You may be searching for a good reason to plough through another account of the life and career of Alex Ferguson, given there have been at least two already (previous memoir Managing My Life, and Patrick Barclay’s Football – Bloody Hell!). But on the whole, My Autobiography justifies your attention, offering the thoughts of one of football’s sharpest minds on the contemporary game.
Football autobiographies can have a predictable character, and to a limited extent this does fit the bill; Ferguson speaks highly and loyally of (most of) his players, is magnanimous to even his bitterest rivals, and credits his success to lessons learned in the tough environment of sixties and seventies Glasgow. However, it’s the passages touching on his relationships with other key figures in the game that set My Autobiography apart and leave cliché behind.
The sections on Arsene Wenger in particular are a delight to followers of the soap opera that has been the last fifteen years of British football. Ferguson is full of seemingly genuine admiration for Wenger and Arsenal. He writes almost enviously of inspecting the marbled halls of Highbury, with their bust of Herbert Chapman, as if conscious that his own club has a rather different, brasher character. In Ferguson’s analysis, Wenger’s fatal weakness is a tendency to be emotional rather than rational about defeat, and an inability to accept that he and his own players may be to blame.
Conversely, Ferguson sees his own great strength as an ability to deal with defeat productively, to learn lessons quickly and then to move on. It’s a self-assessment that may surprise those accustomed to see him as the ultimate sore loser, but in truth Ferguson has always been a cooler customer than is credited, and his words more measured. There is real insight and reflection here, for instance as to the reasons for Liverpool’s two-decade spell in the doldrums (it’s the transfer policy, stupid – Liverpool consistently spend big money on players who don’t improve their squad) or as to Ferguson’s falling out with his long-time lieutenant on the pitch, Roy Keane.
At times (as when discussing his preference for Andy Cole’s artless bravery over Stan Collymore’s wayward brilliance) Ferguson – never a truly cutting edge innovator or modernizer – gives away what he really is: the last and greatest of the old school. No such man should bow out without leaving us his views on the era he helped define. If you grew up with the Premiership, this memoir of one of the men who made it should be on your Christmas list.