Fergie in his own words: Tenor for a team talk, moving on from losing the title and why he's too Scottish to be like Mourinho – what the United boss told Harvard University
10:15 GMT, 19 December 2012
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You can purchase the Sir Alex Ferguson case study from Harvard Business School HERE
Sir Alex Ferguson has opened up to Harvard Business School in a way never seen before.
In an extensive and wide-ranging essay on Managing Manchester United, written by Anita Elberse and Tom Dye, Ferguson offers an extraordinary insight into life at Old Trafford, his views on man management, how Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli inspired a team talk and how once a player crosses him ‘they’re dead’.
Here is Ferguson in his own words.
University challenged: Sir Alex Ferguson opened up earlier this year for an essay at Harvard
ON LOSING THE TITLE TO MAN CITY LAST SEASON
‘Another day in the history of
Manchester United, that’s all it was. It created the drama that only
United can produce.
'Who would have thought that Blackburn, being bottom
of the league, would beat us 3-2 at Old Trafford Or that Everton would
draw with us when we were up 4-2 with seven minutes to go
got a wee bit of anger in me, thinking of how we threw the league away
last season. My motivation to the players will be that we can’t let City
beat us twice in a row.'
Agony: Ferguson was on the pitch at Sunderland on the final day of the season when Man City pipped United
ON PLAYER POWER
‘Some English clubs have changed managers so many times that it creates power for the players in the dressing room. That is very dangerous.
'Football management in the end is all about the players. You think you are a better player than they are, and they think they are a better manager than you are.’
ON HOW ANDREA BOCELLI INSPIRED A TEAM TALK
‘I like to tell different stories, and use my imagination. But generally, it is about our expectations, their belief in themselves, and their trust in each other.
'I remember going to see Andrea Bocelli, the opera singer. I had never been to a classical concert in my life. But I am watching this and thinking about the coordination and the teamwork, one starts and one stops, just fantastic.
'So I spoke to my players about the orchestra – how they are a perfect team. You can get help from some of the players. Bryan Robson was a great captain – he spoke with each player. That’s brilliant.’
Tenor for a team talk: United boss Ferguson revealed Andrea Bocelli has inspired him
ON MOTIVATING PLAYERS
‘There is no room for criticism on the training field. For a player – and for any human being – there is nothing better than hearing ‘well done.’
'Those are the two best words ever invented in sports. You don’t need to use superlatives.
'I made it plain that I meant to put an end to United’s reputation of being almost as much a social club as a football club.
'It’s interesting to see all the foreigners sit together, and the British players sit at another table. That’s not because there is a division – it’s just that players tend to migrate towards familiarity. It’s fantastic to watch them have fun.’
Mr Motivator: Sir Alex has his own ways of getting the best out of his players at Old Trafford
ON MANAGING MILLIONAIRES
‘We fine them, but we keep it indoors. You can’t ever lose control – not when you are dealing with 30 top professionals who are all millionaires. And if anyone steps out of my control, that’s them dead.’
ON UNITED’S YOUTH POLICY AND LETTING OLD PLAYERS GO
‘The first thought for 99 per cent of newly appointed managers is to make sure they win – to survive.
'They bring experienced players in, often from their previous clubs. But I think it is important to build a structure for a football club – not just a football team. You need a foundation. And there is nothing better than seeing a young player make it to the first team.
'The idea is that the younger players are developing and meeting the standards that the older ones have set before.
'The hardest thing is to let go of a player who has been a great guy. But all the evidence is on the football field. If you see the change, the deterioration, you have to start asking yourself what it is going to be like two years ahead.’
Experience: Veteran midfielder Paul Scholes came through the ranks at United, retired and then came back
ON AGGRESSIVE PLAYERS
‘One of my players has been sent off several times. He will do something if he gets the chance – even in training. Can I take it out of him No. Would I want to take it out of him No.
'If you take the aggression out of him, he is not himself. So you have to accept that there is a certain flaw that is counterbalanced by all the great things he can do.’
ON TALENT AND HARD WORK
‘I tell players that hard work is a talent, too. They need to work harder than anyone else. And if they can no longer bring the discipline that we ask for here at United, they are out. I am only interested in players who really want to play for United, and who, like me, are bad losers.’
ON JOSE MOURINHO
‘He is very intelligent, he has charisma, his players play for him, and he is a good looking guy. I think I have most of those things, too, apart from his good looks. He’s got a confidence about himself, saying ‘We’ll win this,’ and ‘I’m the Special One.’
