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The Dark Side entered football He kept his darkest side for Wenger Note: the Steve Bruce mentioned as the author is not Steve Bruce footballer and manager but possibly a poet/writer which I found on the internet. It is difficult to be certain as nowhere seems to have actual details on who the author is. Regular readers will remember a blog I wrote some time ago https://arsenal-bulgaria.com/site/team/london_calling/the-fickleness-of-football-fans-r488/ in which I posited that Alex Ferguson underachieved at Manchester United because they were easily the richest team in England and the world at some points. And yet he never really came close to winning everything and certainly underachieved in the Champions league in that context. I can imagine the foul mouthed abuse I would get if I dared to suggest that he underachieved at Manchester United. Don't speak out, Rafa A new book has come out called The Dark Side of Alex Ferguson by Steve Bruce. I have recently read it and I feel it is worth a blog. Now there is nothing really new in it but he does manage to show the hypocrisy Mr Ferguson had and the power to keep the whole football community in thrall, FA, referees, journalists, the BBC and the media in general. This book reminds you of a lot of the incidents that you may have forgotten about but I feel the biggest remark I can make is that you could not write this about any other manager no matter how great. None had the insidious control to silence both the football authorities and the media once remarked upon by Rafa Benitez. Bully boy Alex The book is short at 100 pages. It covers his early years as a manager in Scotland in which he seemed more of an overt bully than he managed to get himself portrayed in later years. Gordon Strachan was a particular target saying the treatment he got was horrendous. Ferguson never let the enmity drop throughout his life. It also shows his hypocrisy in claiming he was from a poor background and because of that he became a champion of the underdog. Many footballers were truly poor, mostly from Africa and South America but they never tried to make it a defining element of their character. Ferguson was never really poor and a champion mostly of himself not the underdog. Gordon Strachan got dog's abuse We are reminded of his atrocious treatment of John Motson of the BBC when he had the temerity to ask Ferguson about discipline after Roy Keane had received 3 red cards. He managed to fit many fucks in there at a decent man only asking what anyone would ask. Ferguson never forgot to hold a grudge. Destroying Manchester United And so we are treated to the many indiscretions. Roy Keane, after they fell out, went from being the greatest footballer he ever had to not even getting in Ferguson’s top Man Utd team he had managed. Perhaps the biggest was the takeover by the Glazers, which is directly attributable to Ferguson. The Rock of Gibraltar chapter is the most significant of the whole book. If Man Utd fans want to know how the Glazer’s took over, saddled the club with enormous debt, and presided over their drift downtable and downmarket, it is all in there. Ferguson created the Glazer's Briefly put, two main directors of Man Utd, The Irishmen John Magnier and JP MacManus known as the Coolmore Mafia, had promised Ferguson an equal share of the horse’s winnings in return for investing in the top racehorse Rock of Gibraltar. Ferguson decided that it was a share of the stud value he should get, which was worth far more. After a hugely destabilizing court case, Ferguson backed down. The 2 Irish millionaires decided that they could not work with him anymore and sold their stakes in United to the Glazers, who promptly bought it by leveraging the sale with all the physical assets, including the ground and the buildings, which meant Utd would have to pay it all back to the Glazers. A club which was generating huge profits suddenly became massively in debt and caused a vast amount of resentment in fans, which is still felt strongly even now. Ferguson cheerleaded the Glazers and continues to do so to this day. Wenger alone got to Ferguson But this is an Arsenal blog so let’s move on to Arsenal and Arsene Wenger. Wenger got under Ferguson’s skin far more than any other, mostly because he was dismissive of Wenger when he came. Japan was rubbished as was Wenger’s five languages, with Ferguson claiming he had a young uneducated foreign footballer there who could also speak many languages. The Professor, he sneered, but then Wenger straightaway won the double, putting Ferguson in his place. Wenger transformed how footballers trained and where, how and what they ate, rotation of squads, and all of that Ferguson had to swallow as he also had to make such changes to Man Utd if he was to keep up. So the insolent Frenchman made him change his ways. Oh, the indignity. He alienates two Keanes The book is an enjoyable read, showing so many petty