Sir Alex Ferguson reveals secrets to his success

Published 10 Comments

Sir Alex Ferguson has revealed an eight step guide to being a successful manager, giving a hint as to how he managed to transform Manchester United into one of the biggest and most successful clubs in world football.

Ferguson retired at the end of last season after 26 years in charge at Old Trafford, in which he transformed the Red Devils from a mediocre side into the most successful club in English football history.

Manchester United won 13 league titles under Ferguson, five FA Cups, four League Cups and two Champions League triumphs; key to these success was the former Aberdeen manager's ability to reinvent his teams and keep innovating with the set up behind the scenes at the training ground.

More than a few people down the years will have been wondering what the secrets are behind the incredible success he delivered to Manchester United - they need wonder no longer.

Ferguson was the subject of a number of interviews with a Harvard Business School professor, named Anita Elberse, last year that focused on what he thought were the key methods to achieving success as a football manager.

The Scot highlighted eight points and the full interview is published in the October 2013 edition of the Harvard Business Review.

He believes the conditions he required to lay the foundations of his incredible success are unlikely to ever be repeated, such is the difference in the modern game from when he took over at Manchester United in 1986.

A shortened version of the interview was published in The Guardian newspaper and appeared as below:

1) "From the moment I got to Manchester United, I thought of only one thing: building a football club. I wanted to build right from the bottom. The first thought of 99% of newly appointed managers is to make sure they win – to survive. They bring experienced players in. At some clubs, you need only to lose three games in a row and you're fired. In today's football world, with a new breed of directors and owners, I am not sure any club would have the patience to wait for a manager to build a team over a four-year period. Winning a game is only a short-term gain – you can lose the next game. Building a club brings stability and consistency."

2) "We identified three levels of players: 30 and older, 23 to 30, and the younger ones. The idea was that the younger players were developing and would meet the standards the older ones had set. I believe that the cycle of a successful team lasts maybe four years and then some change is needed. So we tried to visualise the team three or four years ahead and make decisions accordingly. Because I was at United for such a long time, I could afford to plan ahead. I was very fortunate in that respect. The hardest thing is to let go of a player who has been a great guy – but all the evidence is on the field."

3) "Everything we did was about maintaining the standards we had set as a football club – this applied to all my team building, my team preparation, motivational talks and tactical talks. I had to lift players' expectations. They should never give in. I said to them all the time: 'If you give in once, you'll give in twice'. I used to be the first to arrive in the morning. In my later years, a lot of my staff members would already be there when I got in at 7am.

"I expected even more from the star players. Superstars with egos are not the problem some people may think. They need to be winners because that massages their egos, so they will do what it takes to win. I used to see Ronaldo, Beckham, Giggs, Scholes practising for hours. They realised that being a Manchester United player is not an easy job."

4) "If the day came that the manager of Manchester United was controlled by the players – if the players decided how the training should be, what days they should have off, what the discipline should be and what the tactics should be – then Manchester United would not be the Manchester United we know. I wasn't going to allow anyone to be stronger than I was. Your personality has to be bigger than theirs. There are occasions when you have to ask yourself whether certain players are affecting the dressing-room atmosphere, the performance of the team and your control of the players and staff. If they are, you have to cut the cord. There is absolutely no other way. It doesn't matter if the person is the best player in the world. Some English clubs have changed managers so many times that it creates power for the players in the dressing room. That is very dangerous. If the coach has no control, he will not last."

5) "No one likes to be criticised. Most respond to encouragement. For any human being – there is nothing better than hearing 'Well done'. Those are the two best words ever invented. At the same time you need to point out mistakes when players don't meet expectations. That is when reprimands are important. I would do it right after the game. I wouldn't wait until Monday and then it was finished. My pre-game talks were about our expectations, the players' belief in themselves and their trust in one another. In half-time talks, you have maybe eight minutes to deliver your message, so it is vital to use the time well. Everything is easier when you are winning. When you are losing, you have to make an impact. Fear has to come into it. But you can be too hard; if players are fearful all the time, they won't perform well. You play different roles at different times. Sometimes you have to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a father."

6) "Winning is in my nature. There is no other option for me. Even if five of the most important players were injured, I expected to win. I am a risk taker and you can see that in how we played in the late stages of matches. If we were still down with 15 minutes to go, I was ready to take more risks. I was perfectly happy to lose 3-1 if it meant we'd given ourselves a good chance to draw or win. So in those last 15 minutes, we'd go for it. We'd put in an extra attacking player and worry less about defence. We knew that if we ended up winning 3-2, it would be a fantastic feeling. And if we lost 3-1, we'd been losing anyway. All my teams had perseverance – they never gave in. It's a fantastic characteristic to have."

7) "Observation is the final part of my management structure. One afternoon at Aberdeen I had a conversation with my assistant manager and another coach who pointed out I could benefit from not always having to lead the training. At first I said no but deep down I knew he was right. So I delegated training. It was the best thing I ever did. It didn't take away my control. My presence and ability to supervise were always there and what you can pick up by watching is incredibly valuable. Seeing a change in a player's habits or a sudden dip in his enthusiasm allowed me to go further with him. Sometimes I could even tell that a player was injured when he thought he was fine."

8) "When I started, there were no agents and although games were televised, the media did not elevate players to the level of film stars and constantly look for new stories about them. Stadiums have improved, pitches are in perfect condition now and sports science has a strong influence on how we prepare for the season. Owners from Russia, the Middle East and other regions have poured a lot of money into the game and are putting pressure on managers. And players have led more sheltered lives, so they are much more fragile than players were 25 years ago."

What do you think of Sir Alex Ferguson's secrets to success? Do you think another manager will be able to repeat his dominance in the Premier League?

Leave a comment below to let us know...

Do YOU want to write for GiveMeSport? Get started today by signing-up and submitting an article HERE:

Manchester United
Premier League

Article Comments

Report author of article

Please let us know if you believe this article is in violation of our editorial policy, please only report articles for one of the following reasons.

Report author


This article has been written by a member of the GiveMeSport Writing Academy and does not represent the views of or SportsNewMedia. The views and opinions expressed are solely that of the author credited at the top of this article. and SportsNewMedia do not take any responsibility for the content of its contributors.

Want more content like this?

Like our GiveMeSport Facebook Page and you will get this directly to you.

Already Subscribed to Facebook, don't ask me again

Follow GiveMeSport on Twitter and you will get this directly to you.

Already Following, don't ask me again

Like our GiveMeSport Page and you will get this directly to you.

Already Subscribed to G+, don't ask me again