Sir Alex Ferguson – No Guarantee Period Required

I was nine years old when Alex Ferguson was appointed manager of Manchester United in 1986. He has announced his retirement in the last 24 hours and I am 36 now. That is quite some tenure in one of the most pressurised jobs in sport.

I was into football in a big way – memories of the recent World Cup in Mexico had completely spellbound me with everything football-related. I grew up in England so apologies to any non-football fans – but he is a character I have met and monitored his progress from day one so can comment form a moderately informed perspective.

I supported Manchester United – and still follow them closely to this day. Even as a 9 year old I knew that his appointment was an astute hire. He had a remarkable track record of achievement with Aberdeen in Scotland and United were in a mess. They needed sorting out.

I have met him once – I served him a bottle of Pinot Noir in a restaurant in 1998 when Manchester United stayed in the hotel I was working at – I doubt I’m the only person who has that claim to fame.  One thing I have always focussed on having read a number of books about him and United is his leadership style. How does someone achieve such a remarkable amount where virtually all others fail in that ultra-competitive industry?

  • He is passionate about what he does. In his early days in particular at United there wouldn’t have been a safe tea cup in the dressing room if they had performed poorly in the 1st half. David Beckham once got a boot thrown at him.
  • He inspires this passion in others – he takes others on the journey with him.
  • He has the respect of all those who he comes into contact with. Like him or not, you can’t but fail to respect the man.
  • He has a vision – he knows what he wants to achieve and will not let anything stand in the way.
  • He is a people-person. He can connect and engage with people.
  • He stuffs up and admits when he was wrong or has made a mistake.
  • He can identify talent early. Secure the services of that talent, nurture it and see the results (i.e. Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes).
  • No one person is bigger than the cause. If someone is getting too big for their boots they are out of there (Mr Beckham).
  • He is fiercely loyal to his players. To a point. There is a line that is not to be crossed in terms of professional image and conduct. Everyone makes mistakes of course – but if that line is crossed there is no way back. In public, Fergie backs his players 100%.
  • He knows how to wind up his competitors and out-psych them. Kevin Keegan once famously lost the plot in 1996 in the title run-in after Fergie hinted that a team Newcastle were playing would ‘go easy’ on them.
  • He has other interests outside of football. Most notably horseracing. But this over the years would no doubt have kept the spark going through the tough times.
  • A strong family support base.

I could go on – but you probably get the point. All these leadership traits can be easily transferred into other disciplines. Look at your own management style and those of the managers around you? Do they inspire, develop, nurture and ultimately get the best out of the team they are managing? Do they address non-performance, praise where need be, discipline where need be and ultimately have the respect of those who work with them?? If not, why not??

Sir Alex may not have been everyone’s cup of tea – but you cannot deny he is a born leader. He has achieved quite remarkable success in 27 years and there will never be anyone like him again in football. His biggest weakness however in my opinion?? How do you follow that?? Manchester United will go on but there will be a new leader. Sir Alex will be watching from the boardroom and as an ambassador of the club. Is this a good thing or is a complete break the best thing for all parties?

The ironic thing is he very nearly left in 1990. For me it proves that if you have the vision, you are confident you are doing the right thing and you have the support of your employers then success will come. It may not be how you expected it or when you expected it – but it will come.

It’s fair to say that Fergie stayed well past his guarantee period expired.