There are three books about Manchester United that are worth reading, and that combined may bring this season into a little better perspective. Two of them were published within the last year, but it’s best to begin chronologically with the third, and perhaps best, of the three.
A Will to Win – Alex Ferguson
With all of last year’s focus on the book My Autobiography by Sir Alex Ferguson having died down, it is a good time to look back at a season and a book that deserve a little more attention. In A Will to Win, Alex Ferguson’s diaries the 1997-1998 season, begin in June while he is on vacation but he’s unable to stop his mind from pacing the sideline, and continuing almost daily through Eric Cantona’s retirement just after Manchester United won the Premier League championship and then less diligently into January of 1998. It is hard to disagree with any of the judgments he makes, unless you really dislike the movie Evita. “Madonna was tremendous,” he writes after screening the film.
It is a fair look at a season that saw the team focusing on the European Cup and depart before the finals, lose out on the FA Cup and the Coca-Cola Cup as well but maintain a strength and determination that brought them out at the top of the League. It was written at a time when the class of ’92 were appearing regularly in the first team and finding themselves in the mix for the big matches, particularly David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.
There are a few whetted knives in the writing – his views on media responsibility and the circulation of rumors, racism and the game, and managerial disputes. Overall, though, it is remarkably even. You get a real sense of the obligations of a manager: the amount of time he spends traveling, at functions, fretting about the team and a starting eleven.
He weights his criticism with humor throughout:
“So much for the kid-glove treatment. Despite all the talk about proper defending, we fail to stop the goals and go 2-1 down to Chelsea.
“So much for my inspired talk…the first half against Sheffield Wednesday was abysmal.
“The first half is just what I didn’t want, and exactly the way I knew Juventus would play.”
There are some truly funny things in the book. For example when his wife meets him at the door after a loss to Sunderland chanting “Fergie, Fergie give him the sack.” And you may be surprised at how often he uses the phrase ‘happy bunnies.’
It is a book that gives you a real feeling for the man, more so than My Autobiography. He ends after a 2-0 win against Tottenham in January 1998 by writing: “Once in front we became too comfortable and didn’t get back into top gear. It can happen that way at home. I think away games see our players more on their toes. There is no lack of desire, though, and when it comes to the crunch for the big games ahead, Manchester United will be more than ready!” Instead of crunch, the season became a crash.