You would have noticed, being the diligent observer that you are, that there has been a bit of a Manchester United quadrilogy going on in the book reviews of late. (There was the Bryan Robson review, the Man Utd biography review and then of course the Tommy Docherty autobiography review. Of course ages ago there was the Rio Ferdinand review.)
I hasten to add that this will be the last of the quadrilogy for the time being. Honest. I don’t have any more United books to read and if you’re an ABU kinda guy (Anyone But United) the subject will change to something a lot more comfortable to deal with – the England team. (You keep reading, because I’m enduring the things you don’t have to … unless of course you choose to.)
So what possessed me to pick this book – This Is The On – Sir Alex Ferguson: The Uncut Story of a Football Genius? Wasn’t I sick of the sight of more United stuff especially the much maligned Sir Alex Ferguson? Well of course not. I like a good book when I see one and with the blessed library we don’t have to endure actually keeping the book or buying it! This one intrigued me because it wasn’t a straightforward hagiography of the glory of Manchester United. It also wasn’t an extended work on Sir Alex that lacked depth.
This was looking at two vastly contrasting seasons in the man’s career – 2005-06 where all the club was the Carling Cup and saw the title go to Chelsea for the second year in a row as well as going out of the Champions League at the group stage. Then the 2006-07 where United against all the odds clearly and comprehensively reclaimed the league title.
The book features the boss through the lens of a journalist covering the club for a daily newspaper. We get an insight into the idiosyncrasies of the man himself as well as the bizarre behaviour of the journalists who depend on him for the money reports and business and yet are at the whim of a man evidently pleased to be so influential.
Despite Taylor’s best efforts to present a rounded account of the complex character of the main subject, Ferguson does not come out of the book looking good. There is an effusive account of the man’s loyalty, charity, generosity and kindness to a variety of people near the beginning of the book and sprinkled here and there. Throughout however you have the picture of a man who is willing to hold a grudge against people who don’t agree with him. A man who has a deliberately antagonistic relationship with the press which he almost revels in seeing as though they need him more than he needs them. It is understandable that there are areas of the press who are not pleasant, co-operative, supportive or constructive, but that the whole should suffer for the few and the ‘us v them’ mentality is perpetuated is somewhat disturbing.
Reading it evokes considerations of a person’s character and their interaction with the media, especially the press. It also highlights what the role of the press is, whether specialist or general, local or national. To record it as a travelogue is a good way of taking us through the ups and downs of what’s going on as well as giving us context in how events from the past has lead to the state of the club and the man and the relations with the press.
It is most fortuitous for Taylor that he got to contrast the two sides of Ferguson over the two sides, although the rub is pretty much set about the bullying, domineering Ferguson and the cowering press from the first few episodes. As an observer of the crazy world of football this book makes a worthwhile contribution into the mindset of the players of the game as its played out at large. In some way it’s a microcosm of the human condition, in some other ways its what happens when cultures are seriously influenced by personalities and principles go out of the window in pursuit of what will sell. A worthwhile read then.