Sir Alex Ferguson's Flawed Definition Of 'World Class' Is Just More Legacy Management


Sir Alex Ferguson has another book out. We shouldn't be surprised, as there's only so much watching Manchester United, attending black tie dinners and horse racing you can fill your life with. A driven man will always need a mission in retirement, and for Fergie it's to be found in the passing of his considerable wisdom to the millions who care to listen.

Ferguson's latest book, 'Leading', is billed as "an inspirational book about leadership written by the most successful football manager of all-time." It's not an autobiography, but the click-bait approach of the marketing strategy at work would very much like you to think otherwise.

Roll up, roll up. We've got Ferguson on David Moyes; Ferguson on Jose Mourinho; Ferguson on Paul Pogba; Ferguson on Wayne Rooney's wages. And then there's the bit where Ferguson claims he only had four world-class players during his time at United, being Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo.

So none of them were called Bryan Robson? I can see an argument that says Robson didn't participate in the trophy glut years under Fergie, but should that really cost him world-class status? Has anybody ever stopped to think what might have happened to Ferguson without Captain Marvel keeping things respectable on scrappy, mud lumped pitches before the Premier League floodgates opened? It's like 1986 to 1992 never happened.

Bryan Robson : News Photo

The 1990 FA Cup final. The 1991 Cup Winners' Cup final. Not league title years shown on Sky, but those were pretty big stepping stones towards Ferguson's eventual landing at greatness. That said, I'll back down on Robson, as there are stronger cases to argue here.

Let's start with Peter Schmeichel. United's greatest goalkeeper was a force unlike any we'd seen in the position before him. Schmeichel's distribution ushered in a new era of throwing technique and set the attacking tone for the players ahead, while his shot-stopping was spectacular and his sheer presence enough to intimidate strikers as they ran through on goal.

Ferguson really hasn't thought this through has he? How can Schmeichel not be world-class?

Next up, Wayne Rooney. Not the faded, jobbing Rooney we see in front of us now, but the rollicking Rooney who made so much of his partnership with Ronaldo and drove Ferguson to title after title with guts and guile in equal measure. You know the one - the Rooney who's biggest criticism is that he never became the era-defining genius we hoped he might be. He's not the Messiah. But he's surely a world-class player in the context of Ferguson's United.

Manchester United v Liga De Quito - FIFA Club World Cup 2008 Final : News Photo

Maybe the real issue here is defining "world-class". Ferguson says only Messi and Ronaldo fit into that category in the game today, which makes you wonder how anybody but Ronaldo made the cut from his time at United. Were Scholes, Giggs or Cantona really among the top five players in the world at their peak? Or is Ferguson saying the depth of quality players has dropped since his time in the job?

At least Scholes and Giggs would have consistently made a world XI, which is more than you can say for Cantona during his time at Old Trafford. The Frenchman's placement at Ferguson's top table is entirely understandable when you consider it was Cantona, more than any other player, who forced the revolution and set a course for dynasty. But to label him world-class and not Schmeichel seems more than little harsh.

Roy Keane is another with a strong case for consideration. Ferguson grouped Keane with Robson and Steve Bruce, as "great influencers", who he said "weren't the best players". Are we saying then that only the most technically expressive can enter the world-class conversation? If that's the case, then surely the entire category is biased against goalkeepers, defenders and the brand of midfielder who's job it is to win the ball and make things happen.

Was Bobby Moore world-class? How about Franz Beckenbauer? Does Paolo Maldini make the cut?

Ferguson seems to have forgotten the role defenders play in winning football matches. Other than the aforementioned Maldini, was there a more reliable left-back than Denis Irwin during his spell under Ferguson at United? Was there a better central defensive pair in Europe than Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic during United's run to the 2008 Champions League title?

The more you think about it, the more you realise Ferguson is not dealing with the category of "world-class" players at all. In identifying Giggs, Scholes, Cantona and Ronaldo, he's highlighting the four players he wants to stand as ambassadors for the quarter-century of success he had at United.

Eric Cantona and Alex Ferguson of Manchester United : News Photo

A perfect blend of these four is the legacy Ferguson wants to leave behind. Scholes and Giggs for their never-ending loyalty twinned with technical excellence, Cantona for his unflinching confidence and maverick flashes of genius, and Ronaldo for embodying the untouchable talent of an otherworldly attacking force.

This is Fergie's Manchester United, where "attack, attack, attack" is forever the mantra. There's no room for defenders and goalkeepers here. And there's no place for anybody who ever did cross him.

It might not be fair, but Ferguson gets to write his own legacy these days.

 

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