Skip to content

How did Alex Ferguson do it? Last year’s Harvard study provided some answers

May 8, 2013, 12:00 PM EDT

FBL-EUR-C1-MANUTD

Sir Alex Ferguson is clearly a wise manager and a learned man. Harvard is clearly a place with a lot of smarties, too.

So what better conflagration for sorting out the Sir Alex way? Just a few months ago Harvard released an in-depth study of Ferguson’s management approaches. It really was a revealing look, candid and reasonably condensed, at the tool and techniques of one of global soccer’s top managers yet.

The study by the Harvard Business School in America was released last September, just as Ferguson was getting into the current, championship season.

One of the best bits was his approach to criticizing players. We tend to think of the man’s gruff exterior and probably all believe that it’s all about applying constant pressure and grinding his men into perfection – the famous Ferguson “hair-dryer” and all. But the reality sounds different. From the study:

There is no room for criticism on the training field. For a player – and for any human being – there is nothing better than hearing ‘Well done’. Those are the two best words ever invented in sports. Also, you can’t always come in (after a game) shouting and screaming. That doesn’t work. No one likes to get criticized. But in the dressing room, it’s necessary that you point out your players’ mistakes. I do it right after the game. I don’t wait until Monday, I do it, and it’s finished. I’m on to the next match. There is no point in criticizing a player forever. And I never discuss an individual player in public. The players know that. It stays indoors.”

It’s interesting, because so many managers more or less leave the players along after matches. They believe that players are emotional at that time and need to be left to themselves. As for the problems that need addressing, that’s what practice is for.

This excerpt is interesting, too, because Ferguson gets to the very core of his success at Old Trafford: building a “club” and not just building a “team” to survive. He also moves on to talking about older players, the likes of Nicky Butt and the tough business of seeing not what they are at the moment, but what they are going to be in two years.

The first thought for 99 per cent of new managers is to make sure they win – to survive. They bring experienced players in, often from their previous clubs. But I think it is important to build a structure for a football club, not just a football team. You need a foundation. And there is nothing better than seeing a young player make it to the first team. The idea is that the younger players are developing and meeting the standards that the older ones have set before. The hardest thing is to let go of a player who has been a great guy. But all the evidence is on the football field. If you see the change, the deterioration, you have to start asking yourself what it is going to be like two years ahead.

You can purchase the Harvard study here. Or you can check out more of the highlights of the big work here.

Latest Posts
  1. Omar Gonzalez still dreams of Europe but “committed to the Galaxy”

    Jul 22, 2014, 11:17 PM EDT

    Marouane Fellaini, ,Omar Gonzalez AP

    L.A. Galaxy Insider report also speculates that Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez could take a Designated Player spot in Major League Soccer if he leaves Old Trafford.

  2. Reds’ Rodgers won’t be baited into criticizing “sensational” Suarez

    Jul 22, 2014, 10:45 PM EDT

    Cardiff City v Liverpool - Premier League Getty Images

    “It’s obviously a shame he’s not here, but Liverpool is a club that’s bigger as any individual,” Rodgers said from Fenway Park.

  3. Cardiff’s promotion hopes take hit: Caulker to QPR; Medel to Inter?

    Jul 22, 2014, 10:03 PM EDT

    steven-caulker-interview-160064-1775672_1600x900

    Inter Milan and Queens Park Rangers have swooped in for two of the Bluebirds’ best players, and Vincent Tan probably isn’t too happy.

  4. EXCLUSIVE: Luke Shaw speaks out about Manchester United move

    Jul 22, 2014, 8:42 PM EDT

    Courtesy: Manchester United Courtesy: Manchester United

    Shaw speaks to PST: “Manchester United are the biggest club in the world. I didn’t think twice when they wanted to sign me.”

  5. Pep Guardiola praises Jurgen Klinsmann’s team concept, USMNT movement

    Jul 22, 2014, 8:39 PM EDT

    Jurgen_Klinsmann_1381686c AP

    When a guy many consider a footballing genius gives the United States coach praise, that’s a pretty cool feather in Klinsmann’s cap.

