The Dark Knight Returns for two-faced Fergie

April 1, 2016 Tags: Reads 15 comments
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“It’s not who you are underneath. It’s what you do that defines you,” Rachel Dawes tells Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins. The billionaire playboy had spent his evening gallivanting with models in the pool of a high-class restaurant before bumping into his childhood friend. The carefree attitude, he pleaded, was nothing but a façade; deep down there’s more than meets the eye. Dawes’ profound, if clumsy, rejoinder leaves an impression on the man who would become the Caped Crusader.

Manchester United’s very own dark knight, Sir Alex Ferguson, also had a few things to say when he sat down with Sky Sports this week. Ferguson is far from the callow protagonist Christian Bale portrays in the first of Christopher Nolan’s Bat-trilogy. The Scot, if anything, more closely resembles the grizzled, world-weary, incarnation in Frank Miller’s seminal comic book mini-series, “The Dark Knight Returns.”

Ferguson knows that his every statement will be dissected and analysed. Despite his seemingly diminished status at United the Scot’s public remarks resonate. His interview, this week, may not be a power-play as such, but it is a reminder of the knight’s ability to influence the conversation.

Speaking to Sky Sports’ Jim White, the former United manager discussed an array of topics; the headlines, of course, all focused on United.

Of the Premier League title race he opined that he can “only see Tottenham being a danger to Leicester.” Spurs, he says, “are playing some of the best football I’ve seen from” the North Londoners in many years. But Leicester, he concludes, has the edge.

On Dele Alli he notes that the 19-year-old is “the best young midfield player” he’s seen in England since the mercurial Paul Gascoigne. Ferguson also lauded Mauricio Pochettino’s work, before mischievously suggesting that Spurs’ biggest task this summer is to retain the Argentine. He might not be wrong given the shortening odds on Pochettino’s potential arrival at Old Trafford.

The former United manager also lavished praise on Pep Guardiola, noting that Manchester City pulled off a coup in signing the Spaniard, and that the former Barcelona boss will succeed with the Citizens. There was, however, a warning that that Pep will find life in the Premier League tough.

But it was Ferguson’s comments on Louis van Gaal that garnered the headlines – and merit the greatest scrutiny from United fans.

"The bigger question is Ferguson’s ulterior motive, because there is always one. Not all observers will conclude that Ferguson’s support for Van Gaal is genuine."

“It is dead easy to be critical,” he said of the Dutchman’s troubled second season. “You have to be realistic about some things – the number of injuries he has had: Phil Jones has played only seven games this season, Ashley Young, Valencia, and Shaw, these are big losses.

“There are also five new players in their first season at United, and two are young players in Martial and Memphis, and their promise is good. You have to have some patience being a Manchester United fan and they have shown that over the years; in Matt Busby’s time, in my time. For 150 years of history it is worth having a couple of years on the quiet side of success because they will always come back and come back strong.”

It is a robust defence from Ferguson and more importantly the most high profile support for the Dutchman from any senior United figure. In turn, it is tempting to unpack Ferguson’s comments – to analyse the injury situation that has spanned across Van Gaal’s two seasons, with a concurrent changing squad and necessity to blood young players, and conclude that faith in the manager is indeed required.

The bigger question, however, is Ferguson’s ulterior motive – because there is always one. Not all observers will conclude that Ferguson’s support for Van Gaal is genuine; not when the Scot failed to raise his voice when his disciples, such as Paul Scholes, were so forthright in criticising the Dutchman. Some, indeed, believe that Ferguson’s move is an attempt to stem the clamour in some circles for a certain Portuguese super coach.

Alex Ferguson

Ferguson’s influence with the media is still strong

In a message  that will always sit well with United’s support, Ferguson commended Van Gaal for playing youth teamers before singling out Marcus Rashford for praise.

“You have to give him credit, he’s given nine young players their debut. I think the future is good,” the Scot said. “Rashford is an example of what I think is Manchester United. They are the one club in England who will always identify a Rashford and give a young kid a chance. There is no better club in England at giving young kids a chance. Rashford is a sensation and one of the best in years.”

