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Ferguson: I knew I had to focus on youth when I came to United

Speaking with the Harvard Business Review, Sir Alex Ferguson has reflected on his career at United, starting from the very beginning.

“From the moment I got to Manchester United, I thought of only one thing: building a football club,” he said. “I wanted to build right from the bottom. That was in order to create fluency and a continuity of supply to the first team. With this approach, the players all grow up together, producing a bond that, in turn, creates a spirit.”

Ferguson’s first task was addressing the issue of developing young players and following in the footsteps of Sir Matt Busby.

“When I arrived, only one player on the first team was under 24,” he continued. “Can you imagine that, for a club like Manchester United? I knew that a focus on youth would fit the club’s history, and my earlier coaching experience told me that winning with young players could be done and that I was good at working with them. So I had the confidence and conviction that if United was going to mean anything again, rebuilding the youth structure was crucial. You could say it was brave, but fortune favours the brave. The first thought of 99% of newly appointed managers is to make sure they win—to survive. So they bring experienced players in. That’s simply because we’re in a results-driven industry. At some clubs, you need only to lose three games in a row, and you’re fired. In today’s football world, with a new breed of directors and owners, I am not sure any club would have the patience to wait for a manager to build a team over a four-year period. Winning a game is only a short-term gain—you can lose the next game. Building a club brings stability and consistency. You don’t ever want to take your eyes off the first team, but our youth development efforts ended up leading to our many successes in the 1990s and early 2000s. The young players really became the spirit of the club.”

Ferguson has brought through plenty of young players in his time at the club, but many of them going on to play hundreds of games for United, whilst others went on to have successful careers in the Premier League with other clubs.

“I always take great pride in seeing younger players develop,” he added. “The job of a manager, like that of a teacher, is to inspire people to be better. Give them better technical skills, make them winners, make them better people, and they can go anywhere in life. When you give young people a chance, you not only create a longer life span for the team, you also create loyalty. They will always remember that you were the manager who gave them their first opportunity. Once they know you are batting for them, they will accept your way. You’re really fostering a sense of family. If you give young people your attention and an opportunity to succeed, it is amazing how much they will surprise you.”

About Scott

Scott is the editor of Red Matters - 50 Years of Supporting Manchester United and an author of Play Like Fergie's Boys and Not Nineteen Forever. He writes for ESPN, The Metro and Bleacher Report. Follow @R_o_M on Twitter.

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  1. xyz says:

    This is a very interesting article. He’s effectively saying that because the industry is now so results driven that no manager will ever be able to recreate what he has done as they won’t be given the time. That pretty much implies that given everything is now in place at United, that as long as Moyes continues to blood youth into the first team squad that the successful youth system (and retention of these players) will assure the continued success of the club. All sounds rather positive!

  2. Andromeda says:

    “when I arrived there was only one player under 24, can you imagine that for a club like Manchester united?”this statement should be written in gold, as its the most crucial formula for his success.

  3. DreadedRed says:

    Ferguson’s Formula by Anita Elberse with Sir Alex Ferguson, in Harvard Business Review,
    published September 2013:

  4. DreadedRed says:

    Sean Silverthorne interviews Anita Elberse on Sir Alex, for Harvard Business School,
    published November 2013:

  5. DreadedRed says:

    ^ November 2012 !!!

  6. Rukky says:

    You cant underestimate the benefit of building with patience and thats what im certain we would enjoy from Moyes. That said, based on the 4th section on that article i think it would be safe to say roo’s position at the club would have been different(if not vacant) had SAF stayed another year.

  7. Rukky says:

    *SAF stayed

  8. Sonny says:

    David Moyes had a system in place at Everton where he give at least one youth player their debut each season. So I don’t think we have to worry about that. He is playing it safe for now though. When he becomes more comfortable he will slip the younger players in. I have no worries about Moyes. Let’s let him get his feet wet and he will be fine. On the other hand I do miss SAF. Hope we put Palace to bed early

  9. kel says:

    So true. Could anyone imagine that the youngster help the club to countless of trophies from 90s till now?

    They had the loyalty and the skills to make it.

    The youngster will always surprise you as they keep growing and if their attitude is right they can make it big.

  10. Doron says:

    and now we know why Mourinho will never fit

  11. FletchTHEMAN says:

    Sir Alex had a gift, but the article clearly doesn’t do justice to how other factors have affected the ability to bring through or retain some top talents.

    Sir Alex (bless him) could get a chip on his shoulder with certain players and set a number packing. Results would suggest that he got it right most of the time. But there are a couple of recent questions in the logic of not progressing some players. Several youngsters have suggested they didn’t come to United because of limited opportunities as well.

    Unavoidable at a big club? No doubt. But it speaks to the need to have a b side, like Barca have. I wonder if the U19 Champions League will help in this area. One La Liga side has over 100 players on their books, most out on loan. That’s just nuts!


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