After Beverley Boden’s lecture on Tuesday, I decided to take a look at one of the leaders of one of the greatest ever teams there has been. Sir Alex Ferguson. In 2013 a documentary was created about how his leadership inspired players, what was needed to be successful and how it could be implemented across different sectors such as business, politics or other sports. So, here is my review of one of the most successful managers of all time through the documentary (link here): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbtZjIEs5r0
Sir Alex came to Manchester United almost an unknown from Aberdeen in 1986. The club at the time was well known for its drinking culture and being a bit immature, one of his first acts was to gather everyone in the club into the gymnasium and said “I won’t change, but you will”. Ferguson wanted control, he knew without discipline and control he would never win anything. Jose Mourinho, stated that Ferguson modelled the club around his way. Ryan Giggs said that he had a desire for success and not standing still. Rio Ferdinand declared that he trusted Sir Alex as a manager and a person and even former Prime Minister Tony Blair, said he had this strange obsession with self-reflection. I think we know how much this man was respected and how well his leadership of a team worked.
Almost everyone has mentioned that he made it his aim to learn everyones name, from the laundry girls, to canteen staff, to admin, he knew that these little details all “lead to the top of a mountain”. He enjoyed interacting with young people, which was seen with the Class of 92, consisting of David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Phil and Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. He gambled and trusted youth even when people such as Alan Hansen said that “you’ll never win anything with kids”, Sir Alex said you’ll never win anything without them either.
(Think we can all tell, I like football a little bit…)
But it was his parents and his background that instilled this philosophy on him. His Dad worked on the docks building ships in Glasgow and played football himself. He stated that he was afraid of his Dad, he was the respected man in the family, on time to everything, owned and deserved control. But he describes a time when he and his Dad argued when Alex was a teenager, it was about that he should go to Junior Football incase making it as a senior didn’t work out. They didn’t speak for 7-8 months. Imagine!! But here Ferguson said that he learnt that you don’t always have to bellow at someone for them to realise you disappointed and retold the story of when his side were 3-0 down against Tottenham at half time. In the changing rooms at the break, all Sir Alex said was “Next goal wins this” and he was right, they went on to score 5 and win 5-3, its true then maybe silence speaks louder than words?
Many said that Alex knew whether to put an arm around someone or to shout at them. But what about the difficult ones? The players you can’t control, or read what they need? Eric Cantona was certainly one of them. In 1995, someone in the crowd said something he didn’t like, so decided to ‘kung-foo kick’ them. Manchester United banned him for 4 months. Alex knew he needed different treatment; he knew the world was after him and he would even argue that he didn’t know what to do with him. Even players such as Ryan Giggs resented the fact that Cantona would always get off lightly if he had a bad game or missed a penalty. Eventually Cantona left the club with him mainly having this reputation. Many years later, Tony Blair at that point, Prime Minister want his help, he had a bag egg in the camp (later realised as Gordon Brown) and Blair asked Sir Alex what would you do if you have someone who will not be controlled in the changing room? And Alex said, well I’d get rid of them! Blair’s response was well what if you got rid of them and they keep coming back to the changing room- Alex agreed that this was a problem… but that he needed to regain control and discipline.
It was making big decisions that Sir Alex was well known for. He saw all his players as his family, Cristiano Ronaldo called him his football dad and retold the story of when his own Dad was in a coma, Ronaldo went into his office and asked for time off as he didn’t feel right. Ferguson said “Look if you want to go away for one day, two days, a week, whatever, you go, we will miss you yes, but family is more important”, control and respect. However with the length of time Ferguson was there for, he knew he would never be able to keep the same players and would have to rebuild; but always showed compassion. 2 examples came up; Roy Keane and Jaap Stam. Keane was at the time captain and probably best player in the club; but recorded a video for MUTV their TV channel. Ferguson saw it as disrespectful and later came into the changing rooms and said Keanes gone, he isn’t coming back, nobody is bigger than the club. In the Stam story, he had just recovered from a bad injury and Ferguson thought it would be best to sell him, he actually recovered to become even better than before- Ferguson states that was probably one of his biggest regrets.
Power is something that Ferguson doesn’t believe is important, he wanted control of everything but never asked for power. He controlled staff, player contracts, transfers, food- some even say that he even decided on the toilet roll!! Ferdinand described a story of when he first joined United. In his first game he twisted his ankle and was out for 6 weeks and decided to get to know the city, went out and over indulged- Ferguson knew and when he returned to training, pulled him aside and asked how he was finding the city, he was like yeah it’s nice been to a few restaurants but nothing fancy. Ferguson then said I know what you have been doing, it stops now, no nights out no over indulging, you are here to play football. Control but also respect.
Sir Alex Ferguson used 2 examples of teams throughout his managerial career. The first was the Rockefeller Centre and how it was built, with men on the highest building in New York, all working together, making sacrifices without any life support. Ironically, there was 11 people in the photo. The second is Geese. Every year they fly 4000 miles form Canada to a warmer climate in 2 v’s, then changing over every time when someone gets tired and used to stop training when it occurred above them. His point was that if they can travel 4000 miles for each other, taking it turns just for some sun, you can graft for 38 games to win a title- easy then ey?
But it’s not just Football and politics he’s had an influence on. Ryder Cup captain Paul McKinley in 2014, asked for Sir Alex’s help, he told them about the Geese, spoke with the Caddies and players, addressed them all by name. They then managed to hold onto a 10-6 lead to win and when they did, Geese flew above their heads, fate or strong work ethic and concentration? I think we know which one Sir Alex would say…