Sunday 26 March 2017

Calculating Fergie knows value of a well-aimed rant

Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

I t's a tough time to be in charge of Manchester United. Following a week in which their Champions League campaign ended and their Premier League hopes suffered a major setback, Alex Ferguson spoke of his disgust at the "mist of venom" which surrounds the club. And as if having relatively little cash to improve his squad isn't bad enough, it now seems opponents are unfairly treating referees, and the media aren't giving United players the credit they deserve.

Ferguson expressed his annoyance of the media's reporting of their game with Bayern Munich, saying undue attention was paid to his comment that unsporting behaviour was typical of Germans everywhere. Considering Bayern are coached by a Dutchman, and their starting line-up included a Frenchman, a Croatian, a Belgian, an Argentinean and two Dutchmen, maybe he hoped the comment would have gone unnoticed due to it being not only offensive, even racist, but totally misplaced. Even he must have known there would be no chance of that.

Whether it is viewed as racist or not, the man has form in the particular area of making sweeping assertions on various nationalities. A little over a decade ago, he was fined €2,000 by UEFA for comments he made prior to United's game against Inter Milan. To illustrate his distrust for all things Italian, he said that if he was served pasta by an Italian, he would "check under the sauce to make sure it really is".

When United were again drawn against Inter Milan in last season's competition, he was reminded of that quote and asked in a press conference how he would feel if the dish was served by a Portuguese waiter (Jose Mourinho was in charge of Inter at the time). "Probably much the same" was the immediate reply.

Though the remarks about the Portuguese may have been in jest given the friendship that has formed between Mourinho and Ferguson, the comments about Germans could have been filed away in the 'heat of the moment' category that many others try to fall back on. Not Ferguson though.

While adding that conducting interviews immediately after a disappointing result puts managers in a vulnerable position, he reaffirmed his view that the reaction of the Bayern Munich players to Rafael's foul on Franck Ribery was tantamount to "bullying the young referee".

Seasoned observers will obviously be amused by the notion that Ferguson would object to such carry-on, for few men in his position have ever paid so much attention to trying to affect the performances of referees everywhere, even in games in which he is not involved.

From calculated pre-match comments to reactionary post-match rants, his views on match officials have always been aimed at influencing decisions in United's favour. To those in any doubt as to why this is the case, the answer is very simple: because it works. If it didn't, he'd have stopped doing it long ago.

Though he obviously feels justified in doing so, the unfortunate consequence of much of what he does, whether it works or not, is that it is replicated by managers elsewhere. As the greatest British manager of his generation, it is inevitable others will look to him for guidance on how to behave.

The result is that regardless of a lot of what goes on during a game, many managers now seek to highlight the referee's performance to pinpoint where it all went wrong for their team. And if that doesn't work, they can always blame the media. His insistence that his team were magnificent on Wednesday lies more in his blinkered view of his players' abilities rather than any true reflection on the game itself. Unaccustomed as

they are to throwing away three-goal leads, the sending off of Rafael served merely as a convenient excuse to mask their overall shortcomings. Suggesting it was the Bayern players' insistence that the referee apply the laws of the game in the correct manner was what cost them, it appears he has learned little from their latest setback. Too many players under-performed, and the decision to continue for an hour with a player who was limping after 20 minutes revealed the dearth of attacking options of Champions League level available to him.

He is right to point out that waving imaginary yellow cards should result in a booking for players, but the ruling itself is utter nonsense. There are no laws preventing players' pleas for throw-ins or corner-kicks to be awarded in their favour, nor is there anything wrong with verbally reminding the referee that certain tackles warrant yellow cards.

Just why pointing this out to officials in such a demonstrative way is what the authorities are most concerned about is beyond me. And how Ferguson believes he can criticise anyone, anywhere for their treatment of match officials --well, that's probably beyond us all.

rsadlier@independent.ie

Sunday Independent

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