Ferguson: A study in scarlet
For the privileged gentlemen of the press, White Hart Lane affords journalists a proximity to the benches of the competing teams. Harry Redknapp's twitches and flouncings are closely visible, and his assistant, Joe Jordan, bares his teeth in a fashion similar to that of his playing days. But when Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson visit a ground, as they did Spurs on Sunday, most eyes are drawn in one direction.
From such a close vantage, one man's presence dominated the scenes on the sidelines. He's the one whose jaw was smashing down repeatedly on his chewing gum. And the serial masticator can still be the angriest man around. Witness the fleas volleyed to the ears of his errant charges and to officials whose decision-making does not match his desires. After all this time - 35 years in football management and counting - he retains an unremitting vigour. From a candid viewpoint at the Lane, there looked little sign of wanting to give it all up. The day will come, and it may well be this summer, but it will still resonate as a shock when Ferguson takes his leave.It is not abnormal in a professional career to have crises of confidence, and henceforth suffer a lack of focus, and even Ferguson has suffered them. There are many who still label his foray into the world of horse-racing and dalliance with the Coolmore owners of Rock of Gibraltar a direct cause of the Glazer family's takeover of United. And the years of relative slump, between 2003 and 2007, saw him accused of being a man out of time in a new world dominated by Jose Mourinho and Russian roubles. Yet he is still here, and those factors are either now departed or less omnipotent. As his team held on for a 0-0 draw to mark a decade of never being beaten away at Spurs, his energy looked as renewable as ever, sustained even by a team that cannot deliver the footballing nirvana previous United incarnations once did. The last time Ferguson lost there in the league, a United already crowned champions were defeated on the last day of a 2000-01 season. At the time, there was some talk that the non-offer of a future upstairs role had seen Sir Alex look elsewhere, to another club, for a life after hands-on football management. It had been expected that May 2002 would be the swansong, either a home game with Charlton Athletic, or a Champions League final in Glasgow, his birthplace - a home setting for an emotional goodbye. A rethink in February 2002 and a collapse of United's trophy ambitions meant neither transpired as an end game, and almost a decade on, he is still here. After all, what else was he going to do? Such was the advice his wife Lady Cathy offered him as retirement at 60 neared. The current team's model of hard work and grit mirrors that of its manager - defensive yet liable to hit back at any time they are threatened. To come across him in person at press conferences can be fearsome. A determined yet distant stare is always there. An unfamiliar face is peered at; the challenge is to ask a question if you dare. Few newcomers take on the risk of being dismissed. Regular TV viewers will note the "well done" regularly delivered to the post-match interviewer when interaction is completed. It suggests that no lines have been crossed, the code of questioning, on Ferguson's terms, has been adhered to - a BBC out-take from 1995 and a furious exchange with John Motson about a Roy Keane sending off reveal what happens when that code is not followed. Glasgow is no place for small talk, views are expressed directly there. Ferguson's language can often be as industrial as his time on the Clyde's shipyards. On Sunday, Mike Dean was the recipient of such choice words and many a referee can often seemed affected by a looming presence in a dark coat, watching their every decision like a hawk.