Thursday, 12 January 2012

If You're Second You Are Nothing: Ferguson & Shankly book review in The Daily Yomiuri on 21st October 2006

Legendary Scottish managers
By Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer

If You're Second You Are Nothing: Ferguson & Shankly
By OliverHolt
Macmillan, 399 pp, 10.99 pounds

While the last 10 years have seen foreign managers claim most of the silverware in English soccer, homegrown fans who have done their homework will know that "foreigners," albeit of a tartan hue, have been well and truly in charge south of Hadrian's Wall since the 1960s.

Bill Shankly, a passionate man from Glenbuck, a small village south of Glasgow, transformed Liverpool from second division mediocrities to first division champions and F.A. Cup winners before handing Bob Paisley the backbone of a team that would become European champions three times before Shankly's death in 1981.

By that time, the dominance of Scottish soccer by Glasgow rivals Celtic and Rangers was being challenged by Aberdeen, managed by Alex Ferguson. Five years later, he would arrive at Manchester United and eventually steer the Red Devils to eight Premier League titles and the European Cup, maintaining a proud tradition of successful managers from north of the border that the Glaswegian will be hoping to continue by bringing another trophy to Old Trafford this season.

In If You're Second You Are Nothing, Oliver Holt uses his experience on The Liverpool Daily Post, The Times and his current post with The Daily Mirror to offer an insight into the lives of Ferguson and Shankly, two characters from similar backgrounds, both of whom achieved results through their single-minded determination to succeed.

The reader gets two biographies in one book, which seems like a good idea, yet both of these larger-than-life characters have published autobiographies and been the subjects of several biographies previously, notably The Boss: The Many Sides of Alex Ferguson, Michael Crick's epic volume published in 2002, and Bill Shankly: It's Much More Important Than That by Stephen F. Kelly 10 years ago.

In the latest book's introduction, Holt writes, "The point of comparing Ferguson with Shankly is that in many ways Shankly shines a light on Ferguson's shortcomings and on his limitations."

This view seems to shape Holt's perception of the two men and, for all his claims that Ferguson is "fiercely intelligent...capable of great charm...and humour" he barely conceals which of these great managers he favors.

Shankly's resignation as manager of Liverpool in 1974 at the age of 60 is compared with Ferguson's decision to reverse his decision to quit as United boss at the same age in the summer of 2002.

He suggests that Shankly's "premature retirement ensured his unblemished immortality," which would seal his place as a club legend whose name is still chanted by the club's faithful--many of whom never saw any of his teams play--who regularly fill Liverpool's Anfield stadium.

Ferguson's failure to leave Old Trafford, despite Holt's recognition of him as "one of the greatest managers in British football history," is seen as misplaced at best and a grave error of judgment at worst.

There are few redeeming sides to Ferguson's character, according to Holt. "Shankly...was a man of humour and dynamism grounded in the working classes," while the Glaswegian's intelligence, charm and humor has been "consumed by his anger and his pain and his hostility."

There are fascinating stories about two of the most idiosyncratic men to grace English football management during the past 50 years, with contributions from former players and sportswriters, as well as extracts from each of their autobiographies, and Holt even claims an exclusive revelation of Shankly's recommendation as his successor.

As a football fan who saw Shankly's Reds in the early 1970s and Ferguson's F.A. Cup Final victory in 1994, I found this is an engaging read. But don't expect to see a copy lying on the manager's desk at Old Trafford.

No comments:

Post a Comment