Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United is the most successful football manager in the world. No other coach has won as many titles as the 58-year old Scot. Before traveling to Brazil, Sir Alex Ferguson met with FIFA Magazine.
FIFA Magazine: You do not give many long interviews. Why is that?
Sir Alex Ferguson: I always give the routine media interviews before and after a match, but beyond that, you are right, I do not often give individual interviews, like this one.
It’s quite simple – I just don’t have the time. Take a look at my desk and you’ll see why! (The desk in Ferguson’s little office at Manchester United’s training ground The Cliff is covered with papers, files, football magazines and video cassettes).
The level of public interest in both you and Manchester United is tremendous. Aren’t you sometimes surprised yourself at how successful you have been?
Yes, I am. Nobody can or should expect the amount of success that I have had so far. And I’m proud to have been with Manchester United for 13 years already. Every one of the titles that I’ve won here has given me an extra urge to go on and try to improve the team even more. All the things we have won have not made me complacent; on the contrary, it makes mewant to become even better and to play even more attractive football.
Those 29 titles make you the most successful manager in the world. What is the secret of your success?
It’s really hard to believe that I have won so many titles, but I have worked hard for my success. And I am convinced that hard work always pays off. The advantage that I have is that I have been here a long time; I know everything and everybody connected with the club. And it’s also important that I’m respected all round, not just on account of the trophies either. That makes things a lot easier. In addition, I believe that the job of a football manager is my real calling. Even when I was 22 I knew that I wanted to be a coach. I’m heart and soul into the job and I love being out on the training ground day after day, helping young players to develop and moulding a team to my style of play.
What qualities does a good manager need?
Self-discipline, a knowledge of people, flexibility. I’m not an inflexible trainer, I’m open to many things. But in the end I’ve always gone my own way, since I was convinced that I was doing the right thing. I don’t get diverted from my course when I read praise in a specialist magazine for other playing systems, and my success has proved me right. And a lot of fans all over the world like the way that Manchester United play, not just successful, but also entertaining football. That’s what I enjoy.
Your team has brought you plenty of honours this season with the triple: the Premier League, the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League. What made Manchester United so dominant in 1999?
The main factor during this unforgettable year has been our team spirit. The sense of belonging has been wonderful, every player has fought for the others, every one has found a place within the group. And that’s not something that can be taken for granted in a squad like ours, which is full of outstanding individual players. We have great players in our team but above all we have a great team. We have a very balanced squad. We can put out all sorts of different-looking formations but they are all strong.
Do you still dream about that historic 2:1 win over Bayern Munich in the final of the UEFA Champions League, when you were trailing 0-1 until just before the end and still managed two goals before the final whistle?
Things can happen in football that nobody can understand. That match against Bayern is one of the things that I will never understand. Can anybody tell me why we won that game, what happened during those final minutes in Barcelona. I can only say it must have been fate that brought us victory. The gods of football were simply on our side.
In January Manchester United will be taking part in the first FIFA Club World Championship in Brazil. If you win this competition too, won’t you have to retire – there will not be anything left that you can aim for?
No, I won’t retire. I’ve already set the date when I will give up the job and that is when I’m sixty in two years’ time. I’m firm about that decision.
What plans have you got for your retirement?
Ferguson plans to retire in two years’ time. I shall probably still be connected to football, perhaps as an adviser or in some other function with Manchester United. Or for UEFA. But certainly not a coach any more. The whole business of being a football manager has become more difficult, and external influences are now so important; players’ agents, media contacts, complicated players’ contracts, greater pressure to succeed. It will be right for me to stop when I’m 60. I’ve been a manager for over 20 years now and that’s enough. I’d still like to enjoy my life.
And how will you go about enjoying your life then?
I plan to travel and to improve my knowledge of foreign languages. I can speak French and German, my German being the better of the two. I’d also like to improve my piano playing. What is definite is that I’ll continue to live inManchester. I still love my homeland of Scotland, but my family is in Manchester, my three sons and four grandchildren – I’ll be able to find more time for them.
A modern football manager does not have a lot of time. It’s rare that he will be able to build a team slowly – the pressure to succeed is enormous and the financial considerations are so important.
That is all too true and bad for the development of the game. These days so many managers are fired, and I don’t understand the logic; of all the times when a coach is replaced before his contract runs out, the success this move is supposed to bring is achieved in only a very few cases. Many of the successful trainers have been with a club for a longer time and able to build something worthwhile. Take Guy Roux for example. He’s been with Auxerre for over 30 years and what he has achieved with this relatively small club is unique, excellent. Again and again Auxerre qualify for the big European competitions and Roux has helped lots of youngsters develop into stars.
You too were allowed the time to settle in. You started at Manchester United in 1986 and only won your first title in England in 1990.
Yes, they had faith in me and patience when major success did not arrive immediately, and I’m grateful for that. Today a coach can rarely work in peace; there’s too much money at stake and so the pressure to succeed has increased enormously.
Have you ever viewed any manager as a role model?
I’ve always wanted to go my own way, to develop my own ideas. But managers like Scott Simon (Glasgow Rangers) and Jock Stein (Scottish national team) impressed me in the past. Today I admire coaches like Guy Roux, Fabio Capello, Louis van Gaal, Giovanni Trapattoni, Ottmar Hitzfeld, and Marcello Lippi. Not just for their success, but also for their character.
Some critics maintain that there is no need for the Club World Championship extra competition, as there are already a lot of games. Would you agree with them?
No, because many teams are already used to a lot of games and to travelling a lot. But here in England I have to say I have not noticed a lot of excitement about this Club World Championship. Perhaps things will change once the competition gets started and I could imagine it receiving a lot of attention.
Perhaps the lack of interest in England has to do with Manchester United’s withdrawing from the FA Cup.
That’s true. A lot of people are upset at us because we decided not to play in the FA Cup but went for the Club World Championship instead. The FA Cup has a great tradition behind it, it’s the greatest national cup competition that there is. There was a huge song and dance when it was announced that we would not be taking part. That was a nightmare.
For many people, Manchester will be the favourites to win the competition in Brazil. Do you see things that way too?
I’m sure we will do well in this tournament. We’ll give our best and of course we’ll be trying to win. But there are some tough opponents waiting for us, as well as the weather, which will give us the hardest battle, since it will be very hot in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo in January. We will pay careful attention as to how we deal with this problem.
Do you think that the Club World Championship will have a successful future?
That’s quite possible, since I believe that it is interesting for all concerned to have a comparison between the top clubs from Africa, Asia, the Americas, Oceania and Europe. The tournament could prove to be a very attractive one.
And how do you see the future for Manchester United once you have retired? Can the richest football club in the world go on and become even richer and more successful?
Yes, the club can become even greater – at least, I don’t see an end to this development. The club is so well structured and so popular that Manchester United can still go on to triumph after I have left.
And how do you view the future of football in general?
Football is at a crossroads; it is in a very difficult position. And what is responsible for that is the Bosman ruling, the biggest blow the sport has ever suffered. Transfer fees are too high, wages are too high, there are huge sums of money involved in TV rights – it looks as if a lot of things in football could get out of control.
Do you see any solutions to these problems?
Everyone must start pulling in the same direction, that’s the only way. Players too will have to do their bit and become more reasonable. But above all, governments must begin to get involved, in order to get control over the factors that the Bosman ruling has brought into play.