Tag Archives: sir alex ferguson

Kicking Television

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Whilst debate continues to rumble on amongst United fans about whether Wayne Rooney should be dropped in light of his ongoing lack of form, tv viewers were recently treated to an “unprecedented”, behind-the-scenes profile of the man courtesy of the Beeb in Rooney: The Man Behind the Goals. As far as titles go, I might have plumped for ‘Wayne’s World’, personally.

The programme was commissioned to mark the fact that Rooney has now reached 50 international goals – a landmark haul that Gary Lineker was careful to remind us of at least a dozen times. The footage shown of a teenage Rooney served as a reminder of what an utterly devastating player he was in his youth, completely at odds with the waning Wayne we see toiling away in 2015.

Disappointingly, despite promising much more, there was very little revealed about “the man behind the goals”. Indeed, the most remarkable thing about this documentary was how little about Wayne Rooney we managed to learn over the course of an hour. Instead we were treated to about 20 minutes footage of Wazza playing with his kids, 10 minutes of him driving round Croxteth, 20 minutes of vox-pop plaudits from his fellow pros and 10 minutes of non-insightful musings from the man himself.

Rather than giving us stunning revelations such as “fatherhood has matured him” and “he’s a great captain”, I couldn’t help feeling the whole thing was a giant missed opportunity. It would have been so much more illuminating if instead, Lineker had gone off-piste and started rummaging round his house ‘Come Dine With Me’-style. Rather than simply teasing us with mentions of Wayne’s love of live music and flair for writing poetry, it would have proved far more entertaining if they’d cracked open a couple of bottles of wine and got the karaoke machine out whilst Lineker went delving into Colleen’s knicker drawer in search of said poems. Maybe next time.

It’s been a been a while since there’s been a reverential documentary detailing the life and times of Sir Alex Ferguson, so hot on the heels of exposing what makes Wayne Rooney tick, BBC1 followed up this up with Sir Alex Ferguson: Secrets of Success. This programme decided to forgo the already done-to-death biography format and instead went with the premise of Fergie’s new-found status as one of the world’s foremost thinkers in the field of management in business.

Fergie Harvard

Post-retirement, Fergie has managed to swerve the £500 a night after-dinner speaking circuit so beloved of ex-pros. Instead, he finds himself invited to speak at educational institutions alongside Harvard professors. The format seems to be that the academics start the ball rolling by presenting their theories in lecture theatres full of graduate trainees, before Fergie takes to the mic and dismisses all conventional wisdom with his inimitable brand of icumfigovaness.

It’s an incredible (and no doubt very lucrative) gig that Fergie has got for himself, and it doesn’t seem to matter a jot that his pearls of wisdom are simply common sense methods familiar to any manager in any workplace the world over. Nevertheless, the sway that Fergie has in these circles shows no sign of abating any time soon. Everyone sits there totally enrapt in the presence of such a legendary figure, collectively ignoring the fact that his experiences in charge of a football club aren’t in any way related to their own career aspirations of managing a team of 30 stockbrokers.

Out of all the usual faces lined up to pay homage to Ferguson and his greatness, only Tony Blair had the balls to admit that Fergie’s “just get rid of them” mantra doesn’t actually translate to a normal (not that 10 Downing Street can be considered normal) workplace. How utterly bizarre though, that the former Prime Minister actually sought out the opinions of a footballer manager whilst agonising over a proposed cabinet restructuring.

One of the comedic highlights of 2014 was BBC3’s Football Fight Club, a ‘hard-hitting’ documentary exploring “some of the most active youth firms in the country.” As far as hoolie porn goes, last year’s effort was stone cold classic. We met Dante from Spurs, attempting to kick his habit by fighting trees in a forest pretending they were Chelsea; there was a chubby lad from Bury retiring from active service at 18 to become a sensitive singer-songwriter; and of course there was Carl, leader of City’s ‘infamous’ Blazing Squad, memorably driving round Stockport with his 16 year old accomplices trying to arrange a “4 on 4” with West Ham.

Blazing squad

The producers of Football Fight Club don’t try to innovate, they instead stick rigidly with the tried and tested ‘Danny Dyer format’ that’s become the standard for the hoolimentary genre. There are numerous shots of dogs roaming bleak-looking council estates, gangs of kids stood on street corners with their hoods pulled up and a voiceover from a sociology and media studies graduate, explaining in hushed tones about ‘meets’ and ‘top boys’ and ‘banning orders’.

