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Paul Scholes: Alex Ferguson the master of getting inside your head


Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson

Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson

AFP/Getty Images

Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson

I LISTENED to Alex Ferguson's team talks for my whole playing career - England aside - and I know that there was never a time that I went out on to the pitch unprepared or in any doubt as to the responsibility of playing for Manchester United.

When Rory McIlroy talks about being absorbed by what my old boss told Europe's Ryder Cup team, I know what he means. For 19 years, the manager always surprised us. He always kept us on our toes.

On match days at Old Trafford, we would arrive at about 12.30. Between then and 1.30 he 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 1.30, the manager's assistant would come into the players' lounge and tell us to go into the changing room for the team meeting.

We would watch video clips. Nothing longer than 10 or so minutes because minds could wander. Then the boss 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.

Sometimes he would get stuck into an individual before a game. It might be over something that had happened in a previous match. He would talk about the opposition. He always told you something new.

And then there were those very few occasions, not usually the big games, when we would be waiting for him and he would come in, looking angry. "Just go out there and beat this team," he would bark - and walk out. One sentence, then gone. He would leave you wondering why he was angry. You thought: "He means business, we better not mess this one up."

I always thought as a player, if you needed motivating to play for United then you had a problem. I am sure the Ryder Cup lads feel the same. But after they listened to him they will have a few useful extra things in their head for this week.

Another thing Sir Alex would often tell us before games against clubs lower down the division was that we first had to match them for running and energy, and only then would our superior ability take over.

"Work like a Third Division team would if they came to Old Trafford," he would tell us." Europe, with their better average world ranking, might have heard something similar.

It's 20 years since my debut...how did I make it?

I AM told it is 20 years ago since I made my debut for United at Port Vale in the League Cup. We won 2-1 and I scored the goals. I still find it difficult to convey just what that meant to me then, aged 19, playing for the club I supported. It was a thrill I'll never forget.

Our manager was the first to rest his senior players in the League Cup to give youngsters like me a chance and, even this week, Liverpool did something similar with Jordan Rossiter - and Arsenal too, albeit with less success.

Physically, it was always a struggle for me in those early days. I wasn't big, I wasn't quick and I wasn't strong. I don't know how the hell I ever made it!

There is a great emphasis on power nowadays but there will always be room for different kinds of players. What hasn't changed is that, once the chance comes along, you have to take it.

Irish Independent