Book Review: My Autobiography
My Autobiography by Alex Ferguson
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
As I write this, in late December 2013, Alex Ferguson’s second autobiography has sold nearly 650,000 copies. It’s the bestselling book of the year. Just take that in for a few seconds. The-best-selling-book of the year. But when you read it, particularly if you read it in a couple of days as I did, it feels like being harangued by a deranged egotist in a broken lift. The deranged egotist has firm opinions on almost everything, some of which he repeats, and he’s wearing a kilt. But this isn’t Alex Ferguson’s fault. It may not even be his ghostwriter’s. It’s the nature of autobiography when the subject is a football manager. After all, to write a decent autobiography surely requires levels of zen-like self-awareness, coupled with a willingness to allow the reader to glimpse the vulnerability or uncertainty beneath the public visage. Ideally, there should also be a bit of tragedy, a spot of triumph, all coming together to find the subject older, wiser and the reader understanding more about how they tick. Alex Ferguson telling you that Ruud van Nistelrooy was an arrogant so-and-so but also an excellent finisher doesn’t really cut it.
Before I go on – and I may have gone on a bit already – the other issue I have with this book is that, whilst it was never likely to win prizes for literary quality, was it really necessary to publish it so soon? I’m sure someone within the publisher’s sales or marketing department insisted that if it didn’t come out for Christmas 2013, then it would be a disaster. But, having managed Manchester United for nearly a quarter of a century, I think Ferguson’s status would have remained intact if they’d waited a bit. And the book may not have felt so rushed as a result. Ghostwriter Paul Hayward was clearly working to a tight deadline, which means the book often resembles a slightly rambling stream of consciousness, like eavesdropping on Ferguson in a slightly off-the-record press interview. And although the book tries to ape Ferguson’s speech rhythms, it falls short of sounding authentic. Instead, we get the usual clichés, a sort of football-ese that doesn’t reveal anything we could not have already guessed.
And yet, there is the kernel of what Ferguson thinks about management here, and how he managed United through this period. But you have to piece it together yourself. It’s a sort of rag bag of thoughts on players, what they were like, and what value they were to United. He likes players who are a bit cocky, but respect him. A top down approach that clearly worked. There are odd moments of interest, particularly in terms of players who United wanted to buy but didn’t, as well as an occasional tactical insight. But you also get slightly baffling comments about how Brazilian players don’t mind the cold, and how Argentinian players – based it seems on Seba Verón – are more stand-offish. His wife, Cathy, is defined as a mother and housewife. What you don’t get is a considered review of his career, or any real sense of perspective at all. It just feels thrown together, like a first draft rather than a final manuscript.
For a United fan this is a must-read, of course. But it’s botched, and it pains me to write that. How can I criticise the man who won the Champions League of 1999, as well as all the rest of it? I’d been planning to write a letter to say thanks, but having written this, particularly the kilt bit, I’m not sure I’ll get a reply.