As well as catching up with Carl and Dante, this year’s follow up film introduced some new aspiring Cass Pennants. First we met with Brogan (17) from Lanarkshire, unique due to being a girl and for having seen Nick Love’s adaptation of ‘The Firm’ and taken it seriously. Unusually for a teenage wannabe hoolie, Brogan eschewed the pub as part of her pre-match routine. Instead she met up with her Hamilton Academical’s youth firm cohorts (ages ranging from 9-16) on a piece of waste ground, where they jumped up and down singing songs in their impenetrable accent sharing a small bottle of Buckfast. I’m not making any of this up by the way.

Then we met Denny from Wolverhampton, invited by Dante to travel down to London to ‘mob up’ with Spurs in order to fulfil his long-held ambition of taking on a “top continental firm”. Unfortunately, the game selected was Fiorentina at home, where clearly, nothing was ever likely to happen. By way of consolation, Denny travelled back home on the last train out of Euston gazing wistfully at footage of Feyenoord getting a kicking off the Italian plod the same night. What a pity the programme’s meagre budget didn’t extend to buying the lad a passport and sending him and the film crew out to Rome instead.

Blazing Squad Carl, meanwhile, was still holed up in his Bury flat bemoaning his misfortune of being off the scene due to serving a football banning order. Not really a surprising development when you consider he went on national television last year incriminating himself for an hour. Still, the end was in sight and Carl’s ban was soon due to expire – his preparations for which, we discovered, comprised of getting a new tattoo and buying an Ellesse tracksuit top. Apparently, he was also “looking forward to Derby Day”. Gulp. Be careful out there, reds.

Copyright Red News – October 2015

www.rednews.co.uk

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Stormy Clouds

Luke Shaw

As the years go by and the faces change, United never seem to lose that innate ability to make things difficult for themselves. Any thoughts of ending the season on a high have been obliterated in recent weeks, as it only took Carrick getting injured and Rooney dropping back into midfield for old problems to re-emerge. After 3 defeats on the bounce, that period of 4 games when everything clicked during March and April now resembles more of a blip than a season-defining eureka moment.

Although Van Gaal has delivered a return to the Champions League, everything points towards another summer of extravagant spending and further squad upheaval. Back in August, Falcao and Di Maria were the 2 genuine big dawgs brought in yet both have proven spectacular flops. Young and Fellaini meanwhile, despite appearing to have no future here, each end the season as deserved first choice starters. Whether that’ll still be the case at the start of next term remains to be seen, but their upturn in fortunes highlights the futility of making predictions and the absolute minefield that is squad preparation and planning.

As well as the gruesome twosome of Radamel and Angel, the other major disappointment has been Luke Shaw – the £30M wunderkind who is currently looking about £25M overpriced. If you’re being kind, you can focus on the mitigating factors of his age, his inexperience and the constant injuries he’s suffered all season. Worryingly though, on the rare occasions he has featured, I’m hard pressed to recall very much that marks him out as anything special. At all. When I look at Shaw, he makes me think ‘John Curtis’. Playing for United just smacks of too much, too young for him at present – he’d be better off being taken out of the spotlight and trying to get his mojo back out on loan somewhere.

Another one who’s had a tough time of late is Adnan Januzaj, the fleet-footed, ferret-faced great white hope of the Moyes era who looked a genuine contender for about 15 minutes last season. This year, Adnan has been relegated to the dubious role of ‘comes on with 20 minutes left and gives the ball away repeatedly’ – it’s got to the stage where he knows it and everybody watching knows it too. Like Shaw, he looks like he’d benefit from a year away learning his trade elsewhere. He’s clearly not good enough to be starting games, and he’s not making any kind of impression during these brief cameo appearances. Whatever we’re doing with him currently doesn’t appear to be working, which suggests a re-think might be required before his career at OT stalls completely.

Still, as the arrival of Memphis Depay demonstrates, at least we’re doing our ‘business early’. You can’t pick up a paper or watch 5 minutes of SSN without being reminded how important it is to ‘get your business done early’… as if signing players in July or August is a completely catastrophic idea, tantamount to enlisting Harry Redknapp to oversee business on transfer deadline day. I have no idea about Depay. He’s got loads of tattoos, which means he looks like a footballer and he’s apparently got a bit of an attitude problem, which means he also acts like a footballer. Add in a 10 minute highlights reel on YouTube showing him tormenting the likes of NAC Breda and Go Ahead Eagles, and you’ve got all the evidence needed to suggest we’re onto a surefire winner with the lad.

