Strachan Attempts to Slay the Red Giant
Predictably, much of the media angling in advance of tonight's Champions League Group F tie between Manchester United and Celtic at Old Trafford has concerned the thorny relationship between the two managerial combatants, Sir Alex Ferguson and Gordon Strachan. While the sensationalist requirements of the bookselling business have meant that the differences between the two during their time working together at Aberdeen and Manchester United have been luridly detailed, there is no doubt about the fiery nature of the two men's clashes and the differences in their approaches to the game.
Ferguson was described by Strachan in his autobiography as having broken down in tears on the occasion of an illness to his wife. According to the Celtic manager, Ferguson, then in the early years of his Old Trafford reign, was wracked with guilt over his failings as a husband and father, caused by his total devotion to success in football management.
Along with the stresses of the final days of his Coventry stewardship which culminated in his sacking following their 2001 relegation, this was an event that obviously influenced both Strachan's decision to leave Southampton for a sabbatical from the game and his subsequent avowed determination not to allow his career to damage his family life. His noted fondness for a cheeky quip in his managerial career contrasts with Ferguson's brooding rages, and he is known to have a much more conciliatory dressing room manner than the man who patented the 'hairdryer'.
Strachan's initial problems with Ferguson lay in the latter's aggressive approach to management, both at Aberdeen and later at Manchester United. Ferguson's management style - certainly as regards the little red-headed right-sided midfield player in his Aberdeen side - veered more toward the stick than the carrot. A well-known example of this occurred when Strachan was seeking to leave the Pittodrie club, Ferguson declaring to him in front of his team-mates "who would want a crap player like you?!".
Strachan, an intelligent and opinionated man even in those days, understandably resented his manager's draconian attitude - and even more so when Ferguson arrived at United adopting the same militaristic policy. The older and more experienced Strachan (fresh from an impressive World Cup for Scotland) was now even less prepared to accept what he saw as bullying than before and the pair's relationship deteriorated to the point of their respective cattish autobiographical remarks. Ferguson, dismayed by what he perceived as duplicity in Strachan's transfer dealings, wrote that Strachan "could not be trusted an inch," Strachan referring to Ferguson as a "bully".
The odds against the Hoops getting a result tonight (10-1 being quoted by some bookmakers) suggest that the English league leaders victory will be a formality. But while the expensively assembled home side, who boast a 100% Premiership record thus far, seem to have all the advantages, Celtic can look to their manager for inspiration. It is easy to perceive in Strachan's attitude the classic attitude of the smaller man, always prepared to fight his corner in the face of perceived victimisation by those stronger than him. His determination in this regard is a trait that Celtic would do well to adopt this evening.