Review: Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography by Sir Alex Ferguson

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Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography by Sir Alex Ferguson book cover
Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography (2013), ghost-written by Paul Hayward, is the latest book from football’s preeminent manager of the last two decades. Following his retirement in May 2013 after 26 and a half years in charge of Manchester United, this is a chance for Sir Alex Ferguson to settle some old scores, and share a few opinions previously unvoiced in public. Although there are a few sections relating to his life outside of United, this isn’t a full autobiography per se, but rather a collection of Ferguson’s thoughts on his players and achievements from about 2001-2013. Managers he pitted his wits against like Benitez and Wenger, players he managed like Keane and Beckham, or faced like Gerrard and Xavi; all come in for the Ferguson treatment here. Some fare better than others, but all are subject to an uncensored appraisal from the most successful manager in the history of English football.

If there’s one message that shines out from Ferguson’s writing it is the importance of control. Ferguson’s credo was that control was everything – as soon as a player threatened his control, he had to go (Beckham, Keane - to name but the most prominent). At times Ferguson’s dogged adherence to this notion tips, almost, into paranoia, and it certainly seems that Ferguson was a man all too aware of the potential influence of others over his life and career. But this is perhaps not surprising for a man at the top of his game for such a long period of time. Indeed, Ferguson’s long-term approach to management is refreshing and something many people, in and outside of football, could learn from. The ability to manage change and look always to the future, never to be tricked into short-termism, was the key to Ferguson’s success.

One of the main elements to this long-term thinking was an investment in United’s youth team, and here there a real sense of the bond Ferguson developed with his young players as they came through the ranks at United – it was a youth system in which he showed an almost paternal pride. In a book where much is petty, it’s good to see Ferguson’s affectionate side too – undoubtedly, the tough Glaswegian who prowled the touchline at Old Trafford over the past 26 years, barracking officials and players alike, is but one side of Ferguson’s personality. The family man, with plenty of interests beyond football, and who gives his time to worthy causes, breaks through at times here.

Ferguson is of the old school, undoubtedly, but his ability to adapt is what kept him at the absolute pinnacle of the game until his retirement. One could have stood more on how he adapted to the new culture of celebrity players living the million-dollar lifestyle, of sports scientists, and tiki-taka. But perhaps his glib dismissal of all but the latter in the book reflects his approach in life.

Although ghost-written, the book captures Ferguson’s tone, the narrative jumping about and running on tangents frequently. It’s an interesting insight into the way Ferguson’s mind works, but it doesn’t always make for an easy read. There are a few too many sloppy passages, where some repeated sentiments could have been excised, or thoughts brought to a more concise head. For a fan of Manchester United, though, the prose rolls along nicely, almost like having a meandering conversation with Ferguson. He’s affable enough, acknowledging some of his own errors if skipping over others. His judgements of the players he managed, and the teams and managers he came up against, are fascinating, if not revelatory. Certainly, there isn’t any great amount of new material here – few fresh stories to whet the appetite – but rather the book offers a different perspective on already familiar situations. Some topics do, however, remain untouched: the Glazers control of United, which surely offended at least some of Ferguson’s (socialist) sensibilities; the row with John Magnier over ownership of champion racehorse Rock of Gibraltar; Ferguson’s decision to back David Moyes as United’s next manager ahead of other candidates (most notably, Jose Mourinho).

After all the sensationalist press around the book, Ferguson’s views are less biting than might have been expected. Although he’s happy to settle some scores here, most of his opinions are balanced and, whether one agrees with them wholeheartedly or not, few feel like vicious attacks. Ultimately, this is rather a rolling book, lacking structure, but will still be a pleasure for United fans, eager to hear more from the man who filled the trophy cabinets at Old Trafford many times over and turned their club into a global powerhouse.

This is a light, and pretty enjoyable read. Lacking in detail or significantly new material, it's still a book that most United fans will want to pick up.


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