  6. Premier League teams on US Soil: Tuesday’s roundup and look ahead

    Jul 22, 2014, 7:40 PM EDT

    10406860_10101280893066982_394995962427761541_n

    Premier Leaguers in the U.S. on Tuesday = A day of open training sessions, autographs, football helmets and golf clubs.

  7. Racial incident against Man City’s Fofana ends U-21 match in Croatia

    Jul 22, 2014, 6:43 PM EDT

    twitter.com/sekofofana twitter.com/sekofofana

    The 19-year-old is a promising prospect, but is dealing with negative headlines after being subject to abuse on Tuesday in Croatia.

  8. Southampton fail in bid to bring England WC goalie back to Premier League

    Jul 22, 2014, 6:24 PM EDT

    England Training Session and Press Conference Getty Images

    Fraser Forster will be sticking at Celtic, for now, after Southampton reportedly lowballed the Scottish powers.

  9. Beckham visits Manchester United; Team responds with many ‘selfies’

    Jul 22, 2014, 5:30 PM EDT

    BtLQf7KCQAAehgb

    Hand on shoulder, hair-coiffed, warm smile… next! Becks makes the rounds on the United’s U.S. tour.

  10. Sorting through the most recent DaMarcus Beasley-to-MLS reports

    Jul 22, 2014, 5:00 PM EDT

    APER SOC BEASLEY

    There have been reports of where the 32-year-old American left sider will not be going, but little as to where he will.

  11. WATCH: James hugs pitch invader; Bernabeu goes bananas for new star

    Jul 22, 2014, 3:56 PM EDT

    James Rodriguez Officially Unveiled At Real Madrid Getty Images

    For every “stars… they’re just like us” moment a player gives you, there are moments like this, which will not happen to 99.9999% of us at work in our lives

  12. Report: Xavi’s move to New York City FC collapses, will remain at Barcelona

    Jul 22, 2014, 2:22 PM EDT

    Xavi Hernandez, Marc Bartra

    Xavi set to remain at Barcelona until January, at least.

  13. Stoke City pull off superb signing, land Bojan Krkic from Barcelona

    Jul 22, 2014, 2:04 PM EDT

    bojan Getty Images

    Yeah. This is actually happened… as Stoke pull off a major coup.

  14. Pep Guardiola: For now, Julian Green will remain with Bayern Munich’s first team

    Jul 22, 2014, 1:34 PM EDT

    Green

    Guardiola: “He trains well, he’s a good guy and my first idea is that he’s going to stay for the rest of the season.”

  15. Liverpool’s move for Dejan Lovren could be back on

    Jul 22, 2014, 12:56 PM EDT

    Britain Soccer Premier League AP

    Will Lovren become the third Saints player to join Liverpool this summer? If the price is right, it sure looks that way.

  16. Do Real Madrid need $107 million James Rodriguez? Where will he play?

    Jul 22, 2014, 11:51 AM EDT

    Rodriguez AP

    Where will Rodriguez line up next season for Real? Here’s an in-depth look at the options.

  17. Back to the future: Dunga confirmed as Brazil’s new manager

    Jul 22, 2014, 10:56 AM EDT

    Carlos Dunga

    Second time around, Dunga will lead Brazil’s new era.

  18. Where does James Rodriguez’s $107 million transfer fee rank all-time?

    Jul 22, 2014, 10:05 AM EDT

    james_rodriguez AP

    What do you get for $107 million in today’s world? A red-hot 23-year-old Colombian striker, that’s what.

  19. Jurgen Klopp denies Mats Hummels is heading to Manchester United, for now

    Jul 22, 2014, 9:25 AM EDT

    Borussia Dortmund's coach Klopp waves to supporters at the end of their Champions League quarter final first leg soccer match against Malaga in Malaga

    Klopp says Hummels is not for sale… not at the price reported anyway.