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By Glenn Gibbons / The Scotsman

A long but interesting interview with the man who gave Stam, van Nistelrooy and Anderson the seal of approval. Enjoy!

MARTIN Ferguson could be said to be standing in the shadow of his famous brother, Sir Alex, except that he is never in one place long enough to warrant the comment.
In his role as Manchester United's overseas scout, he covers as much ground as a travel writer. There have been times in his journeys, however, when he has felt more like a war correspondent.

Anyone who views Martin's licence to roam the western world as some kind of sinecure would find the misconception dissolving by one glance at a typical week in the job, the scepticism evaporating with his recollections of experiences in some of football's most volatile locations.

After 11 years on the move, charged with the responsibility of assessing individual players as well as entire teams who may be future opponents for United, it is hardly surprising that, at 65, he should be considering the prospect of retiring some time in the next 12 months.

Just under a year younger than Alex – for ten days from Martin's birthday on 21 December, they are the same age – he has undergone some emotionally and physically draining experiences, including the death of his wife, Sandra, and his own successful fight to overcome prostate cancer. By comparison, the scares he has encountered abroad seem considerably less hair-raising.

"A while back," said Ferguson, "one of the executives at Old Trafford called me to say that, although I was flying business class to an assignment at the weekend, I would have to travel economy to another match abroad just a few days later. I really had to set him straight on one or two things, to let him know what the job actually entails.

"I said to him, 'Look, this isn't a jolly'. I told him that the first reason I have to fly business or club class is purely practical. That is, if the flight on the first leg of my trip is delayed and I miss a connection, the airline is obliged to get me on the very next available onward flight, with any company. It's like an insurance policy, to make sure I get to the match I have been sent to watch.

"That's important. I also told him that when scouts like me go to matches, we're not given VIP treatment, sitting in the directors' box or enjoying corporate hospitality before and after the game. More often than not, we're stuck in a seat beside fans and we can become involved in some of the mayhem.

"I got hit twice with bottles in Milan two years ago. I kicked up a fuss and, to their credit, they've made sure things have been better there since. It was a match between Milan and Juventus and I was put in a corner, close to the away fans and right below the home supporters on the upper tier. They were throwing the missiles down on us from above. Italian supporters can be pretty wild at times.

"I had also been hit with bottles in Athens. It was a local derby with Panathinaikos and Olympiacos and bottles, seats, you name it, everything was getting thrown. But the last time I went to a derby game, they had stopped allowing visiting fans in. I don't know if that was a permanent or a temporary arrangement, but it shows how bad it was when they saw the need to ban the away support.

"Another time, I was involved in a riot in Brazil, at the Maracana Stadium in Rio. A guy who works for us in Sao Paulo came to meet me and we went to the game in a taxi. Rio can be a wild place too, and it's recommended that you book the cab through the hotel, who then have a note of the driver's number and they know what action to take if anything untoward happens. You even pay the hotel in advance so you don't get ripped off. Well, near the stadium, the traffic, of course, just comes to a halt. So we decided to go the rest of the way on foot. The stadium, being huge, looks close, but, of course, it's further away than it looks. As we're walking towards it, a mob suddenly appears out of a side street. The game was between Flamengo and an Argentine team in the Copa de Libertadores.

"There were hundreds in this gang, waving huge banners, shouting and bawling. A bit up the road, another mob comes out of another side street, Flamengo fans. Well, next thing you know, war has broken out. The police arrived, wielding these long, whippy sticks, and if you get in the way of them, you won't half feel it. People were ducking and diving all over the place, including us, running for their lives, while others were carrying on fighting. People don't understand how demanding it can be.

"People may think my job is something of a jolly, but it can be very demanding. The travelling, all the nonsense of getting through an airport these days, the tightness of the security that adds hours to your journey."

We spoke during a rare half-day at Ferguson's bright and spacious flat on the outskirts of Glasgow on the day after United had beaten Roma in the first leg of their Champions League tie. In the previous five days, he had spent less than 12 hours at home.

