Some facts and figures for you…
- 13 Premier League titles
- 49 trophies
- 71 years old
- 27 wins from 34 games so far this season
- 84 points
- On course for a record 96 points
- Gets up at 6am to go to work
You’ve probably already realised the impressive statistics above relate to arguably the greatest football manager of all time; Sir Alex Ferguson. But these numbers (the BBC have compiled a more in-depth numerical analysis here) can only tell you part of his incredible story. They won’t tell you how he managed to instill and nurture a winning mentality after he captured his first league title for Manchester United in 1993, 25 years after their previous title success. Nor will they hint as to what he said in his half-time team talk that inspired one the greatest comebacks in sporting history – the incredible Champions League victory against Bayern Munich in 1999. They can’t tell you how he really feels after leading Manchester United to their 20th title, less than a year after their City rivals stole it from under their noses in the dying seconds of last season and watched as they painted his adopted city sky blue. You can probably guess though.
Photograph: Manchester Evening News
These are the pieces of the story in between the numbers, the bits that aren’t so clear-cut, although numerous words have been written in an attempt to describe one man’s desire to keep on winning. How he pushes himself and those around him to their absolute limits. His ability to recycle a team over 27 years, but still have the same core beliefs and achieve the same level of success. To prove critics wrong and keep up with the changing face of the most dynamic game in the world at boardroom level and most importantly at the coal face. I could go on and on. But what I find most interesting, and it’s the same thing that intrigues me with all the great managers I currently admire, Morinho, Guardiola, Klopp, is his relationship with his players.
Some may still associate him with the ‘hairdryer’, his temper and his utter ruthlessness when it comes to dealing with his multi-million pound earning stars, and I’ve no doubt that that dimension of his character still exists. It has to. It’s too simple to look at his man management in black and white. if you do, then his enigmatic rule might even be interpreted as dictatorial. But it’s the grey areas in between that I think give us the best clues to his consistent success over the years.
Somehow he seems to keep players happy. Even those who aren’t playing regularly come in and do a more than adequate job for him, and you never hear of any real unrest coming out of the Old Trafford dressing room. No-one’s too big a name to be dropped – just ask Wayne Rooney! How does Sir Alex do this? Well, he may actually be in the minority of managers that believe honesty is the best policy, instead of sitting down in front of you, doing their best to avoid prolonged eye contact, and giving you some bull-shit that they think you want to hear. If one of his players doesn’t want to accept the truth, keep their head down and work even harder for an opportunity, which he probably will get, then quite simply they’ll be out the door. He gives them confidence, he has a belief in every one of them, that’s why they’re at Manchester United.
David de Gea is a prime example. His manager quite rightly left him out of the team in the early part of the season and the press certainly didn’t make life easy for the young Spaniard. However, Ferguson always believed in him. Can you imagine having Sir Alex Ferguson in your corner? It’s no wonder De Gea has silenced his critics. The way he handled Andy Carroll’s ariel assault last week is a perfect example of the transformation he has undergone this season.
Sure, it’s probably more acceptable to a player to be sitting on the bench at Manchester United than it would be for someone at a lesser club. The incentive that’s always there of being part of a side winning trophies and writing history can, in the short term, be enough to balance out the lack of actual game time, but good players want to play consistently and no doubt those like Javier Hernández will want to contribute more next season. However, Alex Ferguson will have made it very clear to the Mexican Internationalist that even though he has had limited appearances, his contribution of eight goals has played a part in delivering the club’s 20th title.
Ryan Giggs has been the heartbeat of Ferguson’s reign for well over a decade, and looks set to lead his manager’s quest for glory for another season at least. Ferguson though, acknowledges every player’s part in the club’s success over the years. Take Wes Brown and John O’Shea for instance. With all due respect to them, they were never going to be remembered by the United fans in the same way that the likes of Gary Neville or Steve Bruce undoubtedly are. However, I’ve no doubt that Ferguson would be hard pushed to distinguish between either pairs’ contribution when it comes to breaking down the parts his players have played in his many victories over the years. As mentioned in an excellent piece by Daniel Taylor in the Guardian, ‘Everybody contributes’.
At Old Trafford on Monday night, Robin van Persie spectacularly made sure his first season at his new club ended with silverware. The champagne in the dressing room still had it’s fizz as Ferguson waxed lyrical on the seemingly unlimited potential of his star player and what he’s achieved this season, while also cleverly sowing the seeds for a possible new breed of multiple champions when he singled out Phil Jones and Rafael da Silva for special praise. I can only imagine the confidence with which Jones will approach next season with his manager’s words of encouragement ringing in his ears; he probably wishes it was set to begin the day after this campaign ends.
Photograph: John Peters/Man Utd via Getty Images
Like Giggs, Scholes and Beckham before them, these young Manchester United players will see Sir Alex as a father figure. I’m very aware that sounds a bit cheesy, but bear with me. The reason I use that tired phrase is because of my relationship with my own Dad. I said in my wedding speech that big Archie was ‘harsh but fair‘ and anyone who knows him would understand exactly what I meant; with no explanation. Black and white. Right or wrong. Was I afraid of him? Yes, but not in a physical way – although I did get a sore behind on a few occasions, and those were well deserved I must add. My biggest fear was letting him down, and it still is. I think Manchester United’s players will testify to how strong a motivation that can be. The hairdryer might be used more sparingly nowadays, but you can be certain that it isn’t Sir Alex’s only weapon of choice in his mission to add to those numbers above.