A lot of people are questioning why Sir Alex Ferguson has come out and criticised former Manchester United players in his new autobiography—in some cases, players who did great things for him. Some are behaving as if it's a massive surprise and at odds with what he stood for.
It's not and it doesn't. Ferguson never cared about being liked as a manager. His absolute focus was on winning trophies at United, and I doubt he's ever lost sleep worrying whether a player thought he was a nice guy or not.
Ask Gary Neville, David Beckham and Co. about Ferguson and they'll all say he was a genius manager. They'll say they respect and admire him, and he got the best out of them. But they won't say he was their friend.
That's the difference between Ferguson and the majority of managers today. Most of Jose Mourinho's players really like him. He's like a friend to them—he texts them, puts his arm around them and gets really close with them.
Ferguson didn't work like that. All he wanted was for his players to work hard and toe the line. If you dropped below his standard or threatened his leadership, you were gone—see Beckham, Jaap Stam, Roy Keane and more besides. In some ways that simplicity can work well for a player. You know exactly where you stand and what you have to deliver.
With Ferguson, you got clear and concise instructions.
Not every United player was in awe of Ferguson, however. Ruud van Nistelrooy, Keane and Beckham all stood up to him and gave it back. They certainly weren't afraid of him, but the result was nearly always the same when a player tried to take him on.
There won't be another Ferguson for that reason—that and the fact there's so much more money and less patience in the game now than there was when he started of course.
David Moyes won't get the time Ferguson did. He's already under pressure at Old Trafford and United is much bigger business now than it was in the mid-1980s when Ferguson took over.
What I was surprised to read in the Ferguson book was his criticism of Steven Gerrard—a player we know he tried to sign and a decorated Liverpool and England professional of the highest calibre. Ferguson wrote that Gerrard "was not a top, top player." There was really no call for that.
As for Fergie's interest in signing me, it was real, and United aggressively approached Nottingham Forest. Looking back, I'm glad I went to Liverpool because Robbie Fowler and I combined for 55 goals in a season and countless assists, but I would have loved to work with Fergie.