It was widely noted upon his retirement in May of 2013 that Sir Alex Ferguson was the greatest football manger Britain has ever seen. It was also noted that he was one of the greatest trolls sport had ever seen. A troll’s aim is often to bamboozle their opponent to such a degree that they are reduced to spluttering indignation and end up looking like idiots. Ferguson had something of a knack for doing that. In the 1995 / 96 season Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle were engaged in a titanic struggle for the title with Fergusson’s Manchester United. After his team broke down Leeds United Ferguson suggested to the press that Leeds would be less intimidated by and thus not try so hard against Keegan’s Newcastle. This lead to Keegan exploding in a post match interview:
Fast forward to 2009 and Rafa Benitez’s Liverpool are in a similarly tight title race with United and at an afternoon press conference Benitez decides to lay down some “facts” about Ferguson:
Both Keegan’s Newcastle and Benitez’s Liverpool would collapse and allow United to clinch the title. In both these cases it appears Ferguson’s “mind games” caused his opponent’s seasons to implode and hand him the title. Those with much more in-depth knowledge of football than me have argued though, that in some cases, such as against Kenny Daglish’s Blackburn in 95/96 and at various points with Arsene Wenger and José Mourinho Ferguson’s attempted “mind games” failed to help him land titles. Could it be that Benitez and Keegan’s team’s failures to clinch the title were more down to y’know not winning football matches rather than being trolled?
Even if it is the case that Ferguson’s trolling actually had very little effect on the results of any matches or title races, that the games themselves were decided on the pitch rather than in press conferences or in hastily given post-match interviews the incidents have gone down in football folklore. They are now remembered as fondly as many of the matches. Football in England does not adhere to the sanctimony of other sports: it is an entertainment juggernaut akin to WWE or Big Brother. The Premier League is a deadly serious soap opera where the words and behaviour of the key players between matches keeps the drama ticking over. From José Mourinho declaring himself “the special one” to Arsène Wenger’s temporary blindness the highest achieving managers of the era have all known how to play their parts in the pantomime.
Many online trolls treat trolling as a sport, getting their kicks from generating outraged reactions from their unwilling marks. The top level of English football is an inversion of this with the supposedly most powerful people in the game treating their sport as an elaborate form of trolling. Maybe, the trolling doesn’t actually effect results but it’s certainly increases the entertainment value of the “greatest league in the world”. Though Ferguson has retired, the old troll left a parting gift, informing the world of Wayne Rooney’s – hotly denied – transfer request. Add to this the fact that this summer has already seen owners of clubs suggesting owners of other clubs are using recreational drugs the trolling doesn’t look likely to stop any-time soon.
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