In the wake of Chelsea’s controversial victory over the current league leaders, Sir Alex Ferguson’s outburst was almost a refreshing change from the increasingly placid United boss we have seen over recent months.
The aftermath of the defeat at Stamford Bridge saw one of Ferguson’s more outspoken post-match interviews for a very long time. The condemnation of referee Martin Atkinson’s performance on Tuesday night has attracted criticism from Prospect, the trade union that represents officials, however such controversies are becoming increasingly rare.
The concession of last season’s title was a very un-Ferguson trait. There was recognition, possibly for the first time, that the campaign was a transitional one for his United side and that the winning or losing of the title was not important in terms of the bigger picture. This has been born out, and the red half of Manchester have swiftly regained their place at the top the English football ladder, but have you ever seen Ferguson approach defeat in a title race with such a relaxed attitude?
Admittedly, even United fans themselves did not appear overly fussed about losing the crown they had held for the last three years. The realisation that without the departed Cristiano Ronado and Carlos Tevez that the squad had lost much of its depth was evident to all, and Chelsea’s squad of last season was certainly the strongest on show.
Nevertheless, regardless of his remarkable, prolonged period of success at Old Trafford, Ferguson is slowly being worn down by the day-to-day running of the football club. Where once he sold Jaap Stam for criticising him in an autobiography, Ferguson has allowed Ronaldo and most recently, Wayne Rooney to do their utmost to engineer moves away from the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ and then welcomed them back into the fold when such moves have fallen through.
Ferguson has long had the look of a man in total control of all he surveys, however the Rooney saga hammered home an undoubted softening attitude towards his players. To witness the press conference in which the former Aberdeen boss sat and confirmed to the media that Rooney had demanded a transfer was seeing a man gradually driven to despair by the lack of loyalty from his most valuable asset.
In the past, Ferguson’s move to delay his retirement from the Old Trafford hot seat had some logic – until the Champions League trophy was lifted and the challenges of Arsenal and Chelsea seen off, his job in Manchester was not yet completed.
Whereas Arsene Wenger is desperately trying to re-build a once great team, Ferguson is also at a crossroads of sorts in his own career. There was a point during the 2006-07 season where the Scot would have been genuinely concerned about the rise of Chelsea as a substantial threat to his legacy, but the winning of three successive titles have given Ferguson a points victory over his rivals in the post-Abramovich era of financial dominance. The team of 2011 is, however, not comparable to the school of 2008 and 2009. To return to that level may take a level of hunger and more importantly, time, that Ferguson no longer has.
Maybe this is as a result of circumstance, but the bad blood between Ferguson and his rival managers has also evaporated. Where once there was genuine needle between Wenger and Ferguson, Jose Mourinho’s post match wine culture club attitude of recent years appears to have blunted the edges on two of English football’s spikiest adversaries.
But are these all elements of perceived mellowing merely an extended plot played by one of the masters of the mind game? It would be unwise to simply write Ferguson off as drifting into a world of racehorse ownership and evenings spent supping Baileys on ice. Nevertheless, it is reassuring to hear Ferguson lambaste an official over perceived poor performance – it reassures us all that the most decorated manager in Premier League history is not going anywhere just yet.
To get hold of a membership form for Jose Mourinho’s ‘Post-match wine and culture club’ find me on Twitter.