The extent to which figures in football seem to think they operate beyond the law fascinates me.
I’m not talking about the antics of the players which fill the tabloids. There’s an air of inevitability to the sort of incidents which take place when you give a young lad a pile of money and tell him he’s the greatest thing on earth.
When you create a generation of boys who never need to grow up, there’ll be accidents along the way: is it Mario Balotelli’s fault, as he drives away from training in his camouflaged mega-car, that he’s thinking “Wow! I love being eight years-old and having all these toys”? I’m more concerned about the adults in the game. The ones who are supposed to know better.
Sometimes I despair at the comments of Tony Pulis and his ilk as they condemn divers as somehow morally redundant, while defending leg-breaking tackles which would be classed as assault in the real world. But the grand daddy of them all is the great knight of bias, Sir Alex Ferguson.
His comments on the transfer of Ezekiel Fryers from Standard Liege to Spurs are not the sort of thing your legal representative would encourage you to say. In announcing that Spurs have broken the rules, he’s pushing his luck; in naming Daniel Levy he’s giving slander lawyers palpitations!
“It’s a Daniel Levy deal. You know, it’s his fingerprints all over it. It’s the kind of thing we expected he was going to do.”
This is either an incredibly reckless or an incredibly clever thing to say. He might be judging that Levy can’t do anything about it because he’s confident he’s right, so any legal action would necessitate the sort of investigation Ferguson is demanding.
However, making such comments is surely born of the sort of cosseted existence Ferguson has enjoyed throughout his career. Really, it’s not all that different to Balotelli’s experience of life in football: Ferguson has been able to act with impunity for years, above football’s law. Break the broadcasting contract by refusing to talk to the BBC for years? No problem; there’ll be no punishment. Rubbish referees when he doesn’t get his way? Well, the authorities aren’t going to do anything to protect them, so they’re fair game.
With the game feeding off the dramas Ferguson creates, he’s encouraged to keep going. Why on earth would he change when the prospect of an actual consequence for his actions is zero? All he gets is lionised for “playing mind games” whenever he attacks anyone, a media-created sport which, unlike any other, has a pre-determined outcome: no matter what happens, Ferguson is always judged the winner.
But the murky waters of youth player transfers is an area he ought to wade in carefully. Throwing unsubstantiated allegations around is a dangerous game to play when, during your time at a club, they’ve been accused of coercing a teenage Obi John Mikel into signing a contract with his agents absent, the BBC has aired a documentary alleging an unhealthy link between United and Ferguson’s son Jason, who happens to be an agent (it claimed Ferguson threatened to veto Jonathan Greening and Mark Wilson’s moves to Middlesbrough if they didn’t sack their agents and sign for his son), and United have been accused by Le Havre’s president of offering the parents of 16-year-old Paul Pogba a house and £170,000 in cash.
And then there’s the Bebé saga, where United paid over the odds for a player Ferguson subsequently admitted he’d never seen play, a deal which was eventually investigated by the Portuguese police after a claim that £3,000,000 had gone missing from the transaction.
Of course, Ferguson’s comments might just be a tit-for-tat after Tottenham’s unhappiness over his conduct of Dimitar Berbatov’s transfer to Old Trafford in 2008. They felt the Bulgarian striker had been unsettled by an illegal approach and submitted a dossier to the Premier League detailing a year’s worth of evidence.
There are, of course, plenty of other similar stories: a reign as long as Ferguson’s is bound to attract all sort of myths and tales. And there’s no firm evidence of wrong-doing to be fair to him. But then there’s no firm evidence of wrong-doing in the Fryers case either.
Ferguson’s one-eyed approach to the game has allowed him to bully his way through a lot of situations in the game, but he ought to be careful to observe where the boundaries of football lie and ensure he doesn’t carry such behaviour into the real world, where there might be consequences.
Ferguson, like Balotelli, feels above the law. He ought to be careful, but let’s be honest, nobody’s going to be brave enough to tell him that, are they?