Simple, innocent, statements designed to highlight the positive work Van Gaal has done at United or something more Machiavellian afoot? Given that Ryan Giggs recently spoke to Inside United about the club’s history of nurturing youth players there is more than a whiff of coincidence in the air.

The former United boss shouldn’t be, and probably isn’t, surprised by the intrigue and forensic deconstruction of his interview. He has, after all, conditioned supporters and the media alike not to take his comments at face value. There’s always an underlying message.

With rumours that a power struggle is rife behind the scenes at Old Trafford, it’s easy to assume that Ferguson’s play is one designed to influence the wider debate about United’s future. And, more importantly, to get his way.

Despite being marginalised, Ferguson is well aware that he is one of the few figures in the boardroom who can speak to the media with authority. Impunity, event. The Glazers, as is the family’s modus operandi, choose to remain mute, while Ed Woodward does not hold the same clout. Hence the frequent briefings off-the-record.

Ferguson is still the man with the most football expertise at United and he is using that leverage to influence the club’s direction. And while he got it badly wrong by championing David Moyes’ appointment, there is still no effective or credible counter-weight to challenge Ferguson’s views in public. Woodward has not the force of personality to rein in the Scot, while Ferguson is firmly entrenched in the Glazer family’s corner.

"With rumours of a power struggle behind the scenes, it’s easy to assume that Ferguson’s play is one designed to influence the debate about United’s future."

The former United manager is also wily enough to know how to present his case in public without being overt in his strategy. After all, with a compliant media ready to lap up his every word, Ferguson has a ready outlet to relay his opinions without the nuisance of being challenged about his past misdeeds.

Of course, it could simply be a case of over-analysis. Perhaps this is much ado about nothing and the Scot’s interview was a rare, upfront and honest insight about what he really believes. Yet, Ferguson’s record means that nothing passes without scrutiny – nor a hint of agenda.

For better or worse, by defending Van Gaal, Ferguson is defined as a purveyor of continuity, the Dutchman’s defender-in-chief and, critically, anti-Mourinho. Sir Alex is a man who is not quite ready to let go.

Perhaps that’s the way he likes it to be as he enjoys retirement. But if that’s the case any comparison with the Dark Knight is wide of the mark. If anything Ferguson is far closer to Harvey Dent’s criminal moniker: Two-Face.

With a nod to Mark Cameron and Adi Winoto for artwork inspiration


Howard wilkinson - April 1, 2016 Reply

fergie had his moment and chose Moyes – he should not be involved in any more decisions, he’s retired, done!

Geoff Kennedy - April 1, 2016 Reply

you said it! – the man with the most football expertise at United – so stop having a go eh?

NazManUnited - April 1, 2016 Reply

Money Money Money loadsa money if Ed doesn’t make a change MUFC will start losing money

Subterranean Steve - April 1, 2016 Reply

Fergie is the greatest British manager of all time and he created a golden age at United. For that he deserves all the credit going.

Since the Moyes mess he has kept a relatively low profile, certainly as far as public comments are concerned. So why come out now and start defending what some fans think is the indefensible ie. van Gaal’s record at United? Most fans want van Gaal out and had resigned themselves to tolerating him for the rest of this season but on the assumption that he would then be gone.

Notwithstanding references to Sir Matt’s retirement, current injuries and the rise of Marcus Rashford etc., Fergie’s comments ring hollow in the ears of United fans who have tolerated van Gaal’s erratic team selections and, for the most part, negative tactics, which have produced a style of football alien to most Reds.

Does Fergie care so little for the fans that he is willing to shore up van Gaal’s position at the club with the obvious outcome that we are more likely to have a third year of the man, just to keep Mourinho at bay? Looks that way.

Opti - April 2, 2016 Reply

Or does Fergie and LvG actually know about football, unlike it’s fanatical fans?
Devil’s Advocate

Ed - April 2, 2016 Reply

Yeah, but Fergie picked Moyes and Van Gaal… well he’s not doing a great job, is he? Besides, comments like this sound like “you’re not allowed to have an opinion,” which is obviously bollocks.

subterranean steve - April 3, 2016 Reply

Opti, I acknowledge your sincerity, so there is no need to hide behind devil’s advocacy. I have no problem with other Reds having views different to mine.

