It is certainly strange how the top football clubs can be so careful with their money in some ways, yet so extravagant in others. United, for example, might have been tempted, one assumed, to bring down their ticket prices for the FA Cup replay against Cambridge on Tuesday, in the same way that City routinely do for their cup ties. That assumption was plainly wrong. Supporters started receiving texts that the full whack, up to £53, would be debited from their bank accounts, under the terms of the club’s “automatic cup scheme” within minutes of the final whistle at Cambridge.
Another message brusquely announced that if it was not done by 8pm on Wednesday their season tickets would be “suspended” for the game against Sunderland on 28 February. This scheme is not new but it is no wonder sometimes that United’s match-going supporters feel dislocated from their own club.
Then we come to the latest financial figures from Old Trafford and the slightly jaw-dropping revelation, buried in the final few paragraphs of a 26-page document that Sir Alex Ferguson was paid £2.165m in retirement last season because of his new role as a “global ambassador”.
The figures jump out of the page, especially when taking into account they cover only the first eight months – 13 October 2013 to 30 June 2014 – of him agreeing this financial package. There is a grey area about whether his pay was backdated to when the role was announced the previous May but, if not, that makes it possible his annual salary might actually be closer to £3m. To put that into context, it would be more than Roy Hodgson earns as England’s manager, more than Antonio Conte’s basic salary when he won three successive scudetti with Juventus and even more than Joachim Löw earned, before bonuses, in the year when Germany won the World Cup.
Even if not, Ferguson was still paid better than the majority of the Premier League’s current managers – not least the manager of the year Brendan Rodgers. Ferguson might be marginally behind the average top-division footballer’s wage of £43,717 a week but, then again, his arrangement with the club apparently stipulates he has to work only 20 days. That works out at £108,250 a day, yet possibly much more depending on his total annual sum. Sir Bobby Charlton is paid £105,000 a year as another of the club’s ambassadors and, though you would naturally expect Ferguson to get an extra chunk on top, it certainly prompted a double-take here to discover his salary is at least 14 times that of the prime minister. In fact, you could add the chancellor of the exchequer, the home secretary and almost every other cabinet minister together and their combined pay might be roughly what he comes out within a year.
No doubt there will be United supporters who don’t begrudge him a single penny either bearing in mind the joys he has brought them, his authentic greatness during 26 years as manager and the overwhelming sense – if we are going to be blunt – that the team could still do with him in the dugout. It is also easy to imagine his response to anyone being impertinent enough to question the arrangement and, almost certainly, it would be the same volcanic rage as when a couple of us first wrote about Bébé and the fact a player signed for £7.4m was so obviously out of his depth they did not even trust him at first to play for the reserves.
It is a tricky subject when the point can also be made, justifiably, that there are other people in football who enjoy fat-cat salaries without contributing even a fraction of what Ferguson has to the sport. But equally, is it not legitimate to consider it an extraordinary amount of money when it appears he might not just be earning more than a World Cup-winning manager but also more than the guy who actually runs the club (Ed Woodward’s £2.521m salary, incidentally, making him the best-paid chief executive in the industry)?
Ferguson’s latest autobiography has been updated to cover his first year in retirement and tells us he has been on a cruise around the Hebrides, partied in Barbados as a guest of Dave Whelan and gone on various other holidays with Cathy and the family. There was a book tour and various signing sessions in London, Manchester, Glasgow, Dublin and Aberdeen. He has been to the Oscars, clinked glasses with Samuel L Jackson, Reece Witherspoon and various A-listers at a Vanity Fair party, doubled up with Eamonn Holmes on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” and talked tennis with Serena Williams.
Good luck to him as well after all those years of rising at unspeakable hours and getting into work with his hair still damp from the morning shower. Ferguson has been on the Charlie Rose show on PBS and pulled out the balls for the Scottish Cup draw. He has worked his way back from a hip operation and his book explains in detail the challenging nature of his new roles at Harvard Business School and as an ambassador for Uefa. There is a story about Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra going to see him to discuss their positions at the club and another revealing little passage recounting his conversation with David Moyes after a particularly galling home defeat against City. “Just David and me. Private.”
There is not a single line, however, to expand on his United role, what it requires and where he has been, but the old fellow is certainly doing very well for himself. The last time I saw him was outside Huish Park after the FA Cup tie at Yeovil, being picked up by a helicopter that created so much noise and dust Gary Johnson had to delay his press conference and it felt like the temporary press marquee might also take off. But it did make me smile a few weeks back to hear him complaining about the role of football agents. “The only time you hear from them is when they want money, a new contract or a player to move,” Ferguson said. His son, Jason, was an agent, lest it be forgotten, and now cuts Ferguson’s deals. Very good he is at it, too.
Courtesy: Guardian UK