The guy in the red suit hardly had time to pack the sleigh away when the guy with the red nose took over.

Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United's manager, is a remarkable man. He is actually bigger than the game, an extraordinary situation when the game happens to be the squillion-pound English Premier League, the world's most famous domestic sports competition.

I am addicted to Ferguson and his team, not having missed a United match on television for a long time. I watch the rest but also channel surf them, whereas with United every second counts. The drama, the way they play, the personalities, the skill, the never-say-die attitude and, most importantly, Ferguson's win-at-all-costs behaviour that has accompanied him into his 70s, make for compulsory viewing.

It's a love-hate thing though. Ferguson's latest tirade has been really annoying, particularly because he got away with stepping over the line of acceptable behaviour and a clear attempt at intimidation. Unhappy with a decision in the Boxing Day clash against Newcastle, he harangued the referee, linesman and fourth official around halftime, yet was not charged with an offence.


The power of his personality, presumably, persuaded referee Mike Dean not to mention the outrage in his report. His getting away with it has angered many including Arsenal's managerial giant Arsene Wenger.

Furthermore, Ferguson banned Sky TV - whose money drives the Premier League success - from his press conference, for the crime of showing the Dean incident a few times.

Ferguson is bad news who is good for the news industry, a la other sporting miscreants such as soccer's Roy Keane and the American basketball lunatic Bobby Knight.

But he has been allowed to run amok, constantly getting away with arbitrary bans against media outlets who dare to not see the world precisely his way.

And he is operating in a reasonably lax soccer environment. Harassment of match officials is par for the course in the Premier League, where managers and players do stuff that would cause outrage in other sports. At times it looks like a Brat Pack, as in a horde of John McEnroe tennis tantrums on the loose.

The brunt of the managerial outbursts are borne by the fourth officials, sideline assistants lifted from obscurity in their role as verbal punching bags. These latterday soccer valets - whose role is to attend to the referees' needs - get Ferguson, Wenger et al in their face, with worldwide television coverage.

Maybe they even enjoy the attention of famous sportsmen. "Oooh mum, did you see me arguing with Sir Alex on TV the other night. How did I look?"

Anyway, on with the countdown to what is looking like another title for the ultimate Red Devil. United were in very average form against West Bromwich Albion yesterday morning, but notched up another win. Ferguson was there, unpunished and highly visible driving his team on.

Confession time then. The managerial and player meltdowns are entertaining and captivating, so call me a hypocrite - guilty as charged. They show, in a naughty way, how much each moment, each game, means to the combatants. The blood also gets stirred and we seem tuned to love villains and heroes.

As with McEnroe, condemnation and fascination go hand-in-hand.

RIP Tony Greig

Hard to believe we won't be hearing the voice of Tony Greig again. The cricket giant and commentator, who has died aged 66, was the colourful yet authoritative sound of cricket and the sort of enormous character all sport struggles to produce any more.

Greig helped to lead the famous revolution that virtually saved cricket and his death comes when the sport is at a dangerous crossroads to some, an exciting new era for others.

There were sharp analysis and clever angles in the air when the strong-minded Greig was about, unlike the spruiking that passes for T20 commentary.

Greig was in the long-time pay of the broadcaster he served so well during the World Series upheaval, but wasn't bought. He will be genuinely and sadly missed, and even more so if the new commentators forget what made Greig great.