Analysing Fergie's master class: Sportsmail takes a closer look at Sir Alex's blueprint for success
00:10 GMT, 20 December 2012
An in-depth study of Sir Alex Ferguson and his management techniques has revealed the Manchester United manager at his most candid.
Put together with Ferguson’s help by Harvard Business School in America, the study is entitled ‘Sir Alex Ferguson: Managing Manchester United’ and provides a genuine insight into how the 70-year-old has been so successful for so long.
Here, Sportsmail’s Ian Ladyman picks out his highlights and provides his own analysis of Ferguson’s methods…
University challenge: Sir Alex Ferguson opened up earlier this year for an essay at Harvard
ON PLAYER POWER
Sir Alex Ferguson: 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.
Ian Ladyman: At one English club in the North West the captain tries to tell the manager what he is doing wrong. That wouldn’t happen at Old Trafford. Ferguson welcomes input from his players, but only when he asks for it.
ON HOW ANDREA BOCELLI INSPIRED A TEAM TALK
SAF: I once heard a coach start with: ‘This must be the thousandth team talk I’ve had with you,’ and saw a player respond with: ‘Yeah and I’ve slept through half of them.’ So I tell different stories and use my imagination. 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 co-ordination 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, for example, was brilliant.
IL: To Ferguson, the team ethic is everything. He encourages and seeks out individual brilliance, but won’t tolerate anything or anyone who begins to feel they are bigger or better than anybody else. Several players have discovered this to their cost over the years.
Tenor for a team talk: United boss Ferguson revealed Andrea Bocelli has inspired him
ON MOTIVATING PLAYERS
SAF: 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. Also, you can’t always come in (after a game)
shouting and screaming. That doesn’t work. No one likes to get
criticised. But in the 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 criticising a player forever. And I never discuss an
individual player in public. The players know that. It stays indoors.
IL: To hear Ferguson criticise a
player in public is rare. He did it with Rio Ferdinand after the
defender refused to wear a ‘Kick It Out’ T-shirt this season and
regretted it immediately. The issue was sorted in private at the
training ground the next day. Compare that with Roberto Mancini at
Manchester City, for example, who constantly seems to criticise Mario
Balotelli. Two different methods. Who is to say which one is best
ON MANAGING MILLIONAIRES
SAF: 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.
IL: The speed at which United hustled
Roy Keane out of the door in 2005 shows how quickly Ferguson moves when
he feels one player has started to have a negative effect on the rest.
As for fines and internal discipline, you can be sure it happens at
United. It’s just that they never tell anyone.
Shifted: Roy Keane was shown out of the door at Old Trafford in 2005
ON UNITED’S YOUTH POLICY AND LETTING OLD PLAYERS GO
SAF: The first thought for 99 per cent
of new 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.
IL: Players like Phil Neville and
Nicky Butt — founder members of the modern United — were both struck
dumb when Ferguson told them their time was up at Old Trafford. Did
their manager and mentor make the right decision, though Absolutely.
Is he talking about you, Scholesy
Sir Alex Ferguson says he would never try to coach the aggression out of his players, but, without naming him, he did pick out one who liked a tackle or two.
Paul Scholes has been hailed as the best English player of his generation, but the midfielder is not known for his tackling prowess.
Though he falls short of Patrick Vieira’s Premier League record of eight red cards, Scholes has four reds to his name and two in the Champions League. He is also third on the all-time Premier League yellow cards list, just five shy of a century.
PREMIER LEAGUE YELLOWS
Kevin Davies 99
Lee Bowyer 99
Paul Scholes 95
ON AGGRESSIVE PLAYERS
SAF: 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 counter-balanced
by all the great things he can do.
IL: So who is Ferguson talking about
Almost certainly it is Paul Scholes. So much for the theory that all the
United midfielder’s tackles are merely ‘mistimed’
ON TALENT AND HARD WORK
SAF: 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.
IL: Ferguson’s work ethic is
legendary. He is at United’s training ground at 7am every day. It’s his
club and he sets the mood and the standards. As for him being a bad
loser, well, there are referees across the land who will testify to
Experience: Veteran midfielder Paul Scholes has not been tamed by Sir Alex
ON JOSE MOURINHO
SAF: 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
IL: It’s nothing to do with being
Scottish, Ferguson is merely too cute to brag before he has achieved
anything. Ferguson has always liked Mourinho, ever since the two men
first clashed in 2004. He particularly admires and empathises with the
Portuguese’s ability to inspire and motivate players.
ON NAMING HIS TEAM
SAF: 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.
IL: Ferguson is an obsessive man and
his obsession about his team line-ups leaking out has long been high on
the list. He got rid of one very high-profile player, for example,
because he suspected he had leaked the team to the opposition before a
big Champions League game.
Sparring partners: Ferguson and Jose Mourinho have had their fair share of battles over the years
ON DROPPING PLAYERS
SAF: 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.
