When it came to Sir Alex, I had to be more of a reporter than supporter. As a sports writer, I had to enjoy his qualities as a manager and not condemn them to an afterthought because of the club he presided over. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters
When it came to Sir Alex, I had to be more of a reporter than supporter. As a sports writer, I had to enjoy his qualities as a manager and not condemn them to an afterthought because of the club he presided over. Photo: Phil Noble/Reuters

OPINION: ‘Why I miss Sir Alex’

By Mark Keohane Time of article published May 2, 2020

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I miss Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson.

This may appear blasphemous; a Liverpool supporter missing a Manchester United manager. I do.

I miss his presence in football and I especially miss his vintage in the EPL.

When it came to Sir Alex, I had to be more of a reporter than supporter. As a sports writer, I had to enjoy his qualities as a manager and not condemn them to an afterthought because of the club he presided over.

His record at Manchester United and, before that, Aberdeen, is always worthy of repeat. Ferguson, in 808 league matches, lost just 114, which means his teams lost 14 percent of the time. In his 1 498 match career with United, the losing percentage was 17.8.

Sir Alex won 38 titles with Manchester United, including 13 league titles, and he won 10 titles in eight years with Aberdeen, including UEFA’s Super Cup.

Ferguson commanded the touchline, dictated terms with the media and, according to his players, owned the changeroom.

I miss his touchline and media rants, his verbal wars with Arsenal’s Arsene Wegner, Newcastle’s Kevin Keegan and Liverpool’s Rafael Benetiz.

I miss the stories of his hairdryer treatment of players, although he has always said the number of occasions were exaggerated.

I miss reading about ‘Fergie Time’, when referees, supposedly intimidated by Ferguson and the Old Trafford crowd, would play stoppage time until Manchester United scored the winner.

At least that was the perception, because the reality was different. During Ferguson’s tenure at Old Trafford from 1986 to 2013, his side scored 4.98% of their goals in the Premier League after the 90 minute period, which amounted to 81 goals and, according to Planet Football, following his resignation in 2013, Manchester United have scored 24 league goals in ‘Fergie’ time out of 355 goals, which is 6.76%.

There is also more perception that Manchester United’s ‘Fergie time’ goals were winning goals. United, of the 81 goals scored, only won on 16 occasions, with Liverpool (24 times) topping the post 90- minute winners.

I miss Ferguson’s distrust and disgust of referees.

“No referee should ever be applauded,” he said.

Again, this may sound blasphemous as a Liverpool supporter, but I also miss a strong Manchester United, who haven’t won the league since Ferguson’s 2012/13 season triumph.

The reporter in me misses Ferguson’s class as a manager and the supporter in me misses his very public hatred for my team Liverpool.

Sir Alex’s disdain for Liverpool comes from his humiliation at Anfield when he was the manager of Aberdeen. Liverpool, who had not lost in 76 matches, won 4-0 and Ferguson, in reflecting on the nightmare in his book A Light in the North, said his only instruction to the touchline was to ask the referee to “blow the bloody whistle . that summed up how I felt. I was never so glad to get a game out of the way in my whole life”.

Ferguson, that day in 1980, vowed vengeance on Liverpool and their supporters.

When Ferguson’s Manchester United team was struggling in 2002, the media wrote that he faced his biggest challenge in reversing results. Ferguson’s retort was that he had already conquered his biggest challenge.

“My greatest challenge is not what’s happening at the moment, my greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their f*****g perch. And you can print that.”

Liverpool, when Ferguson took over Manchester United in 1986, had won 18 league titles. Manchester United had won 7. When Ferguson retired in 2013, Liverpool still had 18 and United had 20.

Ferguson’s United eclipsed Liverpool as England’s premier side and on a personal level Ferguson had also avenged his most embarrassing day with Aberdeen at Anfield with 29 wins and 14 draws in his 62 matches against Liverpool, including many victories at Anfield. Ferguson would lose 17 times to Liverpool and his teams would total 81 goals and concede 73.

It was, according to Ferguson, 17 losses too many. Each one hurt more than the previous one.

There was a belated rivalry with neighbours Manchester City in his final few years, which accounted for barbs like ‘everybody has a noisy neighbour’ and ‘all they ever talk about is Manchester United’, but the opponent that got Ferguson’s blood boiling was Liverpool.

When he thought about Liverpool, he saw Red Mist, and when asked if Liverpool were 2007 title contenders, Sir Alex nearly choked: “You must be joking. Do I look as if I am a masochist ready to cut myself? How does relegation sound instead?”

Manchester United’s Gary Neville said the worst he ever experienced Ferguson was if Manchester United were losing at halftime at Anfield.

“He could not stand losing at Anfield. If we won there, it didn’t matter how we played - it was like the best thing in the world.”

Legend is that the cities of Manchester and Liverpool have been embroiled in hostility since the industrial revolution and for those who may have mellowed, Ferguson reminded them why there could never be love between Manchester United and Liverpool.

The hate is said to date back to when Mancunian merchants bypassed Liverpool in the 1894 construction of the Manchester ship canal and damaged the livelihood of Liverpudlians.

Sir Alex, on his arrival at Manchester United in 1986, would be a throwback to those Mancunian merchants in how he wanted to bypass Liverpool as a soccer entity.

“This isn’t just a job to me. It’s a mission,” he said in 1988. “I am deadly serious about it - some people would reckon too serious. We will get there and believe me, when it happens, life will change for Liverpool and everybody else - dramatically.”

Sir Alex refused to shake his distaste of Liverpool and, in his second autobiography, he wrote about Liverpool’s 2001 Cup treble campaign: ‘“I could always feel their breath on my neck from 30 miles away. My thought was, “Oh no, not them. Anyone but them.”

Initially, even in retirement Ferguson maintained his dismissiveness of Liverpool: “What’s great is our young fans growing up don’t even remember when Liverpool were successful.”

Liverpool, for those young Manchester United fans, won six league titles in the 1980s, but even in the most celebrated of Liverpool decade, they couldn’t shake United, who won eight and drew 10 of the 20 league matches against Liverpool.

Ferguson took seven years to win a league title with United and this ended a 25-year wait. In the last 30 years he has rejoiced at Liverpool not winning the title, although he has finally softened on his hatred of Liverpool because of Jurgen Klopp.

Ferguson likes Klopp, likes his approach and he likes the football Klopp’s Liverpool plays.

Ferguson, the lover of football, approves of what he sees in Klopp’s Liverpool because it mirrors what he did in his early years with Manchester United.

He approves, even if it means Liverpool winning the league.

You see, for all his protests, Sir Alex loves great football more than he could ever hate Liverpool Football Club.

I miss him.

@mark_keohane


Independent on Saturday

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