Tuesday 30 May 2017

Parting shot may have to involve such sweet sorrow

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

F or Manchester United, it is imperative that Alex Ferguson remains at his post for as long as is humanly possible. He has been a great manager for them, of that there is no doubt.

For everyone else it is equally imperative that he goes, and in an ideal world he would have gone about 17 years ago. He is -- it has to be said -- a disgraceful man.

He is perhaps not the only football manager who is given to diabolical furies and to hysterical tantrums of a kind that would be disturbing in a 10-year-old. He is not alone in his total inability to take a defeat, and yet he is still a singular figure -- somehow his furies are more diabolical, his tantrums more hysterical, his bitterness more twisted and his twistedness more bitter than all the rest.

To find a comparable character I think you have to go outside football altogether. I think you have to go all the way to Dr Ian Paisley.

There is the same incessant bullying, the same air of intimidation, the same need to be the dominant party in any situation. Except after about 50 years of bullying, Paisley finally seemed to be happy when he got what he wanted.

Ferguson remains implacable.

He seems to be only further enraged by whatever success he has had. And as we approach another Champions League final, we are also perhaps approaching the source of his condition.

The Champions League, essentially, has found him out. For a team which has dominated the strongest domestic league in Europe for the best part of 20 years to have won only two European Cups is a shocking failure.

And it is compounded by the fact that the first was won in the most freakish circumstances, while the second involved the beating of another English team in the final.

Somehow the bullying doesn't work outside of the English game. The bully, in classic playground style, loses his aura as soon as he steps out of his territory, and is forced to deal with men over whom he has no power.

But on his own manor he is utterly ruthless and he is feared by all -- in this case all except Rafa Benitez, who stood up to Ferguson, and who was hated by him as a result (by contrast, Fergie loved Roy Hodgson, predicting that Roy would do a fine job at Liverpool, and how right he was there too).

The Ferguson doctrine for winning the Premier League has now been refined to one idea -- you always beat the little guys.

Again the games against the big guys are a different matter, and United don't win many of them, But in the end it doesn't matter, as long as there are enough Sam Allardyces out there who can take their beating in the right spirit.

The doctrine was further refined this season when even the little guys were getting a bit awkward away from home, and United won the league almost entirely at Old Trafford -- it was as if the ageing bully needed to streamline his operation, to get it all done without needing to leave his seat.

Indeed, with the disintegration of their rivals, they didn't even need the usual extensions to be granted by terrified and demoralised referees. It has gone almost unnoticed that in the previous season, Premier League games in general were getting suspiciously long, with five or six minutes of added time in many games -- the only rational explanation being that they were trying to make this look normal, to explain away the fact that matches at Old Trafford were going on for as long as it took the home team to win. Fact, as the man said.

Ah, he has crushed the spirits of so many, in what has been the longest unbroken tyranny of modern times.

I am convinced that Barcelona will beat United, as any half-decent foreign side has done on the big occasion.

But if somehow Barca play badly enough to screw it up, Ferguson may feel, for a few moments at least, that it can't get any better then this. That three European Cups under his dictatorship is edging vaguely towards respectability.

Certainly there is no doubt that public life in general will receive a lift from the absence of his rage and his unreason.

So yes, if they win, if he has any decency, he should go.

But here's the agonising contradiction -- let us hope it doesn't come to that.

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