An immeasurably pleasing sub-plot of the Depay capture is the news he was Liverpool’s chief object of desire this summer. Apparently they’ve been courting him for the last 18 months(!) and on one occasion, the player was even blessed with a papal visit from the great man himself, Brendan Rodgers. One can only imagine the cringeworthy introductory spiel he was subjected to, “I see you as a precious orchid, Memphis… I want to nurture you and nourish you.” Little wonder he opted for Old Trafford the moment big Louis strode in and slapped his balls on the table. Naturally, Rodgers was quick to refute any interest on LFC’s part, flatly denying reports to the contrary. This despite PSV recently going on record stating that Liverpool were in regular contact and talks had taken place between club and player. Oh dear.

What then, do we make of Van Gaal’s first year in charge? All season I’ve tried to remain positive, convincing myself we’ve been making progress in the face of setbacks that were to be expected. But truthfully, the last couple of weeks have been as grim as anything witnessed under Moyes. LVG himself hasn’t shown himself up as the barking, strutting mentalist some anticipated. He’s proven himself to be more of a chilled-out entertainer during his TV spots and press conferences – tersely avuncular as opposed to passionately unhinged.

There have been numerous occasions this season where we’ve looked in dire need of some sort of direction from the sidelines, particularly as we’ve struggled with the ability to change tempo and chase late goals. Once upon a time that would have been Fergie’s cue to start prowling the touchline, seeking out an instant response… which he found, more often than not. Van Gaal, almost disappointingly, appears to have taken a vow of stasis in such circumstances. Ryan Giggs easing himself off the bench with his hands in his pockets then waving his arms about a bit just doesn’t seem to have the desired effect.

If we’re assuming another half-dozen new faces arrive and a handful exit the club, that leaves United pretty much where we were at the start of this season. Another £150M down, players attempting to settle into English football and a manager still experimenting with his best formation and starting XL. At the moment, it’s acceptable because 4th represents steady progress after finishing 7th last year. Any failure to challenge for the title next term though, and LVG might be struggling to call on the goodwill he’s being afforded at present. Put another way, it’s doubtful whether many will tolerate a 3rd consecutive season of transition.

Anyway, that’s me done. See you back in August for more idle speculation, poorly judged opinion and juvenile bitching. Hugs.

Copyright Red News – May 2015

www.rednews.co.uk

Tell It Like It Is

prawn sandwich

Whilst the esteemed editor of this organ donned his #5 cap to mix it up with the D-list shitterati at Rio Ferdinand’s book launch (see last month’s issue), I was handed the task of reporting back from Roy Keane’s gig at LCCC where he was appearing ‘in conversation’ with ghostwriter Roddy Doyle and Jim White of The Telegraph to promote his latest opus, The Second Half (Orion Publishing, £20).

The last one of these things I attended was Fergie’s appearance at The Lowry a year ago where he was publicising his recently released autobiography. This promised to be a similar setup – a free signed copy of the book was on offer alongside the possibility of picking up some interesting tidbits that hadn’t previously been made public. Unfortunately that night at the Lowry didn’t really deviate from the carefully managed script, as Fergie didn’t let his guard drop once under a very gentle grilling from the BBC’s Dan Walker. An evening with Roy Keane, I was pleased to discover, proved to be far more interesting and enlightening.

Shortly after the publicised start time of 7pm, there he was. Looking as trim as he did in his playing days, with no discernible middle-aged paunch and remarkably fresh faced since the terrifying beard he’d been sporting in recent months had been removed. Jim White then did the introductions, throwing in the somewhat outlandish claim that Keane and Doyle were the authors of “not only the finest football book, but the finest book you’ll read this year.”

White then proceeded to ask the first question, “what was your motive for writing the book?”, which in truth was his last meaningful input all evening as Keane needed little encouragement to talk….and talk and talk. He’s passionate, forthright and a great storyteller – one was left with the impression that Roddy Doyle’s task of transcribing Keane’s thoughts into written form was fairly straightforward one, given the fact he’s such a relaxed and candid interviewee.