'I could never come out and say we’re going to win this game. It’s maybe a wee bit of my Scottishness’
Sparring partners: Ferguson and Jose Mourinho have had their fair share of battles over the years
ON PEP GUARDIOLA
‘Guardiola is an impressive guy. He’s brought about change in Barcelona, urging the team to always work hard to get the ball back within seconds after losing it. They are gifted but work hard. It was a fantastic achievement. He elevated the status of his players.’
ON NAMING HIS TEAM
‘But we never reveal the team to the players until the day of the game. We think of the media and the players’ agents. And my job is to give us the best chance possible of winning the match, so why should we alert our opponents to what our team is For a three o’clock game, we tell them at one o’clock.’
Pep talk: United boss Ferguson was impressed by the way Guardiola transformed Barcelona
‘Tactics can change depending on whom we are playing I tend to concentrate on one or two players of my opponents—the ones that are the most influential. Who’s the guy who is taking all the free kicks Who’s the guy who’s on the ball all the time Who’s the one urging everyone on
'The rest of the time I concentrate on our own team. On Friday we take our players through a video analysis of our opponents: their strengths, their weaknesses, their set-pieces, what their team is likely to be, and so on.
'On Saturday, we might give them another, shorter version—just a recap of the previous day.’
ON DROPPING PLAYERS
‘I do it privately. It’s not easy, but I do them all myself. It is important. I have been dropped from a Cup final in Scotland as a player at 10 past two, so I know what it feels like.
'I’m not ever sure what they are thinking, but I tend to say “Look, I might be making a mistake here,” – I always say that – “but I think this is the best team for today.”
'I try to give them a bit of confidence, telling them that it is only tactical, and that there are bigger games coming up.’
ON GETTING READY FOR HALF-TIME
‘There are maybe eight minutes between you coming up through the tunnel and the referees calling you up on the pitch again, so it is vital to use the time well.
'Everything is easier when you are winning: you talk about concentrating, not getting complacent, and small things you can address. But when you are losing, you know that you are going to have to make an impact.
'The last few minutes of the first half I’m always thinking of what I’m going to say. I’m a little bit in a trance. I am concentrating.
'I see other coaches take notes, but I don’t want to miss any part of the game. And I cannot imagine going into the dressing room, looking at my notes, and saying “Oh in the 30th minute, that pass you took…”
'I don’t think it’s going to impress the players.'
ON THE HAIR-DRYER
‘You can’t always come in shouting and screaming. That doesn’t work. No one likes to get criticized. But in the football dressing room, it’s necessary that you point out your players’ mistakes.
'I do it right after the game. I don’t wait until Monday, I do it, and it’s finished. I’m on to the next match. There is no point in criticizing a player forever.’
ON HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH DAVID GILL AND THE GLAZERS
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‘My best relationship in this club is with David. Sometimes we disagree, but we respect each other, and we know that arguments are just arguments. He’s very fair.
‘The Glazers decide (on transfers). They have generally been very supportive. The Glazers are very low-key.
'If I owned United and they won the league, I would be over the moon. I remember when I played with Rangers, when the directors were under the shower with their clothes on, dancing about.
'But the Glazers shook a few hands and had some photographs taken, that was it.’
ON THE SHAPE OF THE SEASON
‘We don’t start the pre-season training at 100mph. We do a gradual build-up. And we’re not normally the strongest in the early part of the season, but October is usually a month where we get ourselves going again.
'I always tell the players, every season, that if we are within three points from the top come New Year’s Day, we’ve got a great chance at the title.’
ON TRAINING FOR FERGIE TIME
‘Some managers are “pleasing managers”. They let the players play eight-a-side or 10-a-side games they enjoy.
'But here, we look at the training sessions as opportunities to learn and improve. Sometimes the players may think “Here we go again,” but it helps to win.
'The message is simple: we cannot sit still at this club. Rather than leaving it to chance, United’s players were also made to practice how they should play if a goal was required with 10, five, or three minutes remaining.
'We practice for when the going gets tough, so we know what it takes to be successful in those situations,’
Watch it: Fergie time is usually a good time to grab a goal
ON HOW BEING A PLAYER HELPS HIM AS MANAGER
‘Do you think Rooney cares He’ll laugh at me and say “Boss, it was so long ago, and in Scotland. Are they still part-timers up there'”