"Well, I went to Cagliari to watch Roma on the Saturday, and the following day I travelled to Madrid," said Ferguson. "I returned home at about seven o'clock on Monday night, and I was up at five the next morning to catch an early flight to Amsterdam, the first leg of the trip to Gelsenkirchen to look at Barcelona playing Schalke. I flew from Amsterdam to Dusseldorf, and from there by car to Gelsenkirchen.

"It was another pre-dawn rise this morning to get back here for the middle of this afternoon. I'm away again at the weekend.

"That's typical of those weeks when European football is on. I'll be Champions League Tuesday and Wednesday and then Uefa Cup on Thursday, all in different countries, most probably involving connecting, rather than direct flights. But, of course, it's not all hellish, otherwise nobody would be daft enough to do it. It's very rewarding when your work proves to be of value and it is a good feeling to think that Alex and a club like Manchester United would have such faith in your judgment."

Ferguson's more spectacular rewards include Ruud van Nistelrooy, Jaap Stam and Anderson, the young Brazilian midfielder signed from Porto last summer and already a regular choice.

"Stam would be the first big player signed on my recommendation, although I think Les Kershaw (United's former chief scout and academy director] saw him play first," he said. "I watched him a lot, because, to be honest, I wasn't sure about him, considering the money they were asking. I told Alex at the time I wouldn't pay the £10 million, a lot of money at the time. I said I'm not sure, because when he's playing as a twin centre-half against one striker, he looks uncertain, he doesn't like not marking, not having somebody to target.

"Then, in two games I watched him, he was absolutely brilliant, and one of them was at right back. It was PSV v Ajax at the end of the season, a league decider. PSV had to win and Ajax scored very early. The PSV coach waited 20 minutes, then moved one central defender into midfield, left Stam on his own between two full-backs and he was unbelievable.

"Van Nistelrooy was another. At the time, I was watching other players at PSV. I'd seen him play for Heerenveen when he was younger, a day I was looking at a goalkeeper. It was a muddy pitch, like an old-fashioned Scottish Cup tie. I didn't know who Van Nistelrooy was, but I liked him. I asked our Dutch contact, 'Who's the No 10?', but he said, 'No, he isn't Man U material'. I said, keep your eye on him anyway and let me know how he develops.

"I was doing the whole of Europe myself at that time and couldn't cover everything. Next thing I know, Van Nistelrooy has gone to PSV and I told Alex what had happened with the agent in Holland and how he hadn't done as I'd asked. We could have had Ruud long before we got him. I went back to watch just him one night – by this time we knew they were looking for £17m – and I knew right away he was the one. I phoned Alex right after the game and said you just have to pay the money.

"Anderson? Alex had seen him for just 45 minutes and liked what he saw, so I went to see him when he came back from a bad injury. Po
rto were playing Boavista in the local derby, a good match to see him in. He came on at half-time and it was enough. I phoned Alex after the game and said you'll have to sign this boy. I said, 'I'll tell you, I think he could be as good as Rooney.

"You won't be surprised to hear that he replied, 'Are you off your effing head?' But I think he could, in terms of influence, be as good as Rooney. He plays a different position, but that night he just really excited me. He came on and changed the entire pace of the game. You don't often get that from one player and there are times when you should go with your instincts, rather than waiting and making absolutely sure by watching him over a long period.

"When people you've recommended do well, it's a marvellous feeling. So, despite the travel, the lack of sleep and having to put up with my big brother, the job does have its moments".

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
yangch0000 said:
'I'll tell you, I think he could be as good as Rooney'
'Are you off your effing head?'

i like this...
That's honesty! :)
But seriously, it must be great for Fergie to know he can completely trust his scout's assessments, because he is family and has United's best interests at heart.

Having said that, I also found out that Martn Ferguson also scouted Diego Forlan.....
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