IL: Some managers tell players they
are playing or not playing by text message. Sometimes the old-fashioned
ways really are the best.
ON GETTING READY FOR THE HALF-TIME TEAM TALK
SAF: 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 of the game. And I can’t
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.
IL: Managers and their bits of paper
can look ridiculous. What do they write on them ‘In the second half we
must try to score’ Each to their own, of course, and it’s certainly the
case that Ferguson’s coaches write things down. Sometimes, though, your
eyes are your best tool.
Getting ready for the break: Ferguson prefers not to take notes while watching
ON HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH DAVID GILL AND THE GLAZERS
SAF: 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
IL: United fans feel uncomfortable
when they hear Ferguson talk so fondly of the Glazers and that’s
understandable. They don’t choose players, by the way, they merely
sanction, or otherwise, the spending. Ferguson’s relationship with Gill,
meanwhile, is the concrete on which the club is built. I have had
run-ins with both men but were it not for Ferguson and Gill’s combined
effectiveness, United would have sunk during the years of Glazer
ON THE SHAPE OF THE SEASON
SAF: We don’t start the pre-season
training at one hundred miles an hour. 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.
IL: This is interesting because United
have tweaked pre-season routines in recent years to try and keep pace
with Chelsea and Manchester City, who tend to come out of the blocks at
lightning speed in August. Ferguson realised United were getting caught
cold and has tried to address it. Mind you, they lost their opening
game this season…
Mr Motivator: Sir Alex has his own ways of getting the best out of his players at Old Trafford
ON MOVING WITH THE TIMES
SAF: Some managers are ‘pleasing
managers’. They let the players play 8-a-sides — 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.
IL: Ferguson admires managers like Sam
Allardyce, younger men who innovate to improve. He is happy to take
ideas from them. The club are currently building a ‘sleep room’ and have
installed tanning booths at the training ground so players can top up
their Vitamin D levels.
ON PRACTISING FOR FERGIE TIME
SAF: We practise for when the going gets tough, so we know what it takes to be successful in those situations.
IL: I have no idea how you can
replicate the pressure of added time but it clearly works. Look at what
happened in the Manchester derby recently.
ON TELLING THE REFEREE ABOUT FERGIE TIME
SAF: All I do is point at my watch to help the referee make the right decisions.
IL: Ferguson has always intimidated referees, sometimes on purpose and other times not. Has it worked Occasionally.
Watch it: Fergie time is usually a good time to grab a goal
ON HOW HAVING BEEN A PLAYER HELPS HIM AS A MANAGER
SAF: 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’
IL: Ferguson’s success debunks the old
myth that you need to be a successful player to earn respect as a
coach. It’s brains and not medals that get the job done.
ON MELLOWING OVER THE YEARS
SAF: Players live more sheltered
lives. They are more fragile than 25 years ago. I used to be very
aggressive. I am still very passionate and want to win but I have
mellowed. Age does that to you.
IL: Try telling this to Nani, David de
Gea and Alex Buttner, all of whom have been monstered by Ferguson in
the United dressing room this season.
The Fergie files
Revealed: The Fergie blueprint – Man United boss reveals secrets of his success to Harvard academics
I want to pass on my expertise to the next generation of bosses, explains Fergie on decision to reveal all to Harvard professors
Ferguson installed tanning booths so United players could top up their Vitamin D levels
ON LOSING THE TITLE TO CITY
SAF: Another day in the history of
Manchester United, that’s all it was. It created the drama that only
United can produce. I’ve still 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.
IL: This is slightly disingenuous. The
drama last May was largely created by United’s neighbours across town.
You can be sure of the anger he still feels, though. Very sure.
Agony: Ferguson was on the pitch at Sunderland on the final day of the season when Man City pipped United
ON WINNING THE CHAMPIONS LEAGUE AGAIN
SAF: We are in a country where
tribalism is rife so that puts tremendous pressure on you to win your
league. But the European Cup is the biggest trophy. I made a mistake
last season in Europe. I played too many young players and we went out.
It was a shock.
IL: Ferguson is obsessed with winning
the Champions League again. Defeats by Barcelona in 2009 and 2011 hurt
him more than he ever really lets on. He still refuses to talk about
ON A GLASS OF WINE WITH THE OPPOSITION MANAGER
SAF: You have to get the game out of
your system quickly or it becomes an obsession. Win, lose or draw. We
show our face and keep our dignity. We are Manchester United.
IL: Some of Ferguson’s post-match TV
comments can lack the dignity he talks about, but he isn’t alone there.
He does always offer visiting managers a drink, though. One of the
reasons Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger is shown so little warmth by Premier
League bosses is that he has never embraced this tradition.
Unpopular: Arsene Wenger never sticks around for a drink with other bosses
A few other choice cuts…
SAF: 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 PEP GUARDIOLA
SAF: 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.
Pep talk: United boss Ferguson was impressed by the way Guardiola transformed Barcelona
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.
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 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'”