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This Is The One - Daniel Taylor

By Martin Hall


Christopher Moltisanti, The Sopranos: “I take a lickin’ but keep on tickin’”

Twenty-one years is a long time. Forty-nine short of a lifetime, I know,
but long enough to establish your own space programme and see a piece of
metal land on another planet. Long enough to raise a child and look on
proudly as he throws bricks at a neighbour’s windows. Long enough to make a
mark. Somewhere. Anywhere.

When Alex Ferguson took over at Manchester United in 1986, nobody could
have predicted the mark he would leave not only on Manchester United but on
world football. Trophies won, teams built and memories made. Ferguson is
utterly unique and his singularity as a person and a manager make him a
captivating character. A significant chunk of the Amazon rainforest has
been felled as newspaper journalists have tried to outline what makes him
tick, what drives him on and, perhaps most importantly, just who is the real
Alexander Chapman Ferguson?

As the Manchester football correspondent for The Guardian, Daniel Taylor is
perfectly placed to play Johnson to Ferguson’s Boswell. His book ‘This Is
The One - The Uncut Story of a Football Genius’ is his portrait of Ferguson
over the past two seasons. Neither love letter nor hate mail, Taylor’s book
carries a bunch of flowers in one hand and a hammer in the other. Although
many Reds believe the media have an anti-United agenda, This Is The One is
an honest, balanced account of what has been a tumultuous two seasons.

Like The Damned United and An Undividable Glow, This Is The One is written
almost like a diary, dealing with various press conferences and matches in
chronological order. Thankfully Taylor has resisted the urge to make any
changes with the benefit of hindsight. The book is richer for it. One of
the most enjoyable parts of re-reading old fanzines and magazines is seeing
how wrong writers got it at the time (check out the NME’s review of The
Roses’ debut album) and the refusal to indulge in revisionist history is
welcome.

The book reveals Ferguson to be a mass of contradictions. An old-school
football man who listens to jazz and appreciates fine wine. A media-savvy
creature not afraid to use parts of the press for his own needs who makes it
clear that he is contemptuous of journalists. A bully and tyrant whose
kind-hearted nature is revealed through well-placed acts of compassion.

He’s also exceptionally funny with the ability to laugh at himself. He
advises journalists attempting to predict his team for the following match
“never try to read the mind of a madman” and wonders out loud what has
happened to diving headers in the modern game - “you know, the kind of goals
Denis Law, Tommy Lawton, Nat Lofthouse, Dixie Dean and Alex Ferguson used to
score.”

The book features many examples of Ferguson’s razor-sharp one liners. Upon
spotting a group of journalists wearing suits on an away trip he informs
them they look like “a bunch of Bombay money lenders.” When an Italian
journalist asks his opinion on the Serie A match-fixing scandal, he swiftly
replies “scandalous.”

He’s not averse to using his quick reactions to belittle the journalists he deals with.  When

they ask him if he's going to that summer's World Cup,
“None of your fucking business,” comes the response, “do I ask you if you’re
still going to those fucking gay clubs?” When one asks him the reasons
behind a trophy-less season he tells him that would take a whole interview
to explain - “and that’s an interview you’re never going to fucking get.”

This Is The One begins with the Debrecen away leg and finishes in the
bowels of Wembley stadium in May. Despite Roy Keane leaving United four
months into the book, Taylor is just as fascinated by Keane as he is by
Ferguson, if not more so. He admires his honesty as an interviewee and
tells of his unique ability for making writers’ nervous. Even though Keane
was long past his best by 2005, Taylor writes how United would miss his
“presence, control, aura, attitude, desire” if he were to go.

Writing about Keane’s departure, Taylor openly admits that none of the
journalists had any inkling it was on the cards. A relatively routine press
conference with Ferguson completed, the Manchester press corps are tucking
into bacon butties when somebody’s phone beeps: ‘ROY KEANE HAS LEFT
MANCHESTER UNITED.’ They rush back to Carrington and are given press
releases, still warm from the printer, that say nothing beyond the usual PR
nonsense. After making various phone calls - “every one of which muddies
the water a little more” - they ascertain that the players were shown the
Plays The Pundit tape, leading to a stand-up row between Ferguson and Keane.

Taylor neatly distils the reasons for Keane’s eventual downfall: “He was a
24-hour-a-day obsessive and couldn’t understand why he was the only one.”

If there’s one area where the book falls short, it’s the lack of insider
information or revealing insights. Columns like Backbeat and The
Guttersnipe have already carried much of the titbits the book offers and
there are few surprises or revelations. Betrayal Of A Legend or The Boss
this is not. In Taylor’s defence, he never claims the book will send
shockwaves through the club and some of the anecdotes he shares are very
entertaining.

While Ferguson’s personality may veer between appealing and appalling, he
is never less than fascinating. This Is The One is an engaging read and an
excellent addition to the volumes of tomes on Ferguson and United.
 
Omar Little, The Wire: “Come at the King, you best not miss”
 
 

 


 

 

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