we see a man at the helm of a club as big as Manchester United for as long as Sir Alex has and will be and at the same time keep that club successful and relevant.

Sir Alex is a rarity in the game and I’m sure that every United fan that reads this, and the ones that don’t, are all happy to that he has been the manager of our club and long may it continue.

Power and control.

These were the two issues Sir Alex said he faced in his time in the game when speaking at Trinity College in 2010.

but he should never worry about losing either because love him or hate him there will always be an unerring respect for a man that took over an ailing kingdom and restored it to lasting glory in the manner he has.


2 responses to “Power And Control: A Sir Alex Ferguson Story”

  1. Ben says:

    Best SAF25 article I’ve read so far… Such great respect for a giant among men!

  2. Jimmy Radner says:

    Decent piece. Needs a good sub-edit, though. Lack of punctuation made it a job to read at times.