grudges, jealousies, bullying, hypocrisies, and sometimes downright nastiness of a man who ruthlessly fought off any attack he perceived, whether justified or not. It covers Roy Keane and even a cruel and unnecessary remark about a very young Robbie Keane. It covers agents, his manipulation of so many football people in favour of his sons, his treatment of journalists, banning so many for the most trivial of crimes such as asking him a question about his team. It goes over a life characterized by bullying, but somehow getting away with it in a manner no other manager has ever managed. A big falling out And so he is revered as a great, often referred to as the greatest ever manager, and has had so many hagiographies written about him it is almost unreal. But perhaps the greatest criticism he should get, but doesn’t, is that Man Utd’s troubles, stemming from the Glazer takeover, are squarely down to Alex Ferguson believing he could bully the Coolmore Mafia. They were Utd fans, unlike the Glazers, and they would have backed him to the hilt without putting the club in debt. The moral of the story is bullying will always do badly in the end. Arsenal finished above Man Utd last season. This season we are challenging for the title. I hope we always stay classy and never have such a book written about any manager of ours. It is ok to attack a 19 yr old Robbie Keane
We won the league at Old Trafford Arsenal on the break Ah, Manchester, the fixture I have been at the most. It is like being in Ireland with all the Irish voices I hear and everyone offering an opinion on everything, especially the football. I travelled with my brother, Joe, a diehard Utd fan. We had 2 tickets in the Alex Ferguson Stand so I had to be on my best behaviour. One doesn’t want a United fan sniffing you out and exposing you. As it happened the woman beside me kept watching my phone as all the Arsenal messages from the fanclub keep popping up. I was going to do a live feed but I was nervous she would suss me out so I declined, plus the fact that the light was bad where I was and the pictures weren’t coming out well. But let’s take a step backwards, to what it is like going there for the big game. It has a real football atmosphere, despite all the corporate changes. Strangely there is no big screen (perhaps an indication of the Glazer’s stinginess?). We are flying high on top and they have had, improbably, 3 wins on the bounce, one against Liverpool, but still I could sense the fans nervousness. They don’t want to be beaten by a bunch of Arsenal kids. A good spy is never caught As always, though, the first port of call is the Matchstick Man, across the canal from Old Trafford, this huge pub, packed to the rafters, doesn’t allow enemy spies such as myself. They even check what you are wearing underneath if they are suspicious. Only Utd colours are permitted. As usual, though, I get by unnoticed as I slip in beside my brother, well dressed in his Red Devils t-shirt. However, there is always a superb atmosphere and big queues at the bar as drink gets downed unmercifully. There is fear in the air as the 3 wins were nervous ones, with Utd rarely looking all that good. Liverpool are going through their own difficulties so even that win wasn’t enough to give them confidence against the young gun tyros. Lots of talk of a draw being a good result. Ah, how they have fallen from their glory days when teams would be summarily dismissed, and even ourselves in the Wenger days, sometimes. Getting closer Of course, they know and they remember, that we won the league here. An indignity that shall never be forgotten. We will always be a big game, Roy Keane and Gary Neville on Sky retain their hatred to this day. We were the two giants, banging our heads against each other, with mind games, ferocious tackles, and bulging eyes head to head’s between Wenger and Ferguson. Ah, the great days of the biggest match in football. VAR likes interfering Of course, you know what happened , the first few minutes, Utd were holding the ball, passing it around and a bit of a miss from Eriksen. Then we took over, gaining possession and chances as they defended like mad, unable to hold the ball in midfield. Then we scored, a Martinelli wonder and all looked right with the world from my side. As the VAR sign went up, my brother looked at me and said nonsense, Erikson was dispossessed, nothing in that. I wasn’t so sure. Erikson has always been good at going to ground, like his buddies Son and Kane. Of course, VAR should not have interfered, the referee was in position, he saw it and didn’t give it. There was no clear and obvious error. But the referee bottled it and took the easy way out by blaming VAR. It was the start of a bad day for the Arsenal. Plenty of Antony jerseys about We allowed them to pick our pockets three times, particularly the final 2 goals as we pushed forward for the win. You cannot leave a gap between the lines for Rashford and his ilk to run into. Bravery should never be stupidity. Yes, we had