AS HE PREPARED for his hour-long interview with Charlie Rose of the American network Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), Sir Alex Ferguson was aware that Rose had recently flown to Damascus for a broadcast with Bashar al-Assad, the president of Syria.
Tongue-in-cheek, Ferguson asked Rose: “So you’re interviewing dictators these days, are you?”
As manager of Manchester United, Ferguson could be a football writer’s best friend or worst enemy, giving more back-page lead stories than anyone else, but occasionally banning reporters for “crimes” such as headlines they didn’t write. Yet Ferguson was – and still is – journalistic gold, a manager with charisma to spare who gave PBS a global coverage other interviewees including al-Assad, President Barack Obama, Warren Buffet, Quentin Tarantino and Leonardo di Caprio could not manage.
None can beat the Scottish pensioner for world-wide popularity and news appeal. The Emmy award-winning Rose said: “It’s amazing. I did not fully appreciate Ferguson in terms of how much he means to all the fans of football…how legendary he was. The Harvard people, for example [Ferguson spoke to students at the Harvard Business School last month]…I am told the response to what he did , how he outlined his own view of leadership, was one of the best things to ever come out of the school.
“He quickly became one of my favourite interviews. Speaking to someone [al-Assad] whose country perhaps stands a chance of being attacked by the United States has more consequence for the moment, but this was an interview that will reverberate and have a resonance for a long time. It certainly made me want to be more of a fan of your football than ever before.
“In preparing for him I had to learn as much as I could. It will be at the top of things that I am proud that I did. It was new territory for me and the more we talked, the more forthcoming he was about his relationship with the players…what they meant to him and how he tried to motivate them. This is a guy who can spend the rest of his life talking about what it means to be a manager in any environment…in business, universities…a whole range of environments.”
There was little opportunity for Rose, off camera, to expand on some of the more newsworthy parts of the interview such as the possibility of Ferguson joining Chelsea after Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich bought the club 10 years ago.
Rose said: “He didn’t say a great deal, but I know Roman Abramovich and I am due to see him at a conference I am attending this weekend. I wanted to find out [from Ferguson] if Abramovich made it so very, very attractive in a way that would be irresistible to most people and that would make him interested. He said he had thought about it and the answer was no.”
Ferguson and Abramovich – in fact, just about any manager and Abramovich – has a light-blue-touchpaper-and-
“He could never go anywhere else. His heart is too big and it would be too much for him ever to compete against United with another club.”
Ferguson will be back in the headlines soon when he starts a tour to publicise “Alex Ferguson – My Autobiography” which is on sale from October 24 (Hodder & Stoughton). The book was written in collaboration with FWA member Paul Hayward, the Daily Telegraph’s chief sports writer, who said: “His career is the story of English football over the past three decades. It’s a privilege for me to help him describe how he managed such huge change at Manchester United and to lay out his countless insights and anecdotes stretching back to his roots in Glasgow.”