Sir Alex Ferguson has given an exclusive interview with the official United podcast to reflect on his time at Manchester United.
Ferguson spoke about the things he has learnt about his former players since retiring and how he has a different relationship with them now he isn’t their boss.
I remember doing a documentary on Andy Cole and in the documentary and they mentioned in it that his father was a miner. So the next time I met Andy I said, ‘I didn’t know your father was a miner!’ and he said, ‘yeh he was, would that have made a difference?’ and I said, ‘you’re bloody right it would have done!’
The way I managed the club, the way the players in the dressing room would talk about me in a different way, but it’s a funny thing, when my dressing room was always open, that’s where I would get more personal contact, if there was a problem and so on. And since I’ve retired, quite a lot of them have got in touch with me, which is nice.
Quite a few of them have come up to my office in Wilmslow, had a cup of coffee, things like that. I had lunch with Patrice Evra last week. I’ve had lunch with quite a few of them over the years.
Evra has a huge presence on social media these days and Ferguson was asked whether he would have allowed them back in his playing days at Old Trafford.
No, I don’t think so. When Facebook or whatever came about, and Rio started on it, I said to David Gill, ‘you need to send him a letter reminding him that he cannot talk about our club’. We did that and he was good. It was never a problem. But today, I don’t know how you stop these things. It’s a different world. It’s only eight years but there have been changes. Like VAR, the most talked about issue, but did you know it wasn’t used once in the game on Saturday? And supporters will enjoy that better, with the game being stopped two or three minutes at a time.
In my last year as a manager, they asked managers about VAR, after experimenting in Italy with a summer cup. I don’t think any manager actually supported it. We thought the game was alright. The problem with VAR, or any changes, is that FIFA come up with a few ideas. Like kick-off, two players at the centre or one kicking it back, you tell me what difference that makes. It’s like gimmicks. The goal-line technology and that stayed and no one has complained. But the situation with VAR, and it’s not going to go away, we’ll get used to it and stop complaining.
The controversy is always going to be there, in terms of referee’s decisions. For a hundred years we’ve moaned and groaned about the referee giving such and such a decision, but you get on with it. The referee sometimes gets it wrong and there’s nothing wrong with that. But with VAR, in some cases, the interpretation, has shown that sometimes they get it wrong too.
Ferguson also revealed that he doesn’t understand managers why managers take notes during the game because they could miss something. He always relied on his memory, which is outstanding, and this crossed over to him remembering the details about the players’ lives too. Some former players have questioned whether he had a system to help him record key information to talk to them about.
I never cheated it, no. What I did when I came to the club in ’86, I went around all the offices. I tried to get to know the names of everyone, the chefs, the administration, those in the ticket office.
The greatest asset of leadership is communication. Unquestionable. You have to put your value in people who were with you. Make them feel valued. I had a manager, he was a good man, there was nothing wrong with him, but he didn’t have the confidence to say ‘good morning’ to you. I would never walk by anyone without acknowledging them. I probably learnt that from my days as a shop steward when I was a young man.
When I went in to management I knew I had to value people who worked for you. At Old Trafford, after winning the league or the cup, we had the trophy there for the staff. We had the champagne out. I think it’s important to recognise what they do behind the scenes.
One place where Ferguson’s communication has worked well is with Cristiano Ronaldo, with player referring to Fergie as a father figure. Ferguson reportedly made a call to convince Ronaldo to return to United and Ferguson is understandably over the moon.
Fantastic. You see Saturday? It was like Caesar entering Rome after victory. I came, I saw, I conquered. It was fantastic. For anyone who’s a United fan, we could have had a million people in there, without a doubt. There were 100s outside.
When he was here as a kid, the learning process was very, very quick. People said he was a diver. There was a little spell of that. But after that, he was attacking defenders, and he only needed a nudge and he lost his balance because he was attacking with unbelievable speed. He’s increased his knowledge of the game, he was born with desire. He sacrificed himself to be the best. I remember when we were playing Arsenal on the Saturday and it was pouring with rain at Carrington. He would always practice after training and I said, ‘in! The ground’s too soft’. I went to my office, looked out of the window, and he was there on the astroturf. There was no argument. I couldn’t say anything to him. He beat me. We had six years of him as he grew up.
The years before he left, when he had that incident with Wayne, and they caught him winking. He wasn’t winking for getting Rooney off, but because his bench was telling him to calm down. Wazza was fantastic. He called me and said ‘why don’t we do a TV interview of the two of us together at the start of the season?’. I thought it was a wee bit gimicky. But he was great, Wayne, he was. He knew that he wasn’t sent off because of Ronaldo. Cristiano didn’t want to come back. So David Gill and I flew out to Portugal to meet with him. Jorge Mendes was fantastic, he really was. Mendes was great, he knew Ronaldo was at the best place. And it was the best place for him.
Obviously he started to mature and the signs showed he was going to be something special. He had a dream of going to Madrid and I’m not against that. I knew that when he got to that platform at Real Madrid, and you’ve got to be fair to Real Madrid, they are the one club to produce world class players for years. They’ve won the European Cup so many times. It’s a platform that any great player would want to go to.