Sunday 21 January 2018

Depression-era photograph on wall of United manager’s office provides inspiration for Scot to motivate star players

How Alex Ferguson has
asked his players to see
themselves over the
years he has been in
charge at Old Trafford
How Alex Ferguson has asked his players to see themselves over the years he has been in charge at Old Trafford

Ian Herbert

It looks more like an ad for a packed lunch than a motivational statement, but Alex Ferguson has revealed the image he has used for years to engrain qualities of team spirit into each of Manchester United's young players.

'Lunch Atop a Skyscraper' -- the iconic Depression-era photograph of 11 men sitting on a girder with their legs dangling over New York -- is the picture the Scot uses to get his message across.

In the course of one of the most candid interviews Ferguson has given, granted to his former goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, the United manager reveals that Charles C Ebbet's image, framed on his office wall at Carrington, encapsulates his creed.

The disclosure came when Barthez, who remembered Ferguson introducing him to it, asked him more about its significance.

"It's a great story," Ferguson said. "The photograph on my office explains what a football team is and has to do."

The manager then asked Barthez and his translator -- journalist Julien Laurens: "What is the greatest thing a team can do? They can sacrifice their life for each other and sometimes when one falls two can save him.

"That is what you call sacrifice."

The theme resurfaced when Ferguson reminded Barthez of the day, shortly before a team talk in the United dressing-room, when he had asked him, did he know what the word 'hirondelle' meant. Ferguson then related to Laurens a story of sacrifice about migrating geese which he had told Barthez that day.

"Okay, I said to Barthez, I'm going to tell you the story about the geese which fly 5,000 miles from Canada to France," Ferguson recalled.

"They fly in V-formation but the second ones don't fly. They're the subs for the first ones.

"And then the second ones take over, so it's teamwork. If one goose falls ill, two always have to go with him. What I was saying was that I'm only asking you to go 38 games in the league to win it. I'm not asking you to go 5,000 miles!"

Ferguson, who gave the interview for the French TF1 channel, added: "The work of a team should always embrace a great player but the great player must always work.

"Like Cantona worked -- off the ball, always on the move. Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo. Wayne Rooney works all the time.

"If you've got the two qualities -- work ethic and great talent -- you are one of the best players in the world."

Perhaps most remarkably, Ferguson asserts in the interview that "when you win a game of football, you need only eight players to perform well" and that only six times in 25 years had all 11 of his players managed it.

Laurens attempted to get Ferguson to reveal which six games those might be, trying out the 7-1 win over Roma on him for good measure.

That, however, was one disclosure the United manager was not ready to make.

It's unlikely that Dimitar Berbatov features in Ferguson's list of perfect team performances, but the United manager intends to activate the clause in the Bulgarian's contract that will keep him at Old Trafford for another year.

United's £30.75m record signing has found his appearances limited this season as both Javier Hernandez and Daniel Welbeck have forced their way into Ferguson's plans on a regular basis.

This has led to speculation that Ferguson may look to unload the 30-year-old during the January transfer window. However, the Scot insists that will not happen.

"Dimitar is still in my thoughts," said Ferguson. "There is absolutely no reason for me to let him go. He is an outstanding footballer.

"It is unfortunate for Dimitar that Javier Hernandez has been in such great form but he (Berbatov) has no complaints. The boy is a great professional. He trains well and we are happy for him to be here." (© Independent News Service).

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