Phil Neville claimed that Sir Alex Ferguson was ahead of his time when it came to player welfare, and has compared the legendary former Manchester United manager to current PSG boss Mauricio Pochettino.
Under Ferguson, United were a dominant force on the pitch, winning 13 Premier League titles between 1993 and 2013.
However, Neville insists that Ferguson gained an edge over his rivals by the way he treated people away from the field.
Speaking on an episode of the High Performance Podcast, Neville explained that Ferguson cared about the person and family behind the player, which convinced him that United was the right club to choose when he was a teenager.
Neville said: "Sir Alex was, 20 years ago, he was ahead of his time. He was Pochettino 20 years ago. I used to go down to The Cliff training ground, and he would come down. 14 years of age, School of Excellence at night, he would come in, he would know every single parents’ name. First name, every single parents’ name.
"He would come up to my dad and say: ‘How was your cricket at the weekend?’ And when you’ve got every club in the country chasing you, my dad’s just gone: ‘You’ve got to sign for this guy, ‘cause he knows that I would play cricket at the weekend, and he knows that your mum’s called Jill, and he knows that your gran and grandma work on the car park at Bury Football Club.’
"That goes beyond systems and tactics. That’s somebody that’s got great emotional intelligence, connects with the family, and the stories he used to tell about if you had a problem with a player or if you wanted to sign the player, meet the mum first. Convince the mum that you were going to look after her son.
"And I used to think at the time: ‘This seems like a waste of time. Just go straight to the player.’ But you see that when you go home and your mum sits you down, you listen to your mum. Or you listen to your dad. You listen to the influence of the family. And he had that unbelievable ability of, getting your first signing-on fee: ‘You’ve got to give it to your mum and dad.’ ‘No, I want to buy…’ ‘You’ve got to give it to your mum and dad. You would not be here today if you didn’t have your mum and dad.’”
Neville's anecdote appears to outline why Ferguson was able to build such a strong relationship with his squad over a prolonged period. He clearly understood that caring about players' lives away from the pitch was hugely important in allowing them to then go and express themselves at Old Trafford on a Saturday afternoon.
It gives a clearer picture of how he nurtured young talents such as Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, and then continued to get the best out of them for two decades.
Pochettino used a similar approach at Tottenham, bringing through the likes of Harry Kane and Dele Alli into the first-team, before watching them blossom into superstars.
Now, he is doing the same at PSG. He recently claimed that Kylian Mbappe is the "easiest player" he's ever managed. That is an incredible statement given that he has been in charge of the club for less than four months, but it shows how quickly he has been able to bond with his team.
It goes to show that sometimes high performance isn't about the immediate activity involved, but ensuring everything is right in someone's personal life as well.
It is a method that worked for Ferguson, and with PSG into the Champions League semi-finals, Pochettino may be rewarded with some silverware in the near future.
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