I’m of the “I Disapprove of What You Say, But I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It” school of thought.

Keep on ranting in the Free World.

karlo - April 4, 2016 Reply

I wish there was a like button on this just for that comment , spot on mate

clive - April 2, 2016 Reply

Your retired Mr.Ferguson your a legend always will be.However cant help the uneasy feeling.That you are worried that jose will not only do well at United.He might even Eclipse you! I honestly believe you Genuinely dont want that!

pint vulger - April 2, 2016 Reply

Its like saying ‘i,m not a racist’ when you enter conversation about someone with different skin colour than you when you harp up about Fergie. I feel its almost insulting when the great man makes statements like this,after all I have studied the game for almost the same time as him.
Of course he has forgotten more than I or us know ,and surely SURELY ? he has the continual success of the club at heart doesnt he? He surely cannot be that conceited ,can he?
Or is it that he doesnt wield the power I think he has or should have?
Is it a case of everyone keeping stum ,rumours here and there keep the club in the headlines.
What is evident is how a club on the scale of Utd (seeing what happened at Anfield) could possibly get into this shitstick of a situation and for that Sir Alex you must take some blame.Piss poor management of Champions League standard,when and I do contradict the man on this ,all that was needed was a bit of tinkering.
All Moyes needed was ‘ no fuck the rest of your crew off,we have title winning coaches and team already , but no manager ,so the jobs yours if you want’
Panic set in then ,lets appoint a conceited coach with a fairly average CV (for a Utd manager)who cant start with us until a week before the action starts and give loads of dosh to rip up the squad.
Then when the cunt is serving up some of the most baffling tactics even us amateurs can critique the club passover an unbelievable chance not only to secure probably the best manager of the modern era ( inc Fergie) they pass on the chance to win another title in my lifetime , I think I could have managed Utd to be in contention today.
OK I agree some of the injuries have been ridiculous, another question?
In my limited knowledge Mourinho would present Utd with the best chance for Utd to successful in the short term (boring they beat Wigan 9-0 to win the title ,Utd lost to them to lose one,he won the CL with ten fucking men)
So Sir Alex you obviously know much more than us ,and if we fuck up again ,because even Stevie Wonder can see the likeable clown LVG is the biggest con man since Charles Ponzi , thats on if you do have the power ? on your ultimate CV/
I criticized Busby for a similar fuck up back in the days,dont let ift continue,because lets face it ,it has happened again.

Geoff Kennedy - April 2, 2016 Reply

here we go again…

Jp - April 3, 2016 Reply

fergie would hate to see Mourinho come in and be successful

karlo - April 4, 2016 Reply

I think he`s coming out saying this cos the board have decided to keep LvG another season and have assured him Giggs is to succeed Van Gaal, and all this at the same time another influential figure within the club Sir Bobby gets a stand called after him (and rightly so) , all of this might signify all is right at the club and the reaction to Van Gaal`s losing streak and the simultaneous announcement of Guardiola`s impending arrival at City by the fans and media alone might have been just frenzied hyperbole , who knows

Julian - April 5, 2016 Reply

If United get anything out of this season then LvG stays and Giggs succeeds. The club pays the 15m insurance premium on Mourinho and off he goes elsewhere once again. However if we fail to get top 4 and dont win the cup then surely the Mourinho option is very much on. With sponsors making threatening noises – Addidas can reduce their deal if we dont make ECL – the club will be in desperate need of instant success after what will be 3 seasons of nothing. Mourinho would seem to be the only option but EW will still have to fight off Fergie and Charlton.

Anthony Battrick - April 6, 2016 Reply

It seems clear from Fergie’s stance, Butt and Giggs’s recent comments and van Gaal’s own open praising of his trusty sidekick that the United agenda is for LVG to see out his contract and then for Giggs to succeed, managing a team of young players both bought for huge fees and developed from within. This the marketers and football people alike will see as distinctive and potentially successful from a ‘brand’ and sporting perspective, and if it works something even the most of disillusioned of fans will like to see. So there will be no uncertainty when signing players this summer, the players will have the comfort that the more stultifying influences of LVG will be short-lived and we get a nearly cross-eyed Guardiola.

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