Sir Alex Ferguson and Singapore

By Dr Wong Wee Nam
16 May 2013

When Sir Alex Ferguson announced his decision to quit as manager of the Manchester United football team, he created a shockwave in the football world. Who would have expected the most successful football manager in the world to leave so suddenly when his passion for the game is still evident in recent games? Nevertheless, the decision is a correct one. Age is catching up on him. He has to leave sooner or later. So what better time to leave than at the pinnacle of his career?

I like Sir Alex, not only for bringing up the great MU teams that have given me countless hours of viewing pleasure, but also for not forgetting his roots and always feeling for the working class in spite of his success and wealth.

Sir Alex grew up in a working class family and this probably made him a strong supporter of the union and the British Labour Party. He often spoke fondly of the Labour Party and also donated huge sums of money to them over the years.

To quote Sir Alex: “I believe Labour has always been the party of the working man and always will be. I believe the Tories have always been about looking after their own rich types and always will be. My loyalty to Labour is a part of who I am because I know what they do for the people. Ever since it was founded, Labour has fought for ordinary working people and it does that just as much today.”

If he rated his interest in football as 10, he would rate his interest in politics as 7.5.

Sir Alex became more politicised when his mother was admitted to hospital and he saw the dreadful state of the British healthcare system. He saw Labour as the party working to get better health care, education and welfare for the ordinary people.

His dim views of the Conservative government could be gleaned from this scathing remark he made on Margaret Thatcher: “The images of decay and neglect have remained with me and I have never ceased to curse the Tory government for vandalising the National Health Service. Margaret Thatcher’s aggressive efforts to privatise health care in this country were a betrayal of a service that has been one of the proudest achievements of our society … Her policies ruined people’s lives and stripped them of their dignity.”

When a journalist tried to complement him on his ability to sleep for only five hours a day, just like the Iron Lady, Ferguson replied: “Don’t associate me with that woman.”

David Cameron was not spared either. In July 2012, at a Labour Party fundraising dinner, he wrote a letter of support and at the same time said that he hoped that the current prime minister would be a one-term prime minister just as he hoped Manchester City would be a one-season champion.

This, however, has not prevented David Cameron from paying tribute to Britain’s most successful football manager soon after Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement.

Cameron immediately tweeted that Sir Alex achievements were exceptional and even joked that he hoped Ferguson’s retirement would make life easier for his favourite team, Aston Villa.

Opening the debate on the Queen’s Speech in the House of Commons, he also said, “It is the day to perhaps sing the praises of Sir Alex Ferguson, a remarkable man in British football who has had an extraordinary, successful career.”

In his career, Sir Alex Ferguson has won 49 trophies in all. I am just wondering how the career of a man like Sir Alex would fare if he were to manage a team in Singapore?

I am not very optimistic.

Firstly, if he is not able to keep his political opinions to himself, his club will ask him to resign. Like the Nizam Ismail case, the club may accuse him of having a political agenda and using the club for his political gains. They would not want to be associated with him, claiming they are non-partisan and also beneficiary of seed money from the government.

Secondly he may be accused of interfering with local politics by the authorities and his employment pass would be withdrawn.

Thirdly, if he were to make any protest against the Tory government for any unjust policy, he would share the fate of some protesting Malaysians and shown the red card out of the country.

Lastly, should he try to champion the plight of any of his footballers, he may find, like the Singapore Democratic Party did, that not everyone would be comfortable with his good intention.

Given such climate, it is unlikely that SAF’s tenure would last 27 days let alone 27 years. This would break the record of the other Alex, Alex McLeish of Nottingham Forest, who holds the shortest managerial reign in football.