The release of Sir Alex Ferguson’s autobiography in October is a hotly anticipated date as fans eagerly await insight into the mind of our greatest ever manager.
However, a fantastic research piece into Sir Alex by Harvard Business School professor Anita Elberse has laid out a blueprint of how Ferguson built his legacy at Old Trafford to wet your whistle ahead of the book release.
An eight part interview from 2012 when Ferguson visited Harvard (click here to read the full interview), it breaks down the logic of Ferguson’s formula, gives reasoning behind his decisions and explains exactly why Ferguson was like he was.
For me, there were two particular points that resonated. Firstly, Ferguson’s admission that maintaining power at United was paramount to his success. ‘I wasn’t going to allow anyone to be stronger than I was,’ he said. Stam, Keane, Beckham, Van Nistelrooy et al can attest to that. You didn’t cross Ferguson. If you did, you were out.
Ferguson’s ability to manage a whole squad of superstars was almost unrivalled and players respected him above all else.
Secondly, his risk taking nature that served him so well throughout his career. Ferguson would rather seek the draw and suffer the potential consequences of a humiliating loss than take a defeat lying down. Losing was not in his nature and that mentality rubbed off onto any player who worked underneath him.
Here are some snippets from Elberse’s great work. For the full interview, click here.
4. Never, Ever Cede Control
“If the day came that the manager of Manchester United was controlled by the players—in other words, if the players decided how the training should be, what days they should have off, what the discipline should be, and what the tactics should be—then Manchester United would not be the Manchester United we know. Before I came to United, I told myself I wasn’t going to allow anyone to be stronger than I was. Your personality has to be bigger than theirs. That is vital.
I wasn’t going to allow anyone to be stronger than I was. Your personality has to be bigger than theirs. That is vital.
I tended to act quickly when I saw a player become a negative influence. Some might say I acted impulsively, but I think it was critical that I made up my mind quickly. Why should I have gone to bed with doubts? I would wake up the next day and take the necessary steps to maintain discipline. It’s important to have confidence in yourself to make a decision and to move on once you have. It’s not about looking for adversity or for opportunities to prove power; it’s about having control and being authoritative when issues do arise.”
6. Prepare to Win
“Winning is in my nature. I’ve set my standards over such a long period of time that there is no other option for me—I have to win. I expected to win every time we went out there. Even if five of the most important players were injured, I expected to win. Other teams get into a huddle before the start of a match, but I did not do that with my team. Once we stepped onto the pitch before a game, I was confident that the players were prepared and ready to play, because everything had been done before they walked out onto the pitch.
“If we were still down—say, 1–2—with 15 minutes to go, I was ready to take more risks. I was perfectly happy to lose 1–3 if it meant we’d given ourselves a good chance to draw or to win.”
I am a gambler—a risk taker—and you can see that in how we played in the late stages of matches. If we were down at halftime, the message was simple: Don’t panic. Just concentrate on getting the task done. If we were still down—say, 1–2—with 15 minutes to go, I was ready to take more risks. I was perfectly happy to lose 1–3 if it meant we’d given ourselves a good chance to draw or to win. So in those last 15 minutes, we’d go for it. We’d put in an extra attacking player and worry less about defense. We knew that if we ended up winning 3–2, it would be a fantastic feeling. And if we lost 1–3, we’d been losing anyway.
I think all my teams had perseverance—they never gave in. So I didn’t really need to worry about getting that message across. It’s a fantastic characteristic to have, and it is amazing to see what can happen in the dying seconds of a match.”
For the full interview, click here.
Image: Harvard University