A temporary detour from ecomic issues to Irish soccer madness


O’Neill was not the only football show in town last week.  Just up the road in the new Convention Center on the waterfront, Alex Ferguson appeared before a capacity crowd of 2,700 fans in a public interview to promote his new book.

Security was even tighter there, with fans warned to be in their seats half an hour before the event was due to start or they would not be let in. Tickets for the event had sold out in minutes a few weeks ago, crashing the Easons website even though they are the biggest bookstore chain in the country.

The place was a sell-out and the audience had paid €40 each for their tickets.  That's pretty steep for an event of this kind, but it included a signed copy of the book, and there's only one Alex Ferguson.   They could have charged far more and still filled the place.

What we got for our money (me and my Man United expert son and all the rest of the fans) was an hour-long question-and-answer session with TV presenter and Man United supporter  Eamonn Holmes.   In fact it ran into about 15 minutes of extra time, or Fergie time as we call it.

After nearly 27 years at the helm, Ferguson is well used to being on TV and being interviewed and holding press conferences.  He can handle hard questions ... but he didn't get any in Dublin.

He came into a raucous standing ovation which went on for minutes, and that set the tone for the evening as Holmes turned what should have been a proper interrogation into a love-in.

Fergie was relaxed and good humored throughout, with no sign of the hairdryer.

"I think when you grow older, you mellow," he said, although he did not really take back any of the heavy  tackles he landed on Keane in his book.

"It only went wrong in the last year," Fergie said, reminding the audience of how Keane had been "fantastic" for him for years as a captain, a leader and a motivator.

Ferguson had to let him go because Keane had complained that year about the pre-season training facilities in Portugal (shades of Saipan), refusing to join his teammates in the luxury accommodation there because he was unhappy about air-conditioning.  As Fergie told it, what was really wrong with Keane was that he could not accept that injuries and age had caught up with him.

And then when they got back to Old Trafford Keane had heavily criticized his teammates in an infamous MUTV interview that was never aired.

Fergie insisted he had no option but to let Keane go.

"I can't say it was wrong – it was the correct thing to do. That was a tough, tough call but I had to keep stability at the club right. I had to let the boys know you can't go around criticizing your teammates. There was no other way to deal with it,” Ferguson said.

What was really going on was that Keane was openly challenging Fergie, accusing Fergie at a team meeting called to view the disputed interview of letting personal issues affect his management of the club.

And that public challenge in front of his teammates was something that Ferguson, the master of control, could not tolerate.  That was something Holmes could have explored, but he failed to make the tackle.  

Mind you, Fergie also said that O’Neill’s choice of Keane as his assistant manager was a good decision and would be "terrific for Roy," who had gone into management very early and could learn lots from O'Neill.  Talk about being damned with faint praise!

Fergie is not often wrong.  We'll just have to wait and see whether he is right about this as well.

Meanwhile, Keane is due to face his first press conference as assistant manager in Dublin on Wednesday of this week.  And that's unlikely to be any kind of love-in.