Patrick Barclay on Sunday Supplement talking about his new book Football – Bloody Hell!
A couple of weeks ago I thought I would take the wife away for the weekend as it was her birthday. One of her requests was that I didn’t mention United or football in general at all over the course of the trip – unfortunately (for her) I came across ‘Football – Bloody Hell!‘ by Patrick Barclay in a Tesco service station on the way there and ultimately let her down on my original promise. I read the book in a matter of days and found it compelling from start to finish. After I had finished with the book, I decided to try and get in touch with Patrick to see if he would do a small interview for the website and thankfully he accepted.
The questions put to Patrick are in bold, with answers underneath. You can purchase a copy of ‘Football – Bloody Hell!’ from here.
1. Who is Fergie’s greatest signing since he took over in 1986?
Has to be Cantona. I’d love to be more imaginative – and there is an argument for Schmeichel – but, if you check the statistics, United averaged a goal a game before Cantona arrived from Leeds – and two a game thereafter on their progress to the first championship under Ferguson. On top of that, there’s the effect on young players of Eric’s attitude to training.
2. Jaap Stam’s exit is usually considered a mistake by Ferguson – is there another player that Fergie got it wrong with?
Inevitably, he’s made some bad buys, but the percentages help to explain why Ferguson has been so successful for so long. Even some of his relative flops, like Forlan, have gone on to prove themselves elsewhere. Veron was a crashing error. If we’re talking sales, Beckham was as badly judged as Stam in my opinion.
3. Fergie’s legendary temper is nothing surprising (quote from book – anger is his petrol), however some accounts from the book paint him as a quite ferocious man, who is very unfair at times. But do you think that this ruthlessness is needed to be in the job for so long?
Ruthlessness is necessary in any good manager; that’s true. But I do think Ferguson has been unfair to people who might have expected better, like Strachan and Kidd.
4. One of Fergie’s greatest assets is his ability to evolve and adapt to new football methods and surroundings – in this time who do you believe was Fergie’s greatest rival?
Ferguson’s greatest rival in England was Jose Mourinho. In fact Mourinho beat him. Where Ferguson got lucky was with the fall-out between Mourinho and Abramovich at Chelsea. Mind you, he didn’t half make the most of his luck in completing a hat-trick of titles! Wenger, of course, is his most durable rival. But the trophy gap has taken the heat out of their exchanges. In fact, they quite like each other.
5. What are your thoughts on foreign ownership in football and Ferguson’s defense of the Glazers?
I’d prefer controls on not only foreign ownership but all ownership. In Germany, no one can own more than 50 per cent of a club and that should be the rule here. Ferguson’s defence of the Glazers is natural. It was the shares held by Magnier and McManus, Ferguson’s erstwhile horse-racing friends (speaking of horses have you had a look at the Grand National betting odds yet?), that enabled the Glazers to take control of United. Ferguson has done well to distance himself from this fact. And to get away with such enthusiastic support for the Glazers. While United keep thriving on the pitch, he can get away with anything.
6. For those fans who believe Ferguson is a genius – what would you say to them? (Patrick states that Fergie is not a genius in the book)
It depends how you define a genius. In Football – Bloody Hell!, I quote Carlyle, who defined genius as ”an infinite capacity for taking pains”. By that token Ferguson is a genius. But Brian Clough and Jose Mourinho have achieved success much more quickly and cheaply and – in Clough’s case – from a much lower base. Don’t forget that both Aberdeen and United finished second in their respective leagues under other people – Billy McNeill and Ron Atkinson respectively – in the clubs’ last full seasons before Ferguson came. Clough was unquestionably a genius in my mind. Ferguson has proved himself a superior manager – but maybe not a genius.
7. Carlos Queiroz was quite unpopular when he first joined United but left in 2008 with a reputation as a man who aided Ferguson tactically, which resulted in the 2008 European Cup – how important do you believe a good assistant is to Ferguson?
Quite important. But the value of an assistant is hard to quantify. Look at the people who dismiss the contribution of Micky Phelan, for example, without having a clue what it is.
8. Which team was more talented – 1994, 1999 or 2008?
My favourite was 1999. Great to watch, largely because of wing play and the telepathy of Yorke and Cole. Yorke was one of the best players of the Ferguson era, in my view. He could make them and take them – and he did everything in such style. Old Trafford or the Nou Camp – it was all the same to him. What a character. What a talent.
9. What do you think of United so far this season and how likely is a nineteenth title in May?
A fairly decent chance of that 19th title. No one else seems to want it. Except Liverpool, of course.
10. Who do you think will be United’s next manager and will Ferguson ‘move upstairs’ as Busby did?
I wish United would move Ferguson ”upstairs”, but not in the Busby way. Busby was in fact marginalised. Ferguson should become a sort of executive director, working hand-in-glove with Jose Mourinho or whoever United can get as his successor, so that there is no extra pressure on the new man. Mourinho would be ideal because he has proved himself at least as good a manager as Ferguson. But is he gettable? Time will tell.