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October 22, 2013 2:00 pm
One of the most successful managers in the history of football, the 71-year-old Scot, who retired at the end of last season after 26 years in charge of Manchester United, has gone into print to reveal the secrets of his stellar career.
Simply called Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography, the 350-page tome, ghostwritten by Daily Telegraph sports writer Paul Hayward, ensures that his presence in the game will take some time to dissipate.
There are chapters on his Glasgow roots, his U-turn on retirement 12 years ago, and on some of the star players under his wing – David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, Roy Keane and Wayne Rooney.
Across Harvard University lecture theatres and other schools of business, Sir Alex is now imparting his knowledge of management.
It is built upon a reputation for giving his players a fearful dressing down when needed, a practice dubbed the “hairdryer treatment”. Sir Alex writes that having a quick temper helped in his early years at United “because if I lost my rag my personality came through”.
He describes his temper as “a useful tool. I just weighed right in. It helped to assert my authority. It told the players and staff I was not to be messed about.”
He recalled advice from the late Celtic and Scotland manager Jock Stein about relations with players: “Never fall in love with them, because they’ll two-time you.”
But the hairdryer treatment was not the only tool. A relentless pursuit of victory in the final 15 minutes of matches, using intimidation and provocation was another.
So was calmness in the face of defeat. Three goals down at half time at Tottenham Hotspur in 2001, he replaced the hairdryer with an exhortation to his team to score the first goal in the second half “and see where it takes us”.
In a crisis, he says, “you’re better just calming people down”.
One of his greatest assets, he writes, was the ability to make a decision. He learnt it as a boy. “I was an organiser, an instructor, a picker of teams.”
Another was to stand up for yourself, something he did in 1986 when he showed the United board the contract of Arsenal manager George Graham to show he was underpaid.
David [Beckham] thought he was bigger than Alex Ferguson. There is no doubt about that in my mind . . . You cannot have a player taking over the dressing room . . . That was the death knell for him
- Sir Alex Ferguson
But he also reveals frailty. In 2001, he decided to retire, uncertain whether he could win another European Cup and having reached the age of 60 – “a psychological barrier in my head”.
He writes: “In management, you are fragile, sometimes. You wonder whether you are valued.”
Again recalling the wisdom of Jock Stein, the difference between club owners and directors and managers was that they ran the club, while “we are their workers. It was us and them, the landowner and the serf”.
Sir Alex says he enjoyed an excellent relationship with the club hierarchy in his last years. “But there is a fear of failure in a manager the whole time, and you are on your own a lot.
“Sometimes you would give anything not to be alone with your thoughts. There were days when I would be in my office, in the afternoon, and no one would knock on my door because they assumed I was busy. Sometimes I’d hope for that rap on the door.”
The book’s publication comes at an awkward time for United and David Moyes, Sir Alex’s successor at Manchester United.
The team has had a poor start to the season, losing three times in eight games and lying eighth in the Premier League. Football pundits are starting to ask whether Sir Alex’s retirement has caused the club to lose some of its aura and emboldened its rivals.
The club has also come under fire from some fans for failing to attract high-quality talent to Old Trafford in the summer transfer window.
Fans will not admit it too loudly, but they yearn for the days of Sir Alex weaving his managerial magic on the club’s most talented but sometimes awkward stars.
Of David Beckham and the infamous moment in 2003 when the manager cut his eye with a flying boot, Sir Alex recalls the player getting up “to have a go at me and the players stopped him”.
That was the moment when Sir Alex realised the United golden boy had to leave the club. “David thought he was bigger than Alex Ferguson. There is no doubt about that in my mind . . . You cannot have a player taking over the dressing room . . . That was the death knell for him.”
On Wayne Rooney, Sir Alex says the brooding English striker was made one of the highest-paid players in the club to stop him from leaving in 2010, but that lean times for the club would stir up his old resentment. At the end of last season, the day after United clinched its 13th Premier League title, the player came into the manager’s office and “asked away”.
His advice to aspiring managers when dealing with recalcitrant players? Tell them the truth. “There is nothing wrong with presenting the hard facts to a player who has lost his form.”
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