Two men who made their names and legends in Manchester, but whose hearts are elsewhere, released autobiographies in the past week. Men who are treated as deities by those who love them, and by those who hate them...well, they really hate them.
Sir Alex Ferguson and musical artist Morrissey are of course enormously different characters, but there are similarities in how they are followed with an almost cultish fervour by Mancunians of a certain age—and also in how their recently released life stories are told.
Autobiographies are, of course, by their nature self-indulgent and self-serving. It's tricky to talk about yourself for 400 pages without that at least creeping in. Morrissey's book is exactly as most might imagine it would be, infused with a fey wit but also full of "But what about me?" sentiments that make him tricky to warm to. And this is a man who, through his demeanour and public statements, is pretty darn tough to warm to.
Still, at least Morrissey's book may only upset assorted former drummers and associates he has already upset plenty of times in the past. Ferguson's could have a more tangible impact on Manchester United, the club he shaped and turned into the behemoth and winning machine it is today. Or at least was when he left in May.
He will never say it publicly, of course, but David Moyes would be forgiven for thinking that Ferguson has, for want of a more elegant phrase, been stitching him up from the very start. Of course Ferguson's intentions are not to sabotage his old club, but that could very well be the consequence of his actions.
For a start, he left Moyes with a lopsided and in parts ageing squad, one that he held together with the power of his own personality/genius. It's hardly a surprise that a man not of Ferguson's abilities (and this is not a criticism of Moyes—basically nobody is of Ferguson's abilities) would therefore struggle at the start, and may continue to do so.
Furthermore, Ferguson's presence is not exactly under the radar at Old Trafford as it is. Moyes only has to look up to see his name writ quite literally large across the vast stand on the other side of the stadium, and if he looks behind him he will see the old boy gazing down at him, most probably with the hopefully encouraging smile of a parent whose child is struggling at school sports day. Of course, there's not much Ferguson can do about that. It would be churlish to expect him to stay away from United, and he can hardly ask them to change the name of the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand.
What he could do is try his best to not exacerbate the already huge shadow he casts over Moyes and United—by, say, not releasing a very high-profile autobiography just two months into the first post-Fergie season, that most difficult of campaigns for any club who have just lost an era-defining manager.
Why has Ferguson chosen to write another book so soon? Why not wait a year or so to allow the new man to settle in without his looming presence hindering him? The short answer is to maximise attention, to strike while the publicity iron is still hot and he's virtually as relevant as he was when he was in the game. This cannot be in the interests of United or Moyes.
There are basically two reasons why people write autobiographies—either for the money or to "set the record straight," which is basically a kinder way of saying they're settling old scores. Which of these was Ferguson's motivation we can only guess, but it seems unlikely he needs the cash. The early indications are that the book doesn't really contain any hugely contentious passages, but that hardly matters—he is still all over the media, reminding everyone that he's still around, and there's no way that could be good for Moyes.
When Ferguson announced his retirement he urged—nay, commanded—the Old Trafford crowd to get behind the new manager. By releasing his book when his chosen successor has not had time to exert his own authority, he is ignoring his own advice.