Long may the silent knight keep his views to himself

Ian Wooldridge

Last updated at 00:00 28 November 2001

THERE has been much comment in the British newspapers, some of it quite malevolent, about Sir Alex Ferguson's reluctance to talk to the Press.

From time to time this column has been critical of the manager of Manchester United but on this occasion it heartily congratulates him, trusts he will sustain his stance and hopes that many of his fellow managers - indeed many administrators in other sports - will follow suit.

This may sound like sedition from someone in the newspaper trade but if I were in a more responsible job I would be quite adamant about it.

I would welcome journalists as friends, invite them to my home, know their wives' names, send them bottles of scotch at Christmas, write notes of condolence or commiseration at times of bereavement or divorce, but never ever would I speak to one on the record.

Sport bosses now frequently attend courses in how to handle the media to advantage, but, since these are mostly run by failed reporters and faded TV personalities, they are usually useless. They tend not to point out the perfectly obvious, which is the old adage that least said is soonest mended.

I have met very few bosses who could speak openly to the Press without getting raped in print.

One was Ferguson's predecessor at Old Trafford Sir Matt Busby, whose utter charm deflected any criticism. Another was Bill Shankly, legendary manager of Liverpool, whose razor wit produced so many quotable aphorisms that his club was always upbeat news.

Another was Ron Atkinson whose peregrinations around the byways and highways of English football were accompanied by the gift of zany humour.

Sir Alex Ferguson does not have these attributes, at least not publicly.

Arsenal's Arsene Wenger drones on like an undertaker's accountant, Chelsea's combative chairman Ken Bates has made a career out of putting his foot in it.

Aston Villa's Doug Ellis adopts the tone of a Gladstonian elder statesman above contradiction, Gordon Taylor's statement on behalf of the P rofessional Footballers Association when the threatened strike was called off was gasbag trades union gobbledegookat its most sanctimonious-and that manager chap up at Celtic is clearly rehearsing for a career in politics.

The irony, of course, is that Alex Ferguson is currently attracting more publicity for not speaking to the Press than he did while growling away about the fecklessness of referees.

Well, here's one column that applauds his monastic vow of silence. Long may it continue.


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