To say that Ferguson is not afraid to make a decision is putting it mildly indeed. From an early stage of his career at Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson knew that he had to be ruthless to survive. I will never forget his decision to start Les Sealy in goal in the 1990 FA Cup Final despite only playing in one game that season. Sealy was able to deal with the aerial barrage from Crystal Palace and United won their first trophy under Ferguson. Jim Leighton, who made way, was distraught and never recovered. Alex Ferguson never apologized. He set his stall out at that moment that if there was a choice between sentiment and victory, there was only going to be one winner. I listened to a recent radio interview with Aidy Boothroyd and he talked about how Ferguson goes about his decisions. According to Boothroyd, Sir Alex believes himself that he gets seven out of ten decisions correct and that ratio is good enough to keep him as manager of Manchester United. This allows him to trust his gut instinct because he is not worried about getting decisions wrong, which therefore saves time and gives him the mindset that he can handle one going against him. How important is decision making at a club like Manchester United? You have to pick your squad, you have to pick your starting line-up, you have to pick the system of play, you have to make your substitutions, and most importantly in the game of soccer, you have to be ready to change all of the above in a split second. It wasn’t that Sir Alex Ferguson made the right decision all the time, it was the fact that he made it quickly and was prepared for the outcome. David Beckham looked upon him as a second father, but when Ferguson saw a drop in his game or commitment level, he was out the door. Same with Roy Keane, Paul Ince, Andrei Kanchelskis, Mark Hughes and many more. This ability to make tough decisions had such a positive impact on the environment at United because they players knew that if they put a tough decision into the managers hands, it would more than likely not turn out the way they would like. His reluctance to let teams grow old together also factored into his management style and he assembled at least five different teams during his time at Old Trafford.
It is one thing to have the vision, the knowledge, and the ability to make decisions, but if you can’t get players and staff on board, you will soon be out of a job. Ferguson communicated his hunger and desire to his whole team, and there was not many times that a Manchester United team was outworked by the opposition. He also had different methods of dealing with different players. For the likes of Steve Bruce, Paul Ince, and Peter Schmeical, the famous “hair dryer” was used to drive home a point, but at the other end of the locker room, Eric Cantona, was given the arm around the shoulder. Years later, Cristiano Ronaldo was given similar treatment by having a couple of weeks off over Christmas break to recharge his batteries, simply because Ferguson felt he always underperformed at that time of the season. He knew exactly how each player worked and how to get the best out of them. A lot of people have two misconceptions about coaching. The first is that they think players do whatever you tell them to do. The second is that you can simply motivate players by yelling and screaming at them. Both could not be further from the truth. It is not easy to motivate millionaires. Money and fame don’t usually mix well with hunger and motivation. For today’s players, their agent is just a phone call away and can engineer a transfer within 30 minutes. Sir Alex Feguson has had to manage egos better than anyone has ever done and you always felt the players respected that. He made pointing to the Exit Door one of the greatest methods of motivation at United and this allowed players to be constantly aware of the expected standards and who they were representing.
Eoin O'Callaghan shares his thoughts on Sir Alex Ferguson: To Sir, With Love