Time and time again as manager of Manchester United, Alex Ferguson beat opposing teams before a ball was even kicked, by getting inside the head of a rival boss and taking them off their game.
He made Kevin Keegan cry on television and watched Rafa Benitez unravel during his infamous ‘facts’ press conference. Are his latest complimentary comments about Jurgen Klopp just another example of his mind games?
It’s not to say Sir Alex can’t ever say a kind word about another manager within the game. He clearly has an affinity with current Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho. The two famously shared wine after matches and communicated as friends during and after Jose’s first stint in England.
More recently he has backed Jose to keep his job, as BBC Sport reported him explaining: “It would be foolish to sack him. It would be bad management.” This was Ferguson speaking without agenda on behalf of a person he respects.
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Mourinho responded, quoted in the Daily Record as saying: “It’s the difference between the friends and the fake friends. Sir Alex is my friend. Obviously the words are very nice. He’s not the kind of person who says just because he likes somebody.”
With this in mind it would be easy to assume that the Scot can easily throw kind remarks to the rival manager of any club. But if there’s one absolute certainty in this life, it’s that Sir Alex Ferguson would never do anything that could positively assist Liverpool Football Club.
He can play the old game well, though. There’s no point going against the tide of public opinion surrounding Klopp. The press – for now, at least – are in love with him and fans from all over the country have been seduced by his charisma and honesty.
Sir Alex knows when and how to pick his battles. The Telegraph quote him saying: “I know him quite well from the coaching seminars. He’s going to make a difference at that club with his personality, drive and knowledge. Things are looking up there.”
He’s sure to have met most current coaches at seminars and regardless of how well they came across, he wouldn’t wish them a single good day in the office if that office happened to be at Anfield. By having to concede the German has started life well, he immediately places a pressure of expectation on the new guy.
While Manchester United afford Louis Van Gaal a drawn out rebuilding phase, Fergie implies things will change fast for Liverpool. If they don’t, or go at the same pace of the latest Old Trafford project, he can raise unfair questions about Klopp’s effect at the club.
This could also serve a dual purpose. In the same speech where he gave Klopp high praise, he refused to directly answer questions about van Gaal. He could be towing the party line here, or allowing it be known – by not defending the Dutchman – that he’s had enough of the current United boss.
Having an abundance of positive remarks for two rival managers and not one kind word for his own indicates Ferguson isn’t in favour of keeping van Gaal at the helm.
It’s mind games all around.