Not much good news coming from The Vatican this week. After a flattering 4-0 win at Wigan last Saturday, things went downhill with a 2-1 defeat to Chelsea on Tuesday, then culminated in a largely spineless 3-1 defeat to The Dippers at the Aldi Stadium this afternoon. And, just in case that wasn’t enough bad news, Fergie has also orchestrated contract extensions for two of United’s crop of journeyman bodgers; Carrick and Fletcher can now order their next Maseratis whilst the Old Trafford punters can look forward to another 3 to 5 years groaning at their ineptitude. To make it worse, Fergie is also threatening to give O’Shea another contract. Oh, joy……
Most of the media will, however, be far more exercised by Ferguson’s latest venture in Toys-out-of-the-Pram diplomacy.
The defeat at Chelsea was hard to swallow, true; United did play pretty well in the first half, but got overpowered in the second half. For Fergie, though, the real issue was the performance of referee Martin Atkinson, who failed to send off Luiz for a cynical bodycheck on Rooney, then gave Chelsea a soft penalty after Smalling’s inconsequential challenge on Zhirkov. The Russian went down quicker than a five-dollar hooker, as they say and Atkinson fell for it. He then compounded matters by sending off Vidic for a second yellow-card offence, which pretty much ensured that today’s game at the Aldi was going to be an uphill struggle with Vidic suspended.
Fergie indulges in some light-hearted banter….
Ferguson’s after-match comments about Atkinson’s perceived incompetence have now got him into hot water with the F.A. (again) and are just the latest in a long series of his injudicious remarks about referees. So far, so predictable. The reality of the situation in my view was that Chelsea upped their game in the second half and overcame our powder-puff midfield,enabling them to apply sustained pressure on our defence. In the end, we were reduced to playing long balls over the top for the hapless Hernandez to chase whilst Chelsea just ran the clock down.
The real comedy began with Fergie’s post-match interview with MUTV, where in his usual ‘sour grapes’ mode, he berated Atkinson, implying that he was weak and anti-United. If things followed the usual pattern, this would have gone out live and though the immediate audience would have been confined to the Converted, the press often pick up on Fergie’s comments from MUTV and recycle them. Thus, the morning papers were full of his tirade and once the inevitability of a disciplinary charge hove into view, the MUTV editorial toadies were called in for a summary thrashing and told that they – along with everyone else – would be deprived of his customary pearls of managerial wisdom ahead of the Liverpool game. The Friday press briefing at Carrington was cancelled and today, no-one from the club spoke to any journalist either before or after the game. Given the dismal performance today, this is perhaps no bad thing. So far, it’s unclear whether the media will be re-admitted to the Papal Presence ahead of next Saturday’s F.A. Cup tie against Arsenal.
Happier days at MUTV; Stuart Gardener interviews Javier Hernandez about his love for the BBC’s ‘Top Gear’
The situation now shows signs of degenerating into a complete farce, with Ferguson behaving like an overgrown infant and the media eyeing the consequences of a formal complaint that would compel the F.A. to take action. Of course, where Fergie’s concerned, it’s a stone-cold certainty that any broadcaster that did complain would, like the BBC, be banished to the outer darkness for the forseeable future.
I have to say that although I am very much a United fan, I have very mixed feelings about all of this. Personally, I’m of the view that David Gill needs to remind Ferguson that whilst they are prepared to indulge his megalomania up to a certain point – and have done so, repeatedly, over the years – he is nonetheless an employee of Manchester United Football Club and needs to toe the corporate line in some matters. My own view is that his current antics are making both him and United even more unpopular than they are normally, thereby actually increasing the likelihood of bias, both in the media and among officials.
“Ah’m no talkin’ to youse….”
It’s a difficult topic for most United fans; this irascible man, so difficult to warm to and therefore – for all his success – destined never to be loved in the way Sir Matt Busby was, has presided over a period of unparalleled success on the pitch. We admire & respect him for the tsunami of silverware he has brought to the club, but many of us deplore his confrontational miserablism .
For me, there is little doubt that a strong anti-United bias does exist in the media; in fact, I have witnessed it at first hand in the Old Trafford Press Room. What is equally certain, however, is that every journalist covering United is aware that no matter their antipathy towards the club or the manager, United are the biggest shark in the Premiership pond and it makes no sense for any publication or broadcaster to alienate such a potentially large body of customers. As for bias among officials, I’m not sure I can buy into that. Of course were Blatter, Platini and their minions to join the 21st Century by embracing technology and finding a way to use it effectively, such matters might be less contentious in the future. Mind you, Fergie would still find something to moan about….