more chances. Yes, some of them could have been goals. And yes, the better football was played by us, but we have to stop giving away easy goals, a rot that started, unfortunately with my hero, Wenger, and has never been properly addressed. This will be our best loss of the season This could turn out to be a great loss, at this time of the season. Why so? Because it was at Old Trafford, a big team with big players, in a intimidating stadium, and a manager who indisputably knows what he is doing. He identified that Arsenal played very high, and a Sam Allardyce long ball through the middle could cause havoc. And it was a strategy that paid off very handsomely. But we played well, we pressed, held the ball much better than they did and two goal hero Rashford, at the end said it was an even game. A draw, at least, would have been a fairer outcome. The players will know that. Mistakes cost us. The teams only played in one half of the pitch So, if we learn from this, cut out this weakness, then we can start again, with the loss out of the way early as all teams lose in the Premiership, except one and get back with a stronger mentality this can be the catalyst to pushing City all the way. Now, I have to say that the Arsenal fans were superb, singing and truly supporting our boys all the way. This is a strength that has been lacking in recent years, and they must keep doing this. We must ensure that we have every little advantage possible. We now have good players in every position and there is a togetherness that Man Utd and Chelsea, for example, will take time to replicate. Liverpool may finally be showing cracks in an aging team and the Spuds are the Spuds. See? I told you But, can I say, at least once in your lifetime, get to Old Trafford for the Arsenal. You won’t regret being swept along in the atmosphere, and make sure to get your pints in the Matchstick Man as an Arsenal spy, listening to the worried fears of the Mancs, and smiling to yourself that our kids have got these boys worried. We will rise again, we will overcome the big teams and VAR and show that team spirit, combined with fan spirit, is the key to Arsenal’s success. And at least my brother Joe was happy. ps. Apologies for the pictures - it was dark, grey clouds had gathered as if a portent for that Prince of Darkness, Mr VAR!
Arsenal v Man Utd part 2 Handbags, surely? A most serious war Fighting! That’s the key to Arsenal vs Manchester United. So many fights, and so spectacular. The thing is, though, it became the biggest derby in English football purely on football terms, which is unusual. Normally it is your local rivals who are your biggest opponents, not so these two. It was football, it was that mad scramble for superiority, to be better. Yes we had big games, the FA cup final of 1979 which I wrote about here being one. I also wrote about the brawl at Old Trafford in 1991 here. I was there in 1991 when Arsenal had a 20 man brawl with Man Utd at Old Trafford. As far as I am concerned, Man Utd were the instigators as any examination of the videos will confirm but Arsenal got the worst punishment. The beginning of the belief that Alex Ferguson always got better treatment from authorities. It was spectacular, with almost everyone involved although not really vicious except maybe for Brian McClair kicking Nigel Winterburn on the ground, for which Winterburn got booked! Arsene Wenger Vs Alex Ferguson But they were just tasters, little morsels to whet the appetite for the big battles first with George Graham and Alex Ferguson and then the supreme one, when Arsene Wenger arrived on the scene. He seemed straightaway to get under Ferguson’s skin and of course in his first full season he was 12 points behind and going nowhere when he did the impossible, reeled them in and essentially got the title with a Marc Overmars wondergoal at Old Trafford. From then on, they all knew, there was a new kid on the block and they were Arsenal. No wonder Ferguson was sickened and bitter. No more Mr Nice Guy Of course, Arsenal never quite managed domination under George Graham, but Man Utd, under Matt Busby, not that long past, were a great and dominant side just as Manchester United were becoming under Ferguson. They seemingly could just march to the title every season. Eh hello, Arsenal are here now. It was our first Premier League title. And the true start of what was to become the biggest rivalry in English football. They hated each other, hyped themselves up for every match as if their life depended on it and they were always feisty affairs. Both sets of players were desperate to win Now, Ferguson and Wenger seem friends. Ferguson, though, then, was far more responsible for the war. He liked to use any method to gain an advantage, mindgames, a sense of us against the world, firing players up, diving. Even the arrival of Arsenal he used to push his team to their first Champions league. They had to get better to beat Arsenal and that was also good enough to beat Bayern Munich. Wenger