My rating: 3 of 5 stars
After all the hype surrounding Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement after 26 years as manager of Manchester United, and the subsequent hype when he released this volume with somewhat indecent haste almost immediately afterwards, it was always going to be interesting to see whether those elements of the book slavered over by the media– the charatcer assassinations of Keane, Beckham, Benitez and assorted enemies; the alleged 45 factual errors scattered throughout the pages; the rose-tiunted view of his managerial achievements– were all the book had to recommend it, or whether there really were lessons and insights to be gleaned from over a quarter of a century managing one of, if not the, highest pressure job in football.
The answer is: a bit.
Truth is, I don’t care whether Roy Keane played for 11 or 12 years at the club, or whether Fred Nurk signed in 1997 or 98, or all the piffling little errors that seemed to ruin everyone’s enjoyment. What I wanted was a bit of blood and guts, an insight into the larger than life pantomimes that afflict the sport that is the obsession of millions, myself include. And I wanted this elder statesman to dispense words of wisdom, to drop insights and strategies down upon me from his time as the sharpest mind in the game. And, overall, while the stories were told with some flair, and the assassinations were entertaining enough– strangely, his assessment of Roy Keane as a overly passionate time bomb struck me as less personal and acerbic than his continued reflection that David Beckham was a silly boy and a disappointment who would live his life regretting the waste of his talents– the book came across as far too comfortable to be compelling.
It’s the beery after-dinner ruminations of a man with nothing to fear and no concern for contradiction, told with an almost Falstaffian bonhomie where even the worst characters in his journey are dismissed with an almost-forgiving “odd lad, that” or similar faint praise. Yes, he bashes some select targets, but by and large, there’s no heat behind it, just a careful and cold-blooded totting up of the debits column. Rarely do we get beneath Ferguson’s skin, to really find out what made the man tick or how he views the sport he affected in such a mammoth way.
This is a safe book, taking care to burn no bridges already burnt. Entertaining enough, but no more or less than anyone else who should probably put a few years between them and their work before truly telling all.