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Oct 20, 2010

Sir Alex Ferguson. Defeated at last or master of the Art of War?

By Richard French

“If your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.”-
Sun Tzu, The Art of War

There is no doubt that Sir Alex Ferguson is rarely beaten. The Manchester United careers of countless players lay bloodied and lifeless on the battle field of football after coming up against the greatest British manager in history. But what will come of his latest clash?

Six years into his United career, Wayne Rooney has seemingly decided to effectively bring an end to his time at the biggest club in the land. This has forced his coach to enlist the help of ancient philosophy to try and cling onto the striker.

Sir Alex is one of the most intelligent and measured coaches in the world game (contrary to the widespread view that he is explosive and dictatorial). By reading his autobiography or seeing a full length interview with the man, one is struck by just how cultured the Scot actually is.

Hence would it be crazy to suggest that his strikingly candid, emotional diatribe to MUTV yesterday was actually a superbly calculated act to get Rooney’s signature on the dotted line? Of course not.

Sun Tzu’s ‘Art of War’ is an ancient Chinese text dating back even before Sir Alex took the reigns at United (yes, it is that old). In his interview yesterday the manager clearly used one of its tactics by “pretending to be weak, that he may grow arrogant”. He used language like “I’m bemused”, “I don’t understand” and “I’m disappointed”, all making him appear weak.

Furthermore, few would disagree that Wayne Rooney is temperamental. He has shown with his recent actions that that word is apt in describing the England star. Hence Sir Alex once again borrows the Chinese philosophy of “if your opponent is temperamental, seek to irritate him”. The interview yesterday will have irritated Rooney, make no mistake.

Lastly, few would have expected such candor from the United manager. The general view was that he would avoid tackling the Rooney issue before a Champions League game and let the media continue to speculate on whether the rumours were true.

Once again, Sir Alex used a play by play maneuver from Sun Tzu. “Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected” certainly describes the action taken by the Scot yesterday. Even Rooney himself would not have expected the details to come flooding out at such a crucial time in the season.

The question is, will this course of action work in retaining the services of United’s best player? Of course, any answers to that at this stage are pure speculation, but don’t write off the player committing his future to the Red Devils and kissing the badge when he next scores a goal. Ferguson has never been beaten, and he isn’t about to start now.

Of course, it could be that Rooney will continue to engineer a move away from Old Trafford. Perhaps he has been tapped up and offered an absurd amount of money to swap Red for Blue and join Manchester City.

Alternatively, it could be that he and his wife fancy moving to Spain to escape the glare of the media in the UK. If Rooney ever has a chance to move to Real Madrid, now is the time, seeing as the club currently has Jose Mourinho as coach more English speaking players than it is ever likely to again...

Ferguson is no fool, meaning he has already assessed all these possible reasons for the player wanting to move away from a club where he is adored. It seems, however, that he felt there was no choice but to engage in conflict with his prize asset as a last ditch attempt to hang onto him.

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