This Is The One: Sir Alex Ferguson

The Uncut Story of a Football Genius
by Daniel Taylor
Aurum Press, £16.99
Reviewed by Ashley Shaw
From WSC 247 September 2007 

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Daniel Taylor of the Guardian has penned a diary of the last two seasons at Manchester United from a pressman’s point of view. Rarely have two seasons brought such contrasting fortunes – after the loss of Ruud van Nistelrooy and Roy Keane in the first, most writers predicted United would struggle in the second, only for Alex Ferguson to turn the tables spectacularly with a title win that earned the astonished admiration of fans, players and journalists.

As this rollercoaster ride unfolds, Fergie’s relationship with the press goes from taciturn to monosyllabic to explosive, before he turns into an erudite father figure, handing out champagne as Taylor and his colleagues are asked to toast United’s success. The relationship between any manager and the set of reporters sent to cover a club on a daily basis is usually uneasy. When the manager is Ferguson the relationship is all one way. From the outset his attitude to the young pups in the press corps is at best suspicious, while Taylor readily admits that press conferences often resemble pupils’ detention with the headmaster.

The nadir in this relationship was reached with the farcical announcement of Keane’s departure: after Fergie had laughed off questions about the future of his skipper at a routine 12.30 press conference, the reporters are alerted by a text message half an hour later, informing them of the end of the Irishman’s United career during their dinner break. Taylor describes the scene as bacon butties are jettisoned into the bushes on nearby Isherwood Road as a bewildered and angry pack of reporters return to the press room.

From then on the relationship can only get better. A season later, with José Mourinho losing it on a regular basis, Ferguson is all smiles again and his press conferences see the return of his trademark poor puns and whimsical put-downs. These insights aside, the main frustration with This Is The One is that the author leaves the impression that he knows a lot more than he is letting on. It is perhaps understandable that Taylor, a reporter with an ongoing relationship with Ferguson and the United press machine, would prefer to pussyfoot around rather than irk an organisation with a media blacklist longer than anyone this side of China. If the profile of Ferguson in this book is anything to go by, it is almost certain that relating anything salacious about the manager or the club would have cost the author a demotion.

The book serves as a reminder that, in the age of the internet and Sky Sports News, newspapers have become obsolete as a deliverer of news – instead, print journalists have been corralled into explaining the complexities of the Carlos Tévez saga, speculating about transfer targets or puffing Liverpool’s title aspirations yet again.

For all that, Taylor has produced an enjoyable book with a Hollywood ending. He has a ready turn of phrase (the description of Wayne Rooney as the “assassin-faced baby” sticks out) and has a way with a quick put-down. Throughout, Taylor is at pains to make it clear that the life of a football journalist isn’t all glamour and intrigue. Nevertheless, a little bit of reflected glory goes a long way and the author clearly enjoyed witnessing first hand Alex Ferguson overcoming the high-octane mixture of big money and a new rival as much as the rest of us.

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