How Fergie's bedtime habits set standards at Old Trafford
22:23 GMT, 15 December 2012
00:26 GMT, 16 December 2012
In more than a quarter-century of intense public scrutiny, Sir Alex Ferguson has successfully resisted every intrusion into his private life. Yesterday, in the month of his 71st birthday, he offered a glimpse of his domestic habits.
In the wake of last Sunday’s remarkable Manchester derby, he went to bed with his head spinning. ‘I just couldn’t sleep,’ he said, ‘and at about four o’clock in the morning I gave up trying, got up and watched a video of the whole of our game against Manchester City all over again.’
The tale is worth recording because it is the nearest thing to a bedroom revelation that Ferguson will ever provide. It also tells us something about the nature of a hopelessly driven man.
Driven: Man United manager Sir Alex Ferguson
Carried away by the excitement of
United’s victory, it seems he found it difficult to ascertain where his
team had fallen short of his standards.
He was, therefore, left with no
alternative but to watch the entire match through the small hours of a
December night. And was it worth it Indeed it was. As he explains:
‘With the help of the video my suspicions were confirmed. In the second
half we were giving the ball away too easily.’
Try to think of another major football
manager, past or present, who might regard that as perfectly rational
behaviour and only Bill Shankly springs to mind. It was Shankly, of
course, who took his wife to watch Huddersfield Reserves on their
wedding anniversary. Truly, the west of Scotland breeds single-minded
Happy days: Ferguson celebrates victory over Man City with Patrice Evra
I doubt that Sir Alex lost any sleep
last night, since Sunderland were dispatched with the minimum of fuss.
But he seemed perceptibly irritated by United’s lack of ruthlessness,
their failure to bury outclassed opponents in dramatic fashion after
scoring twice within the first 20 minutes.
They may be six points clear at the top but such laxity could cost them dearly on more difficult days.
He did not criticise, of course, since
that is not his way. But he did mention that Wayne Rooney ‘might have
scored four’, and his failure to do so may provoke some pertinent
That ferocious work ethic, that
refusal to be satisfied, underpins everything Ferguson has achieved in
the game. After all these years, he has achieved the status of an
institution, to the extent that a match day at Old Trafford without his
looming presence seems almost unthinkable.
His name infiltrates every
conversation along Sir Matt Busby Way. From the shop called Legends of
Fast Food, featuring portraits of Cantona, Giggs, Rooney; all men whose
names are synonymous with sausage and chips. To the stalls selling
United car stickers, baby bibs, woolly hats. To the man pleading with
the passing public to buy red and white wrist bands for 1: ‘Listen,
I’m nearly giving ’em away!’
The old North Stand is now the Sir
Alex Ferguson Stand. There is a statue which bears a passing resemblance
to somebody who looks a bit like Ferguson. At times, the whole place
takes on the appearance of a shrine to the great man.
The temptation to coast, to relax, to
bask in past glories could be considerable but it is scornfully
rejected. For the focus is always on the future, of cups and titles
still to come.
Sweet dreams: United are six points clear of City at Christmas
His current work is as impressive as
any he has done. The team are not remotely the equal of Ferguson’s best
United sides but they are proceeding like a runaway train. He used to
speak of the importance of being ‘in touch at Christmas’. Instead, they
are six points clear.
Mention the fact to Ferguson and his
mind flickers back some 15 years, to the season when they were
overhauled by Arsenal. Never relax, he preached. Bad things can happen.
And yet, he had seemed in high good
humour when he appeared yesterday, hurrying along with that urgent,
short-stepping stride, pausing to greet some disabled fans, signing
programmes, glad-handing all round.
By contrast, Martin O’Neill, once touted as a possible successor, slipped in almost anonymously.
For the entire 90 minutes, Ferguson
never once left his seat to storm the touchline. Goals were greeted with
an excited little clap or a satisfied grunt. Chomping relentlessly on
his gum, he concentrated intently; smiling when his side passed with
bright urgency, glowering when goals were squandered or runs went
When it was over, he rose from his
seat, shook the hand of O’Neill and walked briskly back along the
touchline, offering the crowd six brief claps of his hands, and a
further detonation on reaching the mouth of the tunnel.
He was not satisfied, not even
particularly pleased, but that was another match over. On to the next
one, and the one after, and the one after that.
At 70, Alex Ferguson is still looking restlessly forward. Even at four o’clock on a winter’s morning.