Early Doors

Cambridge academic rips Fergie’s ‘ugly, petty, hectoring’ autobiography to shreds

Alex Ferguson at the launch of his autobiography

It's not often that Early Doors points you in the direction of literary review journals. In fact, ED is pretty sure it's never happened before.

But all that ends here - and it's thanks to a devastating, and hilarious, review of Sir Alex Ferguson's autobiography in the latest issue of the London Review of Books.

The review in question was penned by David Runciman, who teaches political theory at the ancient seat of learning - and it is savage in its analysis of Fergie's musings.

Now, like most sporting publications, the release of Fergie's "My Autobiography" last year got Eurosport-Yahoo! into something of a lather as we all scanned through the pages looking for juicy titbits about David Beckham and so on.

The LRB doesn't roll that way: it might have taken them three months to get their review out, but Runciman's savaging will surely be the last word on the tome - a status that had previously been held by the reader who successfully requested his money back from the publishers due to the number of mistakes.

Runciman probably wasn't on Fergie's Christmas card list before this review hit newsstands. But if was, he's certainly been crossed out by now.

It takes just the first five words of the review for Runciman to bring the former Manchester United down a peg.

"Alex Ferguson is a conspiracist," writes Runciman, explaining that it's not quite the same thing as conspiracy theorists, who are "often simply nuts".

"Conspiracists see patterns of collusion and deceit behind everyday events. Their default position is that someone somewhere is invariably plotting something… Conspiracists can be devious, suspicious, confrontational and difficult to be around but they are also capable of making their way in the world, leveraging their paranoia into real power."

The description will sound familiar to anyone who has ever heard Fergie moaning about a referee - but Runciman claims that it also explains Fergie's readiness to dispense with the club's top stars. It is not a canny knack of knowing when players have given their best, but something darker:

"Ferguson sets such a high price on loyalty, because the people you can’t rely on are the people who will screw you over. There’s nothing in between. Once Ferguson begins to suspect a player of divided loyalties – to his family, his friends, his image, his career, anything over and above Ferguson’s Manchester United – he starts to look for ways to let him go."

Runciman also focuses on Ferguson's management style, particularly the ferocious post-match fury that followed many of United's poorer games, by first quoting and then analysing Ferguson's words:

"'Some nights I would go home assailed by fear of the consequences. Maybe the players wouldn’t be talking to me next time I entered the training ground. Perhaps they would be raging or conspiring against me. But on Mondays, they would be more terrified of me than I was of them.’ Better to provoke a conspiracy you can safely ignore – conspiracies being a fact of life in Ferguson’s worldview – than risk a coup you didn’t see coming. Ferguson’s abiding fear is of the momentary lapse that opens the door to a total loss of control."

Above all, Runciman gives the impression of having walked away from reading the book with an intense disklike of its author:

"My Autobiography is not an easy read. It is a hectoring, petty, repetitive book. Ferguson returns again and again to the things that nag him: players who let him down, deals that came unstuck, people who should have known better. He will take up a subject, drop it, then come back to it a page later, not because he has anything to add, but simply because it’s still bugging him.

"It’s like being stuck in a room with the man himself as his mind whirrs away through its grudges and grievances and no one else gets a chance to put a word in."

Yet there is also a grudging note of respect, both for Ferguson and for the way that the book's ghostwriter Paul Hayward allowed the retired manager's own voice and mentality to shine through.

"The result reads like the unedited transcripts of taped conversations in which Ferguson was allowed to say whatever occurred to him whenever it occurred, without interruption. It’s ugly, it’s grinding, but it gives you the flavour of the man."