Alexander Chapman Ferguson is loudly derided as the emotionally incontinent manager whose obsessiveness has cajoled and bullied players and cowed referees and opponents, thus ensuring Manchester United have become the dominant British team of modern times after Aberdeen became the conquerors of Real Madrid.
There is just enough truth in this to make it acceptable to those who were victims of his anger or, more woundingly, suffered under his infinite ability to produce teams that would beat other teams. Detractors, though, can never quite explain that if success was all down to bullying why Flashman never led Rugby to the Champion League, or even an English title.
The quieter responses to encounters with Ferguson carry greater weight. One friend, who fell out with Fergie profoundly and dramatically, told me gently but insistently this week that his one-time adversary would have been successful whatever he did in life.
Sir Alex Ferguson is a viable candidate for the title of greatest manager of all time yet it was this observation, made by a person with no reason to trumpet the former Manchester United manager's worth, that holds more fascination than any of the bombast that followed the publication of this autobiography in London this week.
The media roars declared that Ferguson was "settling scores", a sort of football replay of the scene at the end of The Godfather when Michael Corleone assassinates all of his rivals. Ferguson, an aficionado of both film and the literary genre of non-fiction crime, would recognise the allusion but shake his head at it. This is not United Legend In Rant At Superstars but United Legend Gives His Version, Largely Measured. The latter headline is not designed to sell copies of newspapers but it is the more accurate.
Consider his "rant" at Beckham. Ferguson claims marriage to a pop star changed the player, making him settle for stardom over substance on the pitch. A move to LA Galaxy from Real Madrid renders this observation as undeniably valid. He also, in tabloid speak, lashes out that Beckham is a nice lad whom he considers as a surrogate son.
He is certainly more abrasive on Roy Keane, the Irishman who broke the rule that team mates cannot be criticised publicly. Yet Ferguson goes on to state that Keane is one of the greatest United players of all time.
The Wayne Rooney "furore" has all the hardcore hatred and violence of a spat in the soft-play area of a Morningside creche. Ferguson gently chides his former employee for insubordination, occasional lack of discipline and presumption. He also states that Rooney is a great player, a nice lad who has a lovely wife.
The world stubbornly insists on rotating despite the aftershocks created by such judgments.
The triumph of this autobiography is that its whole forms an excellent football book that is constantly entertaining and informative. Its flaw is that it is no more than that.
Ferguson offers almost unbridled access to the football side of his life. His observations are intelligent, witty and engagingly self-deprecating. There is the occasional barb, especially at Rafa Benitez, to show that Ferguson still has claws but this is a book almost entirely about football and he is not disposed to spitting in the eye of the beautiful game.
He is aware of its flaws, knows he is dealing with egos but this is a story that echoes with a gratitude of what life has doled out on training field, pitch and at home. Much has been made of the relationships with players but there are more revealing vignettes than spats with Becks.
United training matches, particularly in the Keane era, were so keenly contested that coaches acting as refs were routinely abused and Ferguson considered bringing in officials from outside. Players taking comfort breaks in the bushes surrounding the pitch would be hit on the back of the head by Paul Scholes, the peerless midfielder, launching a ball from up to 40 yards.
This speaks to the atmosphere of competition and camaraderie that pervades the Scotsman's side but does not explain the genius that inspires it. Ferguson, the manager, speaks out in this book but the individual is reticent. There are six pages in a chapter entitled Family, twice that number in the one on Rio Ferdinand. This has nothing to do with a misplaced sense of priorities. Rather, Ferguson is maintaining his guard.
The public face has both petrified opponents and invigorated successful teams. But this is also a man who writes and reads French, can lecture at Harvard and can challenge James McPherson, the renowned Civil War historian, on the intricacies of the naval battles in the war between the states while occasionally advising prime ministers on how to run a Cabinet.
The lesson of the book is that Ferguson, for all the accusations of emotional disturbance, is a master of control. He exerts it over players, opponents and press. He has exercised it in his autobiography.
He has told the world what he wants it to know but no more. He has at times brilliantly revealed what it is like to be a manager at the top of football. This has produced the inevitable tumult in the media but, whisper it, there is more, much more to Ferguson than this.