Speaking to Harvard Business Review, Sir Alex Ferguson has spoken about the importance of high standards, from the training ground to the pitch.
“Everything we did was about maintaining the standards we had set as a football club—this applied to all my team building and all my team preparation, motivational talks, and tactical talks,” he said. “For example, we never allowed a bad training session. What you see in training manifests itself on the game field. So every training session was about quality. We didn’t allow a lack of focus. It was about intensity, concentration, speed—a high level of performance. That, we hoped, made our players improve with each session. I had to lift players’ expectations. They should never give in. I said that to them all the time: “If you give in once, you’ll give in twice.” And the work ethic and energy I had seemed to spread throughout the club. 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 7 AM. I think they understood why I came in early—they knew there was a job to be done. There was a feeling that ‘if he can do it, then I can do it.’”
Ferguson has reflected on how his high standards were seen in his star players, with the likes of David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo practising their skills for hours.
“I constantly told my squad that working hard all your life is a talent,” he added. “But I expected even more from the star players. I expected them to work even harder. I said, ‘You’ve got to show that you are the top players.’ And they did. That’s why they are star players—they are prepared to work harder. 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, and others out there practising for hours. I’d have to chase them in. I’d be banging on the window saying, ‘We’ve got a game on Saturday.’ But they wanted the time to practice. They realized that being a Manchester United player is not an easy job.”
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