“No one’s bigger than the club”
How many times have we heard that said? How many times has that old cliche been rolled out in a bid to justify a decision that’s (arguably correctly) been taken to remove an ego from Manchester United?
An unwanted presence, be it at the club, in the changing rooms or on the training ground, is a problem that’s best dealt with decisively and a problem that Manchester United and in particular Sir Alex Ferguson, has never had a problem with. But after 25 years at the helm, have we witnessed the rise of the only person in history to defy that old cliche?
Sir Alex Ferguson’s list of high-profile fallouts is likely to be a relatively short one compared to that of the low-profile, unreported ones.
In 1999, a year which saw Sir Alex create history by becoming the first manager to achieve winning the Treble, in his autobiography entitled Managing My Life he says “I decided this man could not be trusted an inch – I would not want to expose my back to him in a hurry” in reference to Gordon Strachan.
Strachan was at United from 1984 to 1989 and had successfully played under Sir Alex at Aberdeen before signing a pre-contract with Cologne behind Sir Alex’s back. It was this insidious act that sowed the seeds of a relationship that would give the football world its first indication of how ruthless a manager Sir Alex would be, and how a personal rift would be played out at a professional level.
The move to Cologne fell through, instead Strachan signed for United leaving Sir Alex behind him in Aberdeen, little was he to know that Sir Alex would follow him down there two years later. In Strachan’s own autobiography he admits “When Fergie moved to United, I had to endure the big stick again”.
Paul Ince was signed from West Ham United to replace Strachan but he too became a victim of Sir Alex’s no nonsense ‘I’m the boss’ approach.
After Ince infamously knocked on Sir Alex’s door and pointed a rifle at his head demanding to be played on Saturday while telling him to “stop picking on me”, there was no way back regardless of how ‘tongue-in-cheek’ the stunt was. Sir Alex would go on to publicly label Ince “a big time Charlie” and “a bottler” before showing the self proclaimed “Guv’nor” the door in 1995 to Inter Milan for a mere £7.5M.
Bryan Robson, Paul McGrath and Norman Whiteside were all a problem for Sir Alex thanks to their liking for a pint or seven probably more often than was befitting a professional footballer, all three would suffer varying degrees of acrimony with ‘The Gaffer’ before being farmed out under the premise of injuries or in Bryan Robson’s case, old age.
Selling Whiteside and McGrath at the start of season 89/90 was a huge decision, both were hugely popular amongst United fans who at the time were not exactly on Sir Alex’s side thanks to a slow, unimpressive start to his tenure. Personally I think the popularity of Robson, and the furore that would have ensued had he been sold, meant he remained while the other two went to Everton and Villa respectively. I believe Sir Alex wanted all three out but opted to give Robson a chance to show he could adapt to the new rules and welcome in a new era thus securing himself his already almost assured place in United folklore.
Jaap Stam, another hugely popular figure amongst United fans (and still to this day), was the next to feel the wrath of Sir Alex after proclaiming in his autobiography that Ferguson had illegally tapped him up from PSV in 1996. Of all the public spats with his players it’s widely regarded that the sale of Stam is the one and only time Sir Alex got it wrong from a football point of view with Ferguson himself (years) later admitting that “At the time he had just come back from an achilles injury and we thought he had just lost a little bit. We got the offer from Lazio, £16.5m for a centre-back who was 29. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. But in playing terms it was a mistake. He is still playing for Ajax at a really good level”.
In 2003 came the highest of high profile incidents, this time the player was in no mood to be taken lightly or go quietly.
