Sir Alex Ferguson is the master of spin

Sir Alex Ferguson

The Red Devils manager is an old hand at these things – he is surely the very best spin-doctor in the game.

What Alistair Campbell was to Labour, and Andy Coulson was to the Conservatives doesn’t even come close to what Sir Alex Ferguson is for Manchester United.

He is not just the manager of the team; he is the manager of the fans, the media, and the marketing of the football club he has supremely reined for 27 years now.

We all know his mind-games of old but it takes a well-versed public relations analyst to cut through the craft of his post-match rhetoric after United’s 2-2 draw with West Ham at Upton Park on Wednesday.

The facts of the match are that United were wasteful, lacked composure and underperformed by their own sensational standards. Their equalizing goal should not have stood – scorer Robin van Persie was offside in the build up to his tap-in. United were lucky not to have lost the game and Ferguson knows it.

His post-match interview responses tell me so – his misdirection tactics transparent. The video of his post-match interview with Sky Sports directly after the game present an aggrieved figure, aggravated yet resolute.

The comparison may offend some but I noted parallels with some prominent politician’s defiant demeanour recently, resilience mixed with anguish in the face of adversity.

Ferguson feigned disapproval of the decision-making of referee Lee Probert for not sending off Andy Carroll but marked his pride in his team’s performance, which he described as that of ‘champions’.

Forgive me but Manchester United did not play well on Wednesday. West Ham worked incredibly hard to ensure they couldn’t and, had the lineman have done his job properly; the Hammers would have swiped a deserved 3 points from the visitors.

There may indeed be a case to argue that Andy Carroll was a little over-zealous with his near decapitation of David De Gea. However, the goalie got up and played on and Carroll was West Ham’s best player on the night by a distance.

His England mate Wayne Rooney gave him a friendly kick in the penalty area and was lucky not to have been sent off or at least have conceded a penalty through his misconduct.

Carroll definitely elbowed Nemanja Vidic in the second half but the hand-bags had been started by the United captain in the first half and, between two such strong and physical players, one a centre-back and one an opposing centre-forward, the aerial duels were nothing out of the ordinary for a Premier League clash.

Ferguson shifted attention from the offside goal, the less than impressive team display, the still dubious form of his star striker, the substitution of Wayne Rooney amidst speculation over his future at the club, the two points dropped, the excellence of their opponents, and the disappointment of the result.

Instead, he shifted attention on to the referee and the challenge on De Gea – his excuse for all of the above. He praised a goalkeeper who, despite a definite improvement this term, conceded two goals to a mid-table team and called his team ‘champions’ despite the fact they just effectively decreased their lead at the top to 10 should Manchester City win their game in hand.

They have now won just 1 of their last four games and 3 of their last eight games in all competitions. Ferguson knows all too well that that is not the form of ‘champions’ and he is trying to paper over the cracks in United’s confidence and nerve.

I still have little doubt that they will claim the title but they have 5 games to play and they’re going to need to step their game up to avoid a catastrophe – they’re not out of sight completely and they still have to play Arsenal and Chelsea.

They cannot afford to play like they did on Wednesday. Sir Alex is the master of spin but he cannot fool all of the people all of the time.

images: © Andrea Sartorati, © marcel sigg

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