Fergotten hinterland

Fergie is a control freak, a big head and a bully. You wouldn't want to get on his wrong side, live with him, or sleep with him, but he is also of endless fascination to all football fans.

There is yet another biog of him out this month - Football: Bloody Hell! - written by Patrick Barclay of the Times. By my reckoning, Fergie has authored six books himself. In all, there have been about 18 books by or about Fergie in the past 25 years.

Wenger, by comparison, is a closed book. We know fuck all about him - possibly because outside football there is little to know or little that he'll reveal.

Herbert Chapman was probably our first manager giant. Chapman won the League with two teams, Huddersfield and Arsenal, in the 1920s and 1930s. He was also an innovator on and off the pitch, which Fergie has never been, introducing new formations and team numbers at Arsenal.
Then we jump a few decades to the likes of Matt Busby, Bill Shankly and Brian Clough. Cloughie was the nearest to a genius of the three, in that
he won the League with two hitherto (and ever since) unfancied teams, Derby and Nottingham Forest.

Football fans, like fans of politics, tend to look back to when giants bestrode the pitch or the cabinet, as opposed to the fresh-faced weeds and placemen we have to today.

Oh, where are the characters of yesteryear? It might be true of politics, but not of football. We are blessed. Three monsters are still among us: Fergie, Mourinho and Wenger, whom we have been fortunate to observe at close quarters on our shores.

Mourinho and Wenger are clearly clever, not just in speaking all those languages, but in their thoughts and pronouncements. You could imagine them passing entrance exams, writing as fluently as they talk, while Fergie would struggle and stumble.

His ability to stay at the top for so long is perhaps the most remarkable thing about him. He'll be 69 in December and he seems as strong, ill-tempered and convinced of his own rightness about everything as he ever was.

It's also remarkable that his football life has been totally insular, both as a player and as a manager, never working in foreign parts - something that modern superclubs today consider essential. How else, the thinking goes, can you handle all these foreign players and foreign owners if you're
a boring little Brit who has worked nowhere else? Yet, without any foreign languages or experience, Fergie tamed Cantona and knocked Ronaldo into shape.

He has a hinterland, which most managers don't have. Thanks to all the millions of words about him, we know he loves horses, red wine and the Labour Party. We are told that his heart is in the right place. Which has bugger all to do with football. We'll accept the bad and the ugly, the nasty and the rough, as long as they do the business. Well done, Alec. Yes, he only became "Alex" when he moved south.

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 18 October 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Who owns Britain?