Alex Ferguson Leadership
Alex Ferguson (1941- )
Scottish manager of Manchester
United football (or soccer) club 1986-2013, and enormously successful, as he was at his previous
Why was he a great
1. Great motivator and communicator
He was famous for his:
- small gestures of kindness (like meeting every new player at Manchester airport),
- skilful use of the media.
At half-time in the 1999 European cup final, and 1-0 down, he said,
“At the end of this game, the European Cup will be only six feet away from you and you’ll not even be
able to touch it if we lose”.
They won 2-1 after two goals in injury time.
2. Respect and charisma
His players called him “The Boss” and respected him for his:
a) ability, infectious enthusiasm and humour
b) refusal to criticize them in public and protecting them from the media
(like supporting David Beckham, pictured
right, after his sending off in the 1998 World Cup).
His players always knew that he:
- wasn't afraid to punish their transgressions (as he did when he arrived at Manchester United, immediately
confronting the heavy drinkers)
Despite their differences, Beckham says that Ferguson was the greatest manager and makes “players feel
3. Tough but
He was an extremely competitive, aggressive and sometimes cruel disciplinarian,
This led to his big bust up with David
Beckham, throwing a boot at him and selling him to Real
Ferguson was famous for his “hairdryer treatment” – abusively and angrily pointing out
players' mistakes in the dressing room after a game.
But he had a soft side. He burst into tears, when a player (Gordon Strachan) told him how
his family had suffered because of his career.
4. The will to win
Ferguson (pictured right in 1992) was obsessed with winning and would do anything to do it
(like attacking opposing managers).
He was enormously determined and showed his mettle by winning the FA Cup in 1990 after facing
dismissal earlier in the season.
His loving parents, and love of football made his poor upbringing in Govan (near Glasgow) the foundation of
He eventually played for Glasgow Rangers.
5. Good tactician
In the 1990s he was the first manager to use a lightning counter-attack as a
deliberate tactic, later copied by Arsenal.
His favourite team formation was 4-4-2, and his substitutions were sometimes
6. Intelligence, intuition and improvement
He used his good brain and outstanding memory for faces and information to analyse the
team’s performance and plan its long-term future.
He was never complacent, continually trying to improve the team, even when it was
In 1995, he changed the League and FA Cup winning side and introduced young players like Beckham (pictured right as a young boy with
Ferguson), Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.
7. Passion, energy and
A youth leader, Johnny Boreland, inspired his love of football, when he was aged
His passion for the game was noticed on their first meeting by the
Manchester United legend, Bobby Charlton (pictured right), who said: “He lives
This passion encouraged him to stay on after saying he would retire at
He had lots of stamina (arriving at work around 7.15 after
only four or five hours sleep) and confidence in his ability.
He learned the value of, loyalty, hard work and
determination from his parents.
His father also taught him the importance of humility (a particularly difficult lesson for
His toolmaker and trade union job at the Remington Rand typewriter factory, near Glasgow, helped his
people management and negotiating skills.
His hero, the Scottish manager, Jock Stein, pictured right, taught him the “siege
mentality” tactic (convincing his players the world is against them, so making any problems seem like
He also learned from his boss at Aberdeen, Dick Donald, and his sacking as manager of St.
Mirren in 1978.
9. Great people
He found great players (including vigorous recruitment of schoolboys nationwide) and encouraged them to be
Stay quietly at home and “eat your greens and enjoy sex”, he told them.
In December 2006 he named his five greatest players: Peter Schmeichel, Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney
and Roy Keane (but not Beckham!).
He has also been helped by able assistants:
- Pat Stanton (at Aberdeen).
- Steve McClaren ,the former England manager, pictured right together, and
Brian Kidd (at Manchester United).
Their kindness and encouragement counterbalanced Ferguson’s toughness and volatility.
As much as his dedication to work allows, he loves being with his three sons and wife, Cathy
(pictured right together), who he called:
“the key figure in my career...a bedrock of stability and encouragement”.
He also likes cooking and horse racing.
Key quotes on
For a player...there is nothing better than hearing 'well done'.
Don’t you dare come back in here without giving your all, half-time talk in the
1999 European Cup final that brought Manchester United from 1-0 behind to a 2-1 victory.
Key quotes on
Loyalty has been the anchor of my life.
Make sure you keep the momentum going...that the flow of new blood is coming into the team all the time. If you
stop you suffer the consequences.
I tell the players that the bus is moving. The club has to progress. And the bus wouldn't wait for them. I tell
them to get on board.