United had just been beaten in an FA Cup match by Arsenal at Old Trafford in February when a furious Sir Alex kicked a boot in the face of David Beckham who was, understandably, not impressed. The next morning would see Beckham publicly stick a premeditated middle finger up at Sir Alex and used his ever increasing celebrity to provide the media with the now iconic image of him driving to training with his hair up and sporting the biggest butterfly plasters you’ll ever see on such a tiny cut over his left eye. This act of defiance and (in Sir Alex’s opinion surely) this lack of respect (such is the arrogance of Sir Alex) warranted the player leaving the club he’d loved and supported all his life and made 394 appearances for at just 28 years old. A few months later Beckham was shown the door and allowed to leave for Real Madrid on the cheap, shirt sales on the first day alone would have covered the £25M they paid United for his services, god knows the figure Beckham was actually worth to United and exactly how much wealth it created for Real Madrid and lost for us.
For me, David Beckham; footballer, World renowned superstar, icon, Olympic figure, brand, public speaker, Manchester United legend and much more, would be an ideal candidate for Ambassador of our fabulous football club alongside Bobby Charlton, but one man stands in the way of that. Surely that can’t be right…..or good for the club.
The same year (2003) would provide the catalyst for what many United supporters believe brought us to where we are today; owned by The Glazers, riddled with debt and unable to compete at the highest levels of the transfer market despite being the most profitable football club in the World.
With J.P McManus and John Magnier major Manchester United share holders (holding approximately 30% at the time) and on the brink of purchasing the club, Sir Alex became embroiled in a dispute with Magnier over the ownership rights of the horse Rock of Gibralter that would see the pair settle in court before Magnier & McManus brutally sold their share of the club to the vultures in waiting.
A year later in 2004, son and agent Jason Ferguson was heavily condemned in a BBC documentary after featuring in The Independent newspaper over allegation’s of transfer irregularities, or to me and you ‘bungs’. From then until recently Sir Alex refused to give interview’s to the BBC. With Match of the Day having the rights to interview managers and the clubs having an obligation to speak to them after the matches, your guess is as good as mine as to who picked up the tab for the hefty fines received by the club for failure to comply…..was it Sir Alex or was it Manchester United? I know where my money would be.
2006, Ruud van Nistelrooy, another player sold thanks to a personal spat with the manager, this time for an alleged training ground bust up with then precocious talent Cristiano Ronaldo.
Wes Brown has since gone, Tomasz Kuszczak is on his way out, Dimitar Berbatov must have done something wrong and looks to be on his way out of the club after suffering the ignominy of winning the Golden Boot in 2010/11 yet finding it almost impossible to get a game or even get on the bench in 2011/12! All those are rumoured to have had disputes or issues with Sir Alex and vice-versa and I’m convinced there are others…..Roy Keane no doubt, Mark Hughes, Andre Kanchelskis, Lee Sharpe perhaps?
In 2010 Michael Owen found out that sometimes association alone can put you in danger without you even knowing it. When Darren Ferguson was sacked by Preston North End it started a chain of events that would ultimately have Owen frantically scrabbling for his phone and his horse boxes.
Sir Alex picked up the phone after his son’s sacking and immediately recalled all three United owned players (Ritchie De Laet, Matty James & Joshua King) back to the club. Trevor Hemming’s is the owner of Preston but is also the owner of a very successful stables. Hemming’s owns over 100 racehorses and so happened (at the time) to be in possession of three horses valued at £1M each, all owned by you guessed it, Michael Owen. On learning of Sir Alex’s reaction (stroke) retaliation, Hemming’s quickly picked up the phone to inform Owen that his horses were now tied alongside the A33* not far from a gypsy site and if he wanted them he could go and get them!
Is it possible Sir Alex is now ‘bigger than the club’? Is it possible the man is now regarded as, and has built an empire that now regards him as ‘untouchable’?
How many times have we heard the ‘I’ll do what’s right for this club’? Really? You appear to have done what’s right for you in the majority of these cases.
I doubt Manchester United could or would sack sack him and I presume he will leave the club only when he’s ready and not before, it will also only be onhis terms.
I’m not suggesting he should leave now or get the sack, but I’m certainly suggesting he’s got bigger than the club and maybe that old cliche has actually been found to be inaccurate.
What do you think?
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