Sir Alex Ferguson was asked by Paul McGinley to give a pep talk to the European Ryder Cup team ahead of the tournament this weekend and Rory McIlroy commented on how it left him in a trance.
McIlroy said: “I was just sitting there and looking up at him and I didn’t take my eyes off him. I was sort of in this trance just listening to everything that he was saying.”
It’s a feeling that is very familiar to Paul Scholes and speaking in his new column for The Independent, the United legend describes how Sir Alex’s team-talks used to be and does so in fantastic detail that gives great insight into the mindset of United’s greatest ever manager.
“On match days at Old Trafford, we would arrive at about 12.30pm. Between then and 1.30pm Sir Alex would see players individually in his office. Sometimes it was to tell them that they weren’t playing. Sometimes it was to tell them that he had a specific role in mind for them. Just before 1.30pm, the manager’s assistant, Mike Phelan in the later years, would come into the players’ lounge and tell us to go into the changing room for the team meeting.
“We would watch some video clips. Nothing longer than 10 or so minutes because minds could wander. Then Sir Alex would talk. He had an ability to make even the smaller games – the early rounds of the FA Cup, the league games against lower-placed sides – feel like the World Cup final. He got inside your head. He got you going.
“One of his themes was to talk about the group of players having come from all over the world – or, in my case, Middleton – to play for Manchester United. “Look around you,” he would say. “Look at the lad next to you. You know you can trust him. You know he won’t let you down.” It would have an effect on players. You could see them looking around at each other.”
Sir Alex’s ability to get the best out of his team was one of his greatest assets and Scholes’ anecdotes ring true of that. The players were always inspired by what Sir Alex said and felt obliged not to let him down, something which no doubt contributed to United’s uncanny ability to score late on and a lot of the time against the odds.
Scholes’ column is a fantastic story to show the inner workings of Sir Alex and it’s a great work.