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Henry Winter: Sir Alex Ferguson understands intense pressure of Premier League
Published : 15 Aug 2009 22:38:17
"Next week you're getting a bad steak!'' the man with the blood-stained apron warns the director. Insert your own punchline to Ferguson's story, but the usual outcome in football is that the manager gets the chop. Related ArticlesWin Burnley v United ticketsMan Utd v Birmingham preview'United can win without Ronaldo'Ferguson: Pain of Rome lingersFerguson: United youngsters will succeedSport on televisionIf the image is somewhat whimsical, harking back to the days when board members lived close by the ground rather than in the Everglades, Dubai or on a yacht moored off Monte Carlo, Ferguson was only half-joking in describing a world where boards get jittery. Managers lead a precarious existence, their fates often decided hastily. Newcastle United dismissed Sir Bobby Robson four games into the 2004-05 season. Nine months after leading Sunderland to the 1992 FA Cup final, Malcolm Crosby was sacked by Sunderland after their away game at Tranmere Rovers was rained off and the pools panel decreed a home win. You know things are bad when the pools panel force you out. Unimpressed by the bookies' "sack race'', Ferguson would "totally endorse'' a transfer window for managers, giving them greater security during the season. Anxiety sits in the dug-out alongside many managers. A bad call by a referee, an ill-timed injury, losing a star player to a rival: football management is an assault course of vicissitudes. Even for the best. "At this very moment I am absolutely bullet-proof!'' laughed Ferguson, winner of the last three titles, owner of two Champions League medals and knighted for his prodigious services to football. "I have never thought that way (feeling bullet-proof). I have always had that feeling of fear, that feeling of failure. Even now. Failure is waiting for the ones that are complacent. I am someone that doesn't think of anything else but winning.'' Embodied by Ferguson, Scotland seems to breed tough characters who can deal with the pressure, who boast the work ethic required for their mad, often lonely profession. The Old Firm may never get to join the Premier League, but Scottish managers are here in force, forming one fifth of the English elite. Ferguson, so proud of his Govan roots, faces an opening week against the Birmingham City of Alex McLeish (Barrhead) today and the Burnley of Owen Coyle (Paisley) on Wednesday. David Moyes, the Bearsden-born architect behind Everton's revival in recent years, makes up this high-quality quartet. Accepted wisdom about the proliferation of good Scottish managers usually focuses on their deep passion for football, this unwillingness to countenance life outside the game even when hanging up their boots as players. Football is what they know, it's what they do and it has shaped their every waking hour since the cradle. So they stay in the game as managers or coaches, many having acquired their badges at the celebrated coaching centre at Largs. Generalisations are dangerous, particularly with such multi-faceted individuals as Ferguson and Moyes, but there is undoubtedly a desire amongst those Scots who have come south to prove themselves; the thought of returning home a failure stalks them, drives them on. They seem capable of handling the myriad demands of management. English cynics will mention certain names. Few, though, can blame Kenny Dalglish (Govan via Milton and Dalmarnock) for walking away from Anfield due to the stress that insinuated itself like a poison into his body in the harrowing wake of Hillsborough. George Burley (Cumnock), a former Manager of the Year in England, stares down the barrel of a P45 with Scotland but he hardly enjoys the most lavish of playing resources. Bryan Gunn (Thurso) was ousted by Norwich City after a solitary League One defeat, albeit a spectacular spanking by Colchester United, but the former goalkeeper was really too nice to be a manager. Most of his compatriots who have achieved far more in management possess spikier characters. Like Ferguson. Hailing from his country's rich managerial tradition of Bill Shankly (Glenbuck) and Jock Stein (Burnbank), Ferguson seems to thrive on life in the pressure-dome. Twenty years ago, as Dalglish was setting off on steering Liverpool to their last title, Old Trafford reverberated with rancour towards Ferguson. He stayed strong. So did Coyle when Burnley's season could have been derailed last term by the heart-breaking Carling Cup semi-final loss to Spurs. So did McLeish when Birmingham were relegated and tensions surfaced with the board. Burnley and Birmingham certainly deserved their promotion to the Premier League, not least for the immense contributions of Coyle and McLeish, individuals whose determination sets the dressing-room mood. Ditto Moyes. Even when injury kept depriving him of centre-forwards at Goodison last season, Everton's driving force kept conjuring up re-jigged attacks to maintain their momentum. Hugely personable at times, Moyes often has ice in his eyes in public, and his understandable castigation of Manchester City for their coveting of Joleon Lescott confirmed his reputation as an uncompromising figure. As well as a tough streak, the Premier League's four Scots also share a commitment to entertaining football. Burnley are hardly awash with money yet Coyle's team are always worth watching; any midfield containing the deft skills of Robbie Blake and Chris Eagles has a touch of class. McLeish's team attack busily, so do Moyes', often swept forward by such talents as Mikel Arteta, Steven Pienaar and Tim Cahill. Little reminder is required of Ferguson's love of creativity, captured in memories of Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo and contained in Wayne Rooney. English football is fortunate to have these charismatic Scots. Even the local butcher shouldn't dispute that.