Roberto Baggio

Roberto Baggio
Il Divin Codino

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Find Your Inner Fergie

His domination wasn't down to having the biggest budget. Daniele González looks at the motivational lessons we can learn from Sir Alex.

Sir Alex Ferguson has been called many things. Some are printable. But one thing that everyone who played under him would still call him is Boss. Even middle-aged men who are now managers themselves offer a subservient cower whenever his name comes up. For many of us at work, it's likely the only thing you have in common with Ferguson is a fondness for clockwatching but don't lose heart. Get motivated, put on your gruffest Glaswegian accent and prepare to inspire and terrify your way to the top.

Know your stuff

"People feed off knowledge," says Sir Andrew Likierman, dean at the London Business School. "Knowing your subject is key. It's not about arrogance or thinking you know it all, but imparting real knowledge about the field you are in."
In 1992, Manchester United's then-chief executive took a phone call from his Leeds United counterpart who wanted to sign Dennis Irwin. That was never going to happen but Ferguson quickly wrote on a piece of paper "Eric Cantona". An hour later, a deal was being struck to sign the Frenchman for a measly £1.1m. Ferguson knew Cantona wasn't getting on with his manager at Leeds and having spoken to his own players, knew Cantona had talent. "One of the most extraordinary periods in history of Manchester United was about to being," he said.

...and your limits

Ferguson would never try to pretend to be anything he wasn't. His playing days as a striker saw him peak at Glasgow Rangers, but he laughs at the notion that he could use his skills to teach a player such as Wayne Rooney. "Do you think he cares?" said Ferguson. "He'll laugh at me and say, 'Boss, it was a long time ago, and in Scotland.'"

Use the right words and the right time

At half-time in the Camp Nou, or Nou Camp as people in Britain call it - in 1999, Ferguson addressed his players. One-nil down to Bayern Munich he said, "When that cup is going to be presented, just remember that you can't even touch it if you're the losers - you'll be walking past it knowing someone behind you is going to lift it." An hour later United had won the Champions League.

Give bad news in person

Dropping players was always a tough part of the job. "I do it privately," said Ferguson. "It's not easy, but I do them all myself. I have been dropped from a cup final in Scotland as a player at 10 past two, so I know what it feels like."

Create a siege mentality to unite a team

In 2009, having been given a touchline ban for calling a referee a cheat, Ferguson was asked if United were victimised. "I don't even need to say that, but we'll use it," he said gruffly. "The players were brilliant. They're just defying everything." They went on to win the league.
"This can be very effective," says Bradley Busch, a registered sports psychologist. "You have 30 different personalities in a football club, so a manager will want to fill them with the notion that the group are all fighting a common and outside foe."

Don't be afraid to intimidate

"Fear can push people away but also drive people toward something," says Busch. "There has been a lot of research that shows home advantage doesn't come from players raising their performance but from referees and how the subconsciously behave. Everyone is human, and the sight of Ferguson tapping his watch or prowling the touchline would have affected refs, even if they were not aware of it."
So, was Ferguson aware of his 'influence' on officials? "All I do is point at my watch to help the referee make the right decisions," he shrugged.

Maintain control

"Steve Jobs was Apple. Sir Alex Ferguson is Manchester United," said chief executive David Gill. 
The morning after his historic Champions League triumph in 1999, Ferguson only allowed loyal local journalists into the press conference. Even on the most joyous moment of his career, Ferguson wanted to wield his power and 13 years later, when speaking at Harvard, he put it simply: "If anyone spets out of my control, that's them dead."
Ferguson always made sure that he was in control of more than just his players and staff. Referring to his post-match interviews, Ferguson knows how to play the game. "My response is long and doesn't give them anything that is critical. And I never discuss and individual player."

Take risks

Ferguson has shown the door to a 'who's who' of talent. Beckham, Stam and Van Nistelrooy were all asked to leave near their peak. "Good leadership is about understanding what risks you are taking and managing them," says Likierman.
Ferguson is aware when changes need to be made: "The hardest thing is to let go of a player who has been a great guy. But all the evidence is on the football field. If you see the change - the deterioration - you have to start asking yourself what it is going to be like two years ahead."

Use the element of surprise

Keeping the most successful people on their toes is vital to long-term achievement, and Ferguson has made sure even his most loyal employees cannot predict his actions. "You can never tell what he is going to say," said Ryan Giggs. "I remember we once lost to Southampton even though I had scored. We were expecting a tough post-game talk, but he just said, 'Ryan's goal might have just won you the league on goal difference.'"

Adapt to a changing landspace

He may be more prehistoric-school than old-school, but Ferguson has refused to dwell in the past - instead he makes changes appropriately. Sport science has been embraced, and with everything from GPS to vitamin D boots at the training ground demonstrate he's able to move with the times.
It is his ability to relate to footballers, though, that the most afforded him his longevity. "Players these days have lived more sheltered lives, so they are much more fragile than 25 years ago," he admits. "I was very aggressive all those years ago. I am passionate and want to win all the time. But today I'm more mellowed - age does that to you. And I can better handle those more fragile players now."

Show your softer side occasionally

"He could know which players needed a hug," says Gordon Strachan who played under him with Aberdeen, Scotland and Manchester United. "When it came to me, mind, the only place he puts his hands were around my neck."