Sir Alex Ferguson
Scott Mlyn | CNBC
What about Liverpool? Why were “geese” and “shipyards” in his team talks? And why did he keep Gary Neville going for so many years? Sir Alex Ferguson explains his management secrets …
You have always mentioned “shipyards” in your team discussions. Why was it so important to be grounded?
The players I was dealing with at the time probably weren’t from the working class I came from. So I had to try and get them that part – that working hard is a real talent.
I was referring to shipyard workers, miners, steel workers, and I think you might not be the working class, but your fathers or grandfathers were. It is really important to me that everyone works hard – even your best player, even though he may be the most talented player – they have to show that they are willing to work as hard as any other player. I think we got that.
I was lucky that the players embraced the fact that hard work is a talent.
How did you get United to do it over and over again?
It’s a sacrifice. When I became a manager I was a decent player, at 32 I became a manager, I thought it would be easy. I thought of other managers I had worked for. I lost my first away game 5-2, drove home in the car that evening and said to myself: “I didn’t expect that.” I then realized that I had no chance if I didn’t have a functioning mentality, no mental strength in my players.
After a league win, the first team talk I had the next year was about the geese. I bet the players sat there thinking, “What is this guy talking about?” But it’s a great story. A friend of mine – his cousin had a farm in Canada. He told me this story about geese in Canada that flew 4,000 miles for a bit of heat. I said to the players, “I’m only asking you to play 38 games to win the league.”
I would lie in my bed at night thinking about how to motivate players because when you’ve been at a club like United for 27 years you don’t want the players to feel like it’s that time again.
Read more stories from Sky Sports
You don’t believe in psychology, you believe in management. What do you mean by that?
I never saw psychology as part of my job. Management is based on communication, loyalty and trust. When I went to Aberdeen you have to put your trust in the players and you hope you get it back in time. I did exactly the same at United.
My communication was very important to me in order to recognize and appreciate my employees. I would never let anyone pass me in the corridor or the dining room without saying “Good morning”. If you think back to when we won the league or the cup or whatever, I had all the staff in the dining room on Monday. It was her cup. If you appreciate them and consider your work, they will pay you back.
You ended up holding me for three or four years when I was unwell. Why did you keep players who didn’t necessarily perform for you or weren’t the most talented? How did you let her win?
Through Eric Harrison (former United youth coach) and me, we’ve brought players with us who we’ve developed good mental strengths, toughness that they could play before 75,000. We always said to parents, I said to your mother and father, “I hope Gary and Phil play in front of 75,000, that’s the goal.” They don’t all make it, but the amazing thing is that many of these players still play for different clubs today. So the preparation and training they have received at United is very important.
Alex Ferguson celebrates with the Premier League trophy
Matthew Peters | Man Utd | Getty Images
In terms of great players and hardworking players, I thought a lot about players like Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, and you. There was something about them that made them as good as Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Wayne Rooney. There is something in them that drives them and forces them to bring out everything they can put into a game. I was lucky that this worked out.
Darren Fletcher is a great example, Steve Bruce. You started out as a center-back and we quickly realized that you wouldn’t be a center-back on our first team, so you evolved into a right-back. It was because of your self-determination and the fire within you – that made Bryan Robson, Roy Keane and Steve Bruce competitive players. The players as talented as Cantona, Ronaldo, Giggs, Scholes, Michael Carrick, have to show that they are ready to be as hardworking as you are. That’s what the mix makes up.
For the most part, the teams we built had these ingredients. They didn’t like to lose. They were designed that way. I like to see myself in the players. Of course, if I lost a game, you know how I reacted. You know why? Because my expectation was greater than hers. I wanted to win all the trophies, all the games, that was my attitude every morning.
The other word I always refer to with you is “risk” …
They lost 1-0. What’s the point of sitting with your foursome, your regular midfield and two forwards? The risk is putting people in the box because the other team is reacting to it. You push three or four into the penalty area, get the ball in, that’s the risk because you could lose on the breakaway pretty easily.
We lost games that way. I remember Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sent off in Newcastle and they played the final kick of the ball. But the value is that you score in the last minute of the injury time. Do you remember the locker room? It was electric, absolutely electric. Fans go home and can’t wait to get to the pub to talk about coming home and telling their wife or kids how it was at Old Trafford to score a last minute goal. That’s the value.
This risk should always be present when you play for our club. It doesn’t make sense to play around with a few passes in midfield and not take the risk and get the ball into the box because you won’t score from 40 yards. I don’t remember a lot of players trying to score from 40 meters away.
It felt like you were offended when the club were beaten by Liverpool on every level and it made you angry. Was it an aversion, the rivalry? Why did you feel this way
It’s my respect for Liverpool. When I was the manager of St. Mirren I went to Liverpool to practice for a week. I saw the intensity of their training, the consistency they had. When I came to United and they’d all won titles, I made that clear.
When I was in Aberdeen there are only two clubs you have to beat to win everything, Rangers and Celtic. When I came to United, there was only one team you had to beat to win the league – that is Liverpool.
That was my intention, that was what I put all into producing a team that could beat them. Not necessarily beating every game, but winning the leagues. I’ve always told the players that if we play Liverpool, if you don’t show up we will be beaten. We went there with our best team – Keane, Scholes, Giggs and David Beckham, the back four were right, the front players – and sometimes we lost if we were just a little off. But we had a great record there in relation to every other club. I knew if you beat Liverpool you are on the right track.
You were standing at the dressing room door and the captain couldn’t walk past you until you were there. What was the reason? Was it for your own team or for the opposition?
For my own team. There was an opportunity, we were 3-0 at Tottenham, I didn’t say a word in the locker room. I sat on the radiator and it was burning hot too and I said ‘next target is the winner’.
I went to the door and Teddy Sheringham, who of course had played with us, was their captain. He came out and looked at me, turned to his players and said, “Don’t let them score early.” We met in the first minute. I thought that killed her. I looked at them and they looked at me, I just said, “Come on, we can win this.”
It’s a fun game.
“Sir Alex Ferguson: Never Give In” will be available in theaters May 27th and on Amazon Prime Video May 29th