In previous instalments, you have been ‘treated’ to the ramblings of a seriously annoyed middle-aged guy suffering from a severe dose of the Lockdown Blues and thus doing what he can to alleviate the situation by shouting at the clouds,
Continuing very much in the same vein, welcome to my latest shout-fest aimed at footballing niggles and grouches concerning me over the years.
Sir Alex Ferguson and Loyalty
As an ardent Liverpool fan, I could perhaps be understood, if not exactly forgiven, for not having too many complimentary things to say or write about Manchester United and their brethren. That it has been a long thirty years is probably the best and most polite way of putting things.
Nevertheless, anyone with the slightest modicum of sense could see what a great manager Sir Alex was. In his twenty-six years in charge at Old Trafford, he was able to take almost total control of the whole club for large swathes of that time and although there were the inevitable hiccups and setbacks along the way, success was sustained and golden.
More than highly proficient in any number of areas, perhaps Fergie’s greatest strength lay in spotting talent and then delegating. Although he undoubtedly knew every nook and cranny inside out, he also knew that to get the best results he needed to hire the best people, point them in the right direction and then trust them to get on with things. Almost without exception, the coaching staff he hired were of the absolute top drawer and it was this trust he had in them all that laid the foundations for the club’s success.
So, what, you may reasonably question, has drawn my ire when it comes to the legend that is Sir Alex?
Well, quite simply it is the staggering hypocrisy he has shown time and time again in the number of books he has seen fit to release. Off the top of my head, I know that he has published at least four autobiographical tones. While each of these has been of varying quality and interest, a running theme throughout all of them has been the concept of loyalty.
“Loyalty has always been the cornerstone of my life,” the Great Man proclaims.
And yet…..by his own admission, he constantly had one eye on his own legacy throughout his career. ‘Whenever something of note happened during my career, I would write it down on paper as soon as I could and then later write the notes up in full,’ he told one interviewer whilst promoting the last of his autobiographies.
One can only imagine what those who worked alongside and for him must have felt upon reading or hearing that. Knowing that conversations and discussions with the man were being scribbled down verbatim within minutes of their conclusion in order for Fergie to be able to cash in on them when the time was right must have gone down rockily, to say the least.
Then there was the content of the books themselves. Again, whilst going to great pains to espouse the qualities and virtues of loyalty, in practice Ferguson was doing nothing of the sort. Each of his tomes was filled with examples of him using his platform to settle old scores. Anybody who had dared hold a differing opinion to him over the space of a fifty-year career was summarily dealt with.
‘I never hold a grudge,’ was another belter often coined by Sir Alex, the man who famously demanded the FA take action against Carlos Tevez for some ill-advised musings regarding Fergie’s mortality.
I ask you!
This gets my goat a bit. However, I am not exactly sure whether it’s the non-celebrations or the furore over the non-celebrations that annoy me the most.
Let me explain.
Whenever a high profile player, usually a striker, is due to play against a former club there is always speculation beforehand as to whether the said player will celebrate should he be fortunate enough to score in the game. Players nowadays undergo intensive media training so they are able to spot such questions coming in interviews and either deftly sidestep them altogether or at least deal with them in a non-controversial and bland manner.
This doesn’t stop the spotlight being shone on them though, and the neutral fan often find themselves rooting for him to score a goal just to see what his reaction will be.
If he acts with restraint and resists the impulse to whip his shirt off Bobby Firmino style (why does he do that, btw? Every single time!!!!) then he is said to be showing respect for his previous club but, arguably, not enough for his present one.
The opposite is also true, of course. If the player does indeed lose his stuff and embark on a 60-yard run before sliding on his knees in front of the opposing supporters Adebayor style, he is considered to be lacking in decorum.
The whole concept winds me up, to tell the truth. As a fan, I pretty much only care about my club and who is playing in the shirt at any one time. I just want that guy, whoever he is, to have a bit of pride and passion in the club’s colours and to realise that he has the fans’ dreams and hopes within his grasp.
If he is playing for my club, I know it is unlikely that he is going to have the same deep-rooted feeling for the team that I have, but I still want to feel that he cares. On one hand, I can understand Mohamed Salah, for example, not overdoing his celebrations when he scored for Liverpool against Roma given the relationship he enjoyed with the club’s supporters whilst in Italy, but on the other hand, the fact was he scored his goals in the Champions League semi-final for his current club and not in a meaningless friendly or testimonial.
I can’t understand why he would display any such restraint when scoring against Chelsea, however.
The opposite is also true when former players score against my club. In the spring of 2019, ex-Liverpool players Ryan Babel and Luis Suárez both scored potentially vital goals against the Anfield men and promptly reacted in vastly contrasting manners.
Whilst Babel was almost apologetic to be potentially ruining Liverpool’s title charge, Suárez held no such inhibitions in the Champions League semi-final and milked the moment for all its worth. Afterwards, Babel was largely lauded by Liverpool fans for his actions while Suárez was roundly condemned.
To me, though, it was Babel that looked the bigger tool.
Although he was only on loan at Fulham, and he no doubt treasures many happy memories of his time at Anfield and close on 150 appearances, the Craven Cottage club were at the time embroiled in a relegation dogfight. I couldn’t help wondering what the partisan home support thought of a player pretty much refusing to celebrate what could have been a status-preserving goal.
Suárez scoring against Liverpool in the first leg of the 2019 CL semi-final was a big deal. He scored the goal that put Barcelona ahead on the night and in the tie and then celebrated accordingly. I had no problem with that whatsoever. If he had played for Liverpool and scored for us in similar circumstances, I would have expected nothing less than a similar celebration.
Afterwards, he (sort of) apologised and promised he wouldn’t celebrate if he scored at Anfield in the second leg.
Well, we all know how that turned out, but, really? Had he knocked one in in the fourth minute of injury time for Barcelona to progress to the final he would have simply jogged back to the centre circle?
Perhaps the last word on the issue should go to the late, great Howard Kendall. In the summer of 1986, Kendall slightly surprisingly signed Paul Power from Manchester City. Power had been at City his entire career and as he approached the age of 33, it was thought that his best days were behind him.
Nevertheless, Power would be an almost ever-present in the Everton team that took the league title in 1987 to give him his only tangible trophy in a long-lasting career. On November 29th of that title-winning season, Everton travelled to Maine Road for a league game.
You’re probably ahead of me by now, aren’t you?
Everton prevailed by a 3-1 scoreline with Power snatching the second which he steadfastly refused to celebrate. Upon reaching the changing room upon conclusion of the match and the safe delivery of three points, Power could have been forgiven for expecting his manager, Kendall, to be in an upbeat mood.
The reality was anything but. Fixing Power with a steely eye, Kendall launched into a tirade:
“There are * thousands if not * millions of * Everton fans that would give their * left nut to pull on that * blue shirt just * once in their * lives, never mind score a * goal for the * club,” he spat at a bemused Power. “If you are* ever* lucky enough to * score another * goal for this* club, you will * do * well to * remember that and you will* celebrate it as if your * life * depends on it. Is that * clear?”
Power is said to have nodded mutely and got in the bath.
The following week the Goodison faithful were no doubt bemused to see Power demanding to take an 18th-minute penalty against Norwich and celebrating its successful conversion like a man possessed.
* add the expletive of your choice.