The Boss: The Many Sides of Alex Ferguson by Michael Crick

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The Boss: The Many Sides of Alex Ferguson by Michael Crick

Category: Biography
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An investigative biography with mass-market appeal which presents a balanced picture of the man behind the success at Manchester United. Highly recommended at Bookbag Towers.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 624 Date: May 2002
Publisher: Pocket Books
ISBN: 0743207483

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I first encountered Michael Crick more than a decade ago when I read his biography of Jeffrey Archer, on which Mark Lawson commented in The Guardian that the book "divides between the stuff you just couldn't make up and the stuff Jeffrey Archer did just make up." The book was superb reading and quickly became dog-eared as it was read, re-read and passed to others. I'm not a lover of football, but when I saw that Crick had written a biography of Sir Alex Ferguson I knew that I wouldn't regret reading it. I wasn't disappointed.

Born in the Govan area of Glasgow Sir Alex served an apprenticeship as a toolmaker with Remington Rand. In view of what he was to become it's ironic that he was an ardent Trade Unionist and played a major part in two strikes. He was tempted into football, but never really hit the big time as a player and his first venture into management was at East Stirlingshire F.C., where the local Homebase store is more noticeable than the football ground. It wasn't until he went to Aberdeen that Ferguson found a stage on which to display his talents, but his real mark was made when he moved south of the border to Manchester United.

I did enjoy this book. It's one of the best biographies that I've read in a long time. It's definitely not an authorised biography. Crick had difficulty in getting to see the cuttings library at a local Manchester paper, who didn't want to upset Ferguson. Bearing in mind the lengths to which he'll go to control what the press says - exclusion from press briefings for those who have offended in some way - it doesn't suggest that there's a great deal of independent journalism around the man. On the other side of the coin, Ferguson is quite prepared to use the press when there is information that he wants in the public arena, but not looking as though it's come from him. Crick tells the story of being approached on Sir Alex's behalf with a request that he leak some information.

I have read biographies where a great deal of muck was being raked and the writer was obviously enjoying doing so, but Crick provides a balanced view of Ferguson. His charisma and charm come over strongly and his kindness to people. But there's another side too. He has boundless ambition, for himself, his family and the Club. He's ruthless when he's in pursuit of that ambition and volcanic when he thinks that he's being thwarted. According to Crick he's less than honest when it suits his purposes but this is probably common in football. Each aspect of Ferguson's character is illustrated not once, but countless times. No conclusion is drawn from one incident. For instance, Ferguson is stated to have had an affair with a waitress many years ago, but it's mentioned in passing rather than used to turn him into a womaniser.

As you might expect, football plays a major part in the book, but it's not the star. Ferguson is the star. All the details about football - and there are lots - build up the picture of Ferguson. As a non-fan of football in general and Manchester United in particular, I found it fascinating. I felt the excitement of matches, the tension of the build-up to title matches and the pressure on the manager to perform well. I'd like to say that I was surprised at the ease with which fans turn against a manager or at the murkiness and corruption that surrounds what is a sport, but I'm afraid I'm not.

Crick is a fan of the game and of Manchester United in particular. His feeling for the game and the Club shines through, but he's not blind to the shortcomings. They're all there in the book. The research, the detail is immense and he uses it to illustrate those occasions when Ferguson's (ghost-written) autobiography and other literary output is less than accurate. Although this is a book aimed at the mass market it applies the methods expected of more scientific or literary works. The source references are all there in the book, albeit not in the text itself. All facts have been carefully checked. Interviews were extensive and include senior figures at the Club and Ferguson's brother. I doubt that any figure in football has been more carefully investigated for a book. This is not a book of anecdote, gossip and PR.

The photographs in the book are interesting relevant and well-reproduced, but I've got to say that the front cover photograph, taken whilst he was having a break from signing copies of his autobiography, makes him look more angelic than he probably is!

It's a big book - 624 pages - but I found it un-put-down-able and finished in about thirty six hours. It's highly recommended here at Bookbag.

Booklists.jpg The Boss: The Many Sides of Alex Ferguson by Michael Crick is in the Top Ten Biographies and Autobiographies.
Booklists.jpg The Boss: The Many Sides of Alex Ferguson by Michael Crick is in the Top Ten Books For Your Father.
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Buy The Boss: The Many Sides of Alex Ferguson by Michael Crick at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Boss: The Many Sides of Alex Ferguson by Michael Crick at Amazon.com.


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