Last updated : 27 January 2004 By editor
Simon Barnes, Sports Writer of the Year

WHAT do you think of Sir Alex Ferguson? Well, you’re already reading the sports pages, so I’d imagine you’re impressed. A highly successful man, a great man in the narrow terms of football. He has achieved success on a scale that none of his rivals is even close to. A hell of a man, we agree.
And a rich man, too. He is said to be worth £30 million.

Now meet two men for whom all the above simply does not apply.
So far as John Magnier and J. P. McManus are concerned, Ferguson is a nobody. A hard-nut? He’s a pussy cat. A rich man? A near pauper. A man of power and influence? A man with a loud voice who gets his picture in the paper. Magnier and McManus are not all that impressed by Ferguson. For a start, they have no interest in football and if you discount football, then Ferguson is effectively castrated. The pair may own 25.49 per cent of Manchester United, but they have been to Old Trafford a total of once between them.

These Irish businessmen are rich and powerful beyond the understanding of mere millionaires. They are both self-made and, therefore, they regard Ferguson’s achievements as small beer. They are, in short, invulnerable to all of Ferguson’s normal weaponry. Ferguson is in the position of Gulliver, transported from Lilliput to Brobdingnag. He has, in a bound, gone from giant to midget.

But Ferguson is not beaten. That is because he is not on his own. Despite his comparative poverty, his position as manager is, rightly, seen as important for the short-term success of the club and the maintenance of a decent share price. Ferguson has a fiscal value a long way beyond his own bank account.

It is a feud that is destabilising the entirety of Manchester United plc — precisely what it has been designed to do. Magnier’s interest in transfers and Jason Ferguson is restricted as to how much they can be used to damage Ferguson Sr. But the real weapon is the 25.49 per cent he and his partner hold, and they are not squeamish about the way they use it.

Ferguson is an impressive man. And what is most impressive about him here is his lunatic folly in setting up this situation, his crazed naivety in taking on a man such as Magnier and his all-consuming belief that he is (a) going to win and (b) right.