Sir Alex Ferguson dedicated an entire chapter to Liverpool Football Club in his latest book, which some might think is a little strange given he used to be the former Manchester United manager – but a few things he has said about Liverpool appeared in the press.
There were less than favourable comments about former manager Rafael Benitez, that Steven Gerrard wasn’t a 'top, top player' – whilst some are perplexed at even the very mention of the cost of Stewart Downing's transfer.
For someone that has been in football management for as long as he had he wasn’t going to limit himself to just talking about one club, and he was sure to have a few words to say about the side he vowed to ‘knock off their f*****g perch.’
The most notable dig at Liverpool was probably at Gerrard. Ferguson claimed he wasn’t a ‘top, top player’ but went on to admit to an attempt in luring him to Old Trafford, at a period when he was unsettled at Anfield. Funny that Ferguson would want to bring someone who isn’t a ‘top, top player’ to a club that dubs itself ‘the biggest club in the world.’ Surely they should’ve been going for the very best?
There was also the issue of trust that Rafa Benitez had in Steven Gerrard, suggesting that he should’ve been playing him as a central midfielder at all times instead of out on the right hand side (2005/06) and in a more advanced role (2008/09, though he started to play in that role towards the end of 2007/08). Those seasons mentioned are Gerrard’s three most prolific in front of goal to date – so maybe it was a case of getting the best out of him for the sake of the team, rather than a question of trust?
The transfer strategy of Gerard Houllier compared that of Rafael Benitez, Ferguson said he understood the thinking behind the Frenchman’s strategy. No disrespect to Houllier, but it’s nice to know that someone else understood the thinking behind the signings of El-Hadji-Diouf and Salif Diao.
In all fairness, the transfer strategy of both had its successes, whilst one yielded a cup treble success and Champions League football for Liverpool – the other yielding Liverpool’s two highest points totals in the Premier League era as well as strong challenges in Europe which are well documented. Both had their successes, and both had their dud signings, like any manager – yet all were suited to their style of play.
Now to move onto more detail about his relationship with Benitez. It’s reported that Ferguson wrote that he heard Benitez was a control freak. Here is a quote from yesterday’s press conference from Ferguson:
‘It was always mantra to keep control of the club which is not easy when you are dealing with great players. It’s also important for people to understand how difficult that is and the important decisions I had to make. I always go back to whether I was in control and that was a determining point in my managing structure.’
So, was that a compliment to Benitez? Acknowledgment that they were alike in some way? Or was there another motive surrounding that?
The other was that you’d never see a Benitez side ‘throw in the towel’ but then said he had more regard for defending and destroying a game than winning it. Is that not a contradiction in terms, to not give up on a game but less regard than others for winning it? An odd thing to say.
But, like I said there were some points that Ferguson touched on – notably the handling of the Suarez/Evra racism row from Anfield – which the Scotsman said Liverpool lacked a Peter Robinson type figure.
It is hard to see that Liverpool would have been so vocal about their support for Suarez, but the era is different with information so readily available and accessible – though a Robinson type influence would have seen Liverpool’s ‘image’ protected a little more. A lot has been written about the leadership at Liverpool at the time.
The point that is hard to argue with is: ‘For Liverpool to return to the level of us and Manchester City was clearly going to require huge investment. Anfield has not moved on. Even the dressing rooms are the same as 20 years ago.’
That’s the nature of football that splashing the cash is a necessity to be successful in the modern game, and the likes of Carroll and Downing were not the best uses of Liverpool’s transfer kitty – and the stadium situation has held back progress off the field in a commercial aspect. And, the mention of the side being eight players away from winning the title? It's hard to say unless they do it in the near future.
But despite ending Liverpool’s stranglehold on English football, and surpassing their number of League Championships, the fact that he wants to dedicate to so much time talking about Liverpool is probably the biggest compliment he could ever give to the club.
image: © Vincent Teeuwen