By Alex Ferguson
Hodder & Stoughton, 2013, 416 pages, $30
By Ronn Hartviksen
If soccer originated in Scotland, the land of the plaid, how fitting that its greatest manager and practitioner in coaching the sport is 71-year-old Sir Alex Ferguson, born in Glasgow. Ferguson moulded an absolutely incredible series of championship campaigns during his days with Manchester United Football Club.
Playing so many memorable, historic matches on the pitch of their home, Old Trafford. Comprising a phenomenal won-lost record garnering his blood-red clad franchise the nickname of Red Devils. which actually is a derivation of Manchester’s early 1900s teams known as the Heathens. Eventually changing to the Devils-in-Red or Red Devils.
Now Sir Alex has forged a new form of expression for a soccer team that has the largest fan base in the world in any sport. Retiring in 2013 after 26 years at the helm of Manchester United, Ferguson has put down in words his interpretation of those remarkable memories in the sun mixed with those other inclement rain-swept not-so-good days where a squad came up short within the overall game plan of a season.
“In a lifetime’s journey in football,” Sir Alex notes, “you will have dips, lows, defeats and disappointments. In my early years at Manchester I decided right away that in order to build trust and loyalty with the players I had to give it to them first.”
Ferguson holds the all-time record United in victories and championships, including the English league, FA Cups and, Champions League. Ferguson played competitively in his younger days then moved on to coaching. He allows along his course of 1,500 matches, “several years ago I began gathering my thoughts for this book: My Autobiography.”
That’s the entry and arrival point in reading through the 402 pages of his autobiography. He surveys his beginnings and rise to stardom. Becoming one of the greatest professional coaches we will ever know.
To make an analogy of what Ferguson manufactured into Manchester United’s durability and outstanding achievements over the decades, take this into consideration. Might a journeyman hockey player from the Toronto Maple Leafs squad that won the Stanley Cup in 1966 like defenceman Allan Stanley ever have graduated to a head coaching position? Then fast forward his imaginary flight time there, while consistently coaching the Leafs into a consecutive string of playoff performances over a 20-year span? Not likely.
Ferguson was that journeyman soccer player, who once played for Aberdeen before migrating to Manchester. Then began this soccer ploughman’s persistence in cultivating the furrows of fantastic rosters he both nurtured, and traded for, as his stalwarts who would so often outshine their opponents.
In Britain, in the UEFA competitions in Europe. In the Far East and elsewhere. That is Ferguson’s legacy and his outright distinction as a coach and the chess matches within winning in soccer.
His book is a first-hand vision of what he saw and interpreted, from his seasonal stances behind the chalk lines, wherever his team would stream onto the green fields of football. He met them all in terms of players well known.
There are truly daft and wilting experiences that caused Ferguson such setbacks. Then, there are times where the merits of Manchester met unimaginable summits. Like climbers reaching the heights of a metaphoric Mt Everest.
Times where Sir Alex Ferguson rebuilt, re-tooled and re-emerged in so many different settings. Ferguson provides readers with a re-telling that is more than just an interesting tale of this and that. I asked in spending time with his book whether young readers who adore soccer would ever want to follow in the wake of Sir Alex’s coaching footprints. I do believe Ferguson’s My Autobiography would provide a lifelong spark for that quest in sport.
Within the final curtain calls, in the ultimate end of it all, when Sir Alex Ferguson witnesses a bronze statue unveiled of himself in a stunning down-home response to the euphoria of it all, he merely writes, “What a stately honour. You might say, I’ve even out-lived death.”
(Ronn Hartviksen is a Thunder Bay-based writer.)