Alex Ferguson tells Harvard students about the secrets of his Manchester United success
Published 19/12/2012 | 12:34
ALEX Ferguson has addressed Harvard University students providing a revealing insight into how he handles players, his co-ordination of tactics, and that he thinks Jose Mourinho is a "good looking guy."
The Manchester United manager was talking to the students in Boston as part of an academic study by professor Anita Elberse at the Harvard Business School. The United manager agreed to meet with students to discuss the report, during which he provided a fascinating insight into his methods.
Famed for his tactical nous and influential selection of substitutions, Ferguson explained that he prefers to keep his tactics simple.
"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.
"Then on Saturday, we might give them another, shorter version - just a recap of the previous day."
That straight forward approach also applies to half-time team talks for Ferguson, with the United manager bucking the trend for making detailed notes during a match, a common sight among younger managers.
"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 don't believe in taking notes. I see other coaches do it, but I don't want to miss any part of the game.
"And I cannot 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."
Ferguson also explained that he likes to inject some imagination into his talks with his players.
"I once heard a coach start with 'This must be the 1,000th team talk I've had with you,' and saw a player quickly responding with 'And I've slept through half of them!'
"So I like to tell different stories, and use my imagination.
"Generally, it is about our expectations, their belief in themselves, and their trust in each other.
"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 coordination 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."
Ferguson has been famed down the years for his intimidating style of man-management, most notoriously encapsulated in his 'hair dryer treatment' of players. While the years appear to have calmed the 70-year-old, Ferguson revealed that the fire continues to burn.
"I've still got a wee bit of anger in me, thinking of how we threw the league away last season.
"It was another day in the history of Manchester United. That's all it was. It created the drama that only United can produce.
"Who would have thought that Blackburn, bottom of the league, would beat us 3-2 at Old Trafford? Or that Everton would draw with us when we were up 4-2 with seven minutes to go?
"My motivation to the players will be that we cant let City beat us twice in a row."
During his discussions with the students, Ferguson gave an insight into the player structure at Manchester United and how they are categorised.
"The first thought for 99 per cent of newly appointed 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.
"There are three categories: players from 30 and above, the players from roughly 23 to 30, and the younger ones coming in.
"The idea is that the younger players are developing and meeting the standards that the older ones have set before."
Ferguson has at times been ruthless with his players, casting them aside after years of service, with the acrimonious departure of Roy Keane particularly notable. While at times Ferguson's decisions have looked cold, the manager revealed it is not always easy.
"For me 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."
Ferguson shows no signs of stopping just yet, although with his 71st birthday on New Year's Eve, speculation over who will succeed him is only likely to increase. Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola are two likely to find themselves linked with Old Trafford, and they are two managers Ferguson clearly has admiration for.
"Jose [Mourinho] 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?
"[Pep] 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."
Discussing the experience of addressing the students, Ferguson felt it had been a worthwhile experience, as well as providing an opportunity to learn about himself.
“The whole atmosphere was professional. It was clear that they had done their homework. They had properly read the case study and supplemented that with their own opinions and research. That gave me a certain assurance that I had made the right decision to go ahead with the case," he told the Harvard Gazette.
“The part of the discussion from which I learned the most about myself was when they were discussing the balance between ‘fear’ and ‘love’ in my approach to managing people. If you look at my history, there’s all this hype about hair dryers and anger and so on. But the students acknowledged another side to it, which is more apt in terms of how I have fostered relations with people and developed the team over the years.
"The reality is not always how the press portray it. I felt the students were quite accurate in terms of how they analysed this aspect, questioning and recognising this important dynamic of management."
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