The reason the book was so newsworthy, of course, was that it presented Keane with the opportunity to give a full and frank account of the events leading up to his departure from United. As anticipated, he doesn’t shy away from giving his version of the facts. There were disagreements with Carlos Queiroz along the way, but things came to a head with the infamous, never aired MUTV interview and the subsequent ‘airing of the grievances’ meeting with the entire first team squad and coaching staff in attendance. Keane (sort of) accepts that he played a part in his own downfall, his main beef is that “stuff said afterwards irritated me” and his belief that Ferguson and David Gill “should have done better by me.”

If Keane is bitter about anything, it’s about the way he was portrayed as a single-minded, loose cannon who needed reining in. If he was so unprofessional and unapproachable, he argues, how could he have survived at a club like United for over 12 years? “Yes, there were personality clashes like in any workplace, but it was no big deal.” It’s hard not to have sympathy with his reasoning here. United/Ferguson, after all, were the beneficiaries of Keane’s insane-level drive and will-to-win for many years. Put it this way: I very much doubt he’d have seen his contract terminated if the post-Boro blow-up had happened a few years earlier when he was in his prime as a player, and not the battle scarred veteran he’d become by 2005.

In spite of the acrimonious ending to his United career, Keane spoke very fondly about his time at the club and still has a lot of respect for Ferguson, describing him as a “great manager”. He clearly has a lot of time for his former teammates, “top quality players”, sharing a dressing room ethos where “there was no messing about… we wanted to win the match and to train properly”. Understated, perhaps… but from the mouth of Roy Keane, this is high praise indeed.

roy keane roddy doyle

Keane conceded that he made numerous mistakes during his time at the club, admitting when he first arrived in Manchester he was anything but the über-serious professional he was renowned as later in his career. He recalled a big fall out with Brian Kidd in the days between winning the league at Middlesborough and the ’96 Cup Final, partaking in a week-long bender which resulted in him reporting for training each morning still suffering the effects of the night before. Then, after being named MOTM on the Saturday, greeting a disbelieving Kiddo at the bar during the post match celebrations whilst getting stuck into the Bacardi.

There are regrets too, particularly some of the things he said in the heat of the moment. “Maybe this team needs to be broken up” post-Bayern in 2001 was, on reflection, a misguided attempt to elicit a response from the team following another disappointing defeat. The ‘prawn sandwich’ comment too, a dig against United fans that was manna from heaven for the ABU nation was merely him sounding off, “looking for an angle, to get a response off people… trying to get Old Trafford rocking.”

After an hour of listening to Keane, and a few minutes worth of Roddy Doyle who described his reasons for getting involved and the process of writing the book, the microphone was then passed to the floor as the audience were invited to ask questions. This led to another hour of recollections as Keane (now fully warmed up) answered everything thrown at him with complete candour and a total disregard for the fact there were a few hundred people present.

Some of his comments led to a couple of news stories later in the week after details reached journalists’ hands, but in truth nothing was said that was particularly inflammatory when taken in context. There were a slight digs at Bryan Robson and Paddy Crerand, as Keane made the point that club employees don’t make the most unbiased of pundits – he jokingly described the MUTV ex-players cabal as “like the Mafia or something.”

Another question led to a telling insight to how United approached games under Ferguson, or more to the point, how we didn’t approach them. “We wouldn’t be analysing teams too much. That was one of our strengths… we kept it unbelievably simple.” He only recalled Fergie getting senior players together for a pre-match meeting on a handful of occasions. Once, when the subject of dealing with the specific threat of Steve McManaman arose, Keane’s surprise and confusion about even being asked for his input was priceless, “umm… we’ll deal with him… he’s not Pele!”

All in all it was a great night. Keane was on top form and anything but the scowling, embittered figure he’s often portrayed as in the media. The book itself? Even if it’s not, as Jim White claims, the finest thing you’ll read this year, it’s still worth a couple of hours of your time ploughing through it. The motivation behind doing it, he explained, was simply “giving my opinion”, rather than “slagging everybody off” as has been claimed.

That’s essentially the crux of Roy Keane – it’s what made him a great leader on the pitch, and latterly, great value as a studio pundit. If someone asks him a question, he will answer it. Truthfully. Football is full of anodyne, media trained monkeys trotting out bland platitudes which you just know don’t truly reflect their private thoughts. Keane is different in that he actually says what he thinks. There’s no agenda there, everything he says is packed with truthiness. You don’t agree with him? That’s no problem, you’re entitled to your opinion too.

Copyright Red News – November 2014

www.rednews.co.uk