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Six lessons from Sir Alex Ferguson’s school of soccer supremacy

Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson poses with his new autobiography before a news conference at the Institute of Directors in London October 22, 2013.


Sir Alex Ferguson retired as coach of Manchester United last May, after a 27-year career that saw him become the most successful manager in British soccer history and among the top coaches in the world. On Tuesday he released his autobiography at a packed press conference in London. Here are some his thoughts on leadership and the game.

How to manage rich, spoiled players

"The important thing is that you have the personality to deal with top sports people, not to be intimidated by their status," he told the press conference. In his book, Sir Alex recounts several stories of players becoming self-obsessed and how as manager he had to cut them loose, even if they were stars, in order to maintain control. "It was always my mantra to keep control of the club, which is not easy when you are dealing with great players."

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On managing as a study in human frailties

"Football management is a never-ending sequence of challenges," he writes. "So much of it is a study in the frailty of human beings". On players, he wrote, managers have to "make them take responsibility for their own actions, their own mistakes, their performance level and finally the result." Managers also realize all players want to play, so "when you deprive them of that pleasure you're taking away their life. It becomes the ultimate tool. This is the greatest lever of power at [a coach's] disposal."

On translating coaching lessons to business or politics

"I think leadership is a quality that can apply to all businesses. One, creating loyalty in work staff is so important. Your philosophy of thinking you hope transmits to those around you. Your control, discipline, all those things are important no matter what industry you are in. Your personality transmits to everyone and those with strong personalities are important in these industries."

On the growing problem of racism in soccer

"Education and tolerance is important. In our society today we have many different cultures and we have to find a way of living together. It's how you are brought up. I had a Protestant father and Catholic mother and religion was never discussed. If it can be done in Glasgow [where he grew up] it can be done all over the world."

On escalating salaries

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"The way the financial structure of our game is, in terms of salaries, means you cannot get great revenue from gates or TV. Other parts, in terms of sponsorship and corporate shopping, is very important. London is far more expensive than Manchester but the most important thing is how you control the salary structure. I don't know the way around that. There is talk about Financial Fair Play [a new system to put a kind of cap on salaries] but I think there is always a way around that so it is a dangerous times in terms of salaries."

On his difficult relationship with the media

"There was an intensity and volatility about the modern media I found difficult. I felt that by the end it was hard to have relationships with the press. They were under so much pressure it was not easy to confide in them."

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About the Author
European Correspondent

Paul Waldie has been an award-winning journalist with The Globe and Mail for more than 10 years. He has won three National Newspaper Awards for business coverage and been nominated for a Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism. He has also won a Sports Media Canada award for sports writing and authored a best-selling biography of the McCain family. More


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