David James has revealed an interesting side of Sir Alex Ferguson’s management that I hadn’t previously been aware of. He claims that the manager has actively encouraged his players to isolate themselves from players at different clubs, to help the unity in the dressing room.
“I remember sitting with Phil Neville for a chinwag and, like a typical footballer, ranting about a team-mate of mine who I found annoying at the time,” said James. “When I’d finished I expected Phil to reciprocate. But there was not a word. ‘What an absolute prick!’ I thought, red-faced after pouring my heart out only for him to remain tight-lipped. But later I concluded that his approach was an exemplary – and clever – way to carry yourself through a career in football. All the United players were the same, no one would ever say a bad thing about their team-mates. It all contributed to that sense of separation: there were United players, and then there was the rest of us. And I have little doubt that it was Ferguson himself who encouraged that segregation. For it was Ferguson who was the first manager to ban opposition players from entering the home players’ lounge for a drink after a game. Until then post-match mingling had been a tradition. But while Ferguson famously enjoys a glass of red with rival managers at Old Trafford, he was quick to ensure there was no such socialising among his players. At the time the football fraternity was horrified. There was this feeling of “Just who do you think you are?” Little did we know. Everyone keeps asking whether David Moyes can control the United dressing room, but United players police themselves. Ferguson created an environment in which players would control each other, so that he didn’t have to. The presence of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes was significant. Two players who had won more trophies than anyone else meant that there were authority figures in the team, whom younger players dared not question.”