“But that’s the way the world is now.”
Over his near three-decade reign as Manchester United boss, Alex Ferguson encountered an eclectic array of footballing personalities.
There were enigmatic geniuses such as Eric Cantona, uncompromising leaders like Roy Keane and perfection-obsessed machines like Cristiano Ronaldo.
And during his time in the Old Trafford dugout, the legendary Scot watched on as football’s muck-and-bullets hard men made way for ‘cocooned’ superstars.
Ferguson on the toughest part of managing Man United.
In November 2009, Ferguson spoke at a dinner for the League Managers’ Association Hall of Fame 1000 Club, which celebrated the managers who had more than 1,000 domestic league and cup matches under their belt.
And Ferguson was refreshingly forthright when discussing how managing ‘fragile’ and ‘protected’ modern-day footballers was one of the toughest parts of the job.
“It’s a different player character we’ve got today,” said Ferguson. “The players are more fragile than players of 25 years ago. They are more cocooned today by their agents or the press they receive at times.
Ferguson on ‘protected’ players and agents.
“They are less likely to hold their hands up and say they’re at fault for things. If you go back 30 years ago you had a player who had a certain pride and responsibility in their own performance.
“They were less protected so they could come in and say ‘Hands up, it was my fault, blah, blah, blah’. And that was good.
“But today they are very protected. They are more fragile than ever. That’s a lot to do with the type of people who protect them, agents.”
Ferguson proceeded to discuss the growing influence of agents in football (a bunch of people for whom he notoriously had little time).
“I don’t get phone calls from agents as such, but nonetheless they’re conducting most transfers now,” he said.
“It’s hard to handle that. It’s a new way.
“We had a young boy get in the England Under 21s,” said Ferguson. “His agent phoned up the next day and said, ‘I think it’s time we sat down for a new contract for the boy.
“In his mind, he thought that demanded a new contract. I said, ‘Let’s see how he plays for Manchester United.’
“But that’s the way the world is now. When you think they (agents) are conducting most transfers now, it’s not right.”
Speaking at the same dinner, then Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp echoed Ferguson’s sentiments on agents.
Redknapp said: “What I’ve found amazing is that agents will ring the chairman [Daniel Levy] and complain about their player not playing regularly: ‘What was your manager doing, why isn’t he picking this player?’ It’s new to me and I find it strange, very difficult to deal with.
“I’m lucky the chairman doesn’t take any notice. He tells me about these idiots who are ringing. I’m just amazed that the player is weak enough to let his agent ring the chairman. He should be coming to see me, knocking on my door.”