Sir Alex Ferguson’s media meltdown

Alex Ferguson

We know Alex Ferguson doesn’t like the media. We are reminded every week during Match of The Day when assistant Mike Phelan gives the post-match interview instead of Sir Alex.

We don’t give him a hard time of it. As arguably the greatest football manager in history who are we to question his methods?  We think of him as an old-fashioned sort of guy, he’s weary of the media and it’s prying eyes. He doesn’t revel in its attention like the narcissistic Jose Mourinho and other high profile managers do. 

Even his players seem to share his mentality. Which current players aside from Wayne Rooney succumb to media attention the way half of the Chelsea team do?

The BBC is the most renowned example of Fergie’s distrust of the media and he has boycotted the broadcaster for years.

Ferguson has a famously rocky relationship with the media. Incidents from the past 6 months provide just a snippet of Fergie’s disdain for the football press. 

In September 2010 Ferguson blamed the media attention for Wayne Rooney’s poor form – read the ESPN article here, while last month he blamed an ‘aggressive press’ for the Premier League’s sack culture, about which you can read here.

But following Manchester United’s first successive defeats in over 70 games Fergie’s media conspiracy seems to have spiralled out of control.

It started with Man Utd against Wigan on Saturday 26th February.

As mentioned previously, Wayne Rooney is the only Utd player to really exude any sense of mainstream celebrity and as expected it was he who was under great scrutiny following his thuggish decision to elbow Wigan’s James McCarthy in the face during their match with Man Utd that Saturday.  Thanks to the beaurocracy of the FA, Rooney escaped punishment despite everyone being unanimous in their condemnation of him. Everyone except Sir Alex Ferguson that is.

Following the incident Ferguson claimed that the media would seek to have Rooney “hung or electrocuted, something like that.” 

This case differed from typical Ferguson complaints. Rather than attacking the media as he usually does, he went on the defensive. This is most likely because he knows Rooney was in the wrong and his strategy was to portray Rooney as the victim.  The statement also reiterated Ferguson’s continuous typecasting of the press as being solely comprised of phone-hacking, blood thirsty journalists. The exaggeration of Ferguson’s statement was an attempt to illustrate sensationalism in the press regarding Rooney, yet in the age of social media where fans can share their opinions and broadcast their own feelings to thousands, how can the media be attributed with swaying popular opinion of football fans?

Tuesday saw defeat to Chelsea and in a post-match interview with Manchester United’s subscription channel MUTV Ferguson questioned the integrity of the game’s referee Martin Atkinson, a big no-no for the Football Assocation. Ferguson has since been charged with improper conduct by the FA for his comments and he subsequently decided to boycott the club’s own station.  Ferguson’s Us vs. Them attitude now extends to the team’s own media outlets.  It is unfair of Ferguson to blame the station since it was he who spoke the words. Yet he feels he has been stitched up by what is in essence his own television station.  

In the final stage of his defensive strategy a complete media blackout was commanded by Ferguson after Utd lost to Liverpool last Sunday. This was the strop of all strops, an order extending to Sky and TalkSport and one to be obeyed by all the players and even Ferguson’s usual stand-in, the aforementioned Mike Phelan.  No one likes to lose but a media blackout certainly isn’t going to get the team back to winning.  Clearly Ferguson felt that all he had to say following the game would simply land him in further hot water with the FA.  Perhaps instead of blaming the officials or the media he could have given an honest account of his players performance and possibly throw in some assurance that the result was merely a blip.  He could have used the opportunity to send a message to appease the concerns of fans and to stop future opponents from developing too much confidence.

Media opportunities are as much for the benefit of the subject as they are the television channel or newspaper. Ferguson seems to have forgotten this in his recent decisions. 

United’s next game is an FA Cup tie against Arsenal, another Premiership rival. One can’t even begin to imagine what steps Ferguson will take should his side fall to another defeat.

Sir Alex Ferguson is a tremendous manager, thay cannot be disputed. His continued success demonstrates that his strategic and managerial skills are not out of date, but his perception of the media certainly is.

image by Andrea Sartorati on flickr

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