Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has provoked Real Madrid President Ramon Calderon into suggesting he's senile, and former player Gabriel Heinze has said he's "mad." But as Jim White explains, there's a shrewd reason for Ferguson's comments in a magazine interview published this week that Real is used to getting its own way because it used to be the plaything of Spain's former fascist dictator General Franco, and that the Spanish club only bought Heinze to lure his friend Cristiano Ronaldo southward.
As Ferguson watched the anger in Spain mount in reaction to his remarks, "the master of the diversionary spat was doubtless whistling a Frank Sinatra tune to himself," writes White. "It was job done." Because when Ferguson talks to the media nowadays, he only does so to convey a message. In this case, his purpose was to let Ronaldo know that he's still loved and wanted at Old Trafford, and to let Real know that "his star players aren't poached." Players only leave Old Trafford when Ferguson feels they are becoming less useful to the club. Just ask Ruud van Nistelrooy and David Beckham.
When Ronaldo said he wanted to leave this summer, Ferguson "used every wile in his extensive repertoire to retain the player whose goals had won him the double of Premier and Champions League last season." He never publicly criticized his player, but instead managed to blame the saga on everyone else -- it was the fault of FIFA President Sepp Blatter "for calling him a slave, it was Heinze, it was Madrid. It was probably General Franco."
Now Ronaldo is reassured by Ferguson's unstinting support, and this, concludes White, is Ferguson's genius. "Far from suggesting the imminent arrival of the bath chair, his remarks about Madrid demonstrate he remains the shrewdest man manager in the game."