always wanted it to be about football, sporting competition, and doing things the right way. Thanks, Patrick, for the eye examination However his players didn’t see it that way. They also wanted to win in any way possible, Adams, Keown, Vieira and others would try to intimidate opponents, to fight as hard as they could for victory. Witness Patrick Vieira intimidating Gary Neville in the famous tunnel incident. This fired Roy Keane up so much that he wanted to fight Patrick Vieira before the match. I had never seen this before in football and kept expecting Keane to be sent off before the match had even started. Maybe that is not in the rules so he wasn’t and United went on to win 4-2. Keown was the hardest fighter of all Martin Keown’s most famous image is when he screws up his face at Ruud Van Nistleroy when he missed a penalty at Old Trafford after Diego Forlan had gone down soft. It ended 0-0 and all the Arsenal players celebrated wildly, so wildly that several of them got suspensions. Nothing for Man Utd. Ferguson, unbelievably said that Arsenal’s conduct was the worst he had ever seen in football. Ah, good old Fergie, always playing the mindgames. Get closer, Martin I have to mention Pizzagate as well. The next season, at Old Trafford, Utd ended our great unbeaten run with Van Nistleroy scoring a late penalty and Wayne Rooney scoring even later to give them a 2-0 win. Arsenal had played the better football, controlling the game to that point. It boiled over into the tunnel, and Mr Ferguson got pizza thrown over him by a young Cesc Fabregas, allegedly. This time, both teams kept shtum and no punishments were handed out. Surely not innocent Cesc Fabregas? So there were plenty of fights, red cards, yellow cards, wild tackles, squaring up, and sly grins when intimidation worked, as Wenger vs Ferguson, Keane vs Vieira, Keown vs everybody and lots of other battles raged all around us. It was a time of heightened emotions as the two great teams of English football battled throughout new players in a ten or so year yoyo war for supremacy. Every time a team got knocked down they got back up and knocked the other down. It was a fantastic football war as well But what about the football, I hear you ask? It was high class. Dennis Bergkamp had brought football to a new level as did Thierry Henry, Vieira and superb players for the Arsenal. Beckham, Scholes, Giggs, and others were world class for Utd. Ruud Van Nistleroy ramped up the rivalry by trying to keep up with Henry, but eventually conceded Henry was better as he skulked off to Real Madrid. They fought on football skills though, I never remember them getting physical with each other. Nistleroy was beaten by Thierry Henry During George Graham’s time, Ferguson famously said that Ian Wright was destroying us and he did acknowledge that Arsenal players could play. He also thought that Tony Adams should have been a Manchester United player. And Ferguson learned from Wenger. All the modern ideas he brought were swiftly introduced at Old Trafford, diets, training methods and grounds, pitch technology, large squads, rotation, he was always one of the best learners in football. One thing both managers believed in was attacking football, always trying to score. They were never good at holding on to a lead, always wanting to increase it by preference. Hence the high scoring matches as both sides, once they fell behind, kept trying to win, leaving gaps for the other to exploit. The infamous 8-2 to Man Utd was not as one-sided as the scoreline suggests, as Arsenal continued to press forward, looking for a miracle. Watch it again if you don’t believe me. Are there battles to come? There is no doubt in my mind that Utd had reached an easy pinnacle until Arsenal arrived to challenge, winning title after title, and that push helped Ferguson to get his players to perform better. Both sides had managers and players who only cared about winning, battling and fighting to the end for that top prize of not losing. For trophies, they have the edge and we would need a long great spell to catch them up. It is not impossible, though. Can we overtake them on money, however? Probably not, they are at the top level of fan support with an income to match. They can pay huge salaries even as they are struggling at the moment. A long period for us in the doldrums makes it harder to get the owners to spend money. Again we would need that long great spell to match them for money. They do go in with an advantage, a bigger fan base, a bigger ground, owners who spend more money, and, of course, a stronger modern tradition. What do plucky little Arsenal have to offer? A potentially exciting young manager, who, if he tackles his weaknesses in dealing with players, could become a true great. We also have an extraordinary range of young talent, which, with improvement and some of that battling ability which I have written about here, could bring us that dream spell of dominance. I believe in this team, do you?