Former Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson on Practice, Practice, Practice at Stanford GSB in a fireside chat with Chairman of Sequoia Capital, Sir Michael Moritz – Full Transcript
Sir Alex Ferguson – Former Manchester United manager
Sir Michael Moritz – Chairman, Sequoia Capital
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Sir Michael Moritz: The greatest coach in the history of professional sports Sir Alex Ferguson.
Sir Alex Ferguson: Thank you.
Sir Michael Moritz: You’re looking very dapper tonight.
Sir Alex Ferguson: Thank you.
Sir Michael Moritz: Yeah.
Sir Alex Ferguson: My mother looks after me well.
Sir Michael Moritz: Looks like we’re the only two who got dressed this evening. So what would you do, Sir Alex, if some of this scruffy mob here showed up and were players, and wanted to get on the Manchester United bus?
Sir Alex Ferguson: Well, first I was a coach, everyone had to have a short haircut, all shaven. I don’t know how managers allow players on the bus with a beard, that’s not for me. Now, whether if I’ve not lost my strength, if I would allow that. But what I did like to see was my team coming to a ground with the United blazer on, white shirt and a tie because they’re representing Manchester United.
Sir Michael Moritz: And what would you do if they didn’t show up like that?
Sir Alex Ferguson: Well, I think it’s part of the education you have to give them. The responsibility they have as a Manchester United player. And it’s just a discipline. And I think that was a strong discipline at United. And it’s still today. Even Louis van Gaal, all smart, I know it’s the boys that are not playing sit in the back of the director’s box, blazer and flannels on, I like that. That’s for me. I’m sorry you guys with the beards.
Sir Michael Moritz: You recommend a shave, would you? So did you see the game on Saturday? The Everton game. What’d you think?
Sir Alex Ferguson: Did very well. I thought it was going to be a difficult game actually, and I saw Everton did all the strongest team out. You know, and I thought this is going to be a difficult game because the last I think they’ve lost the last three years there, but they won very comfortably. Complete control, the way they changed the system a little bit. I thought Evan couldn’t handle it. So, I was pleased, because after, the great test of any Manchester United team is how you recover after defeats. There was three-nil with Arsenal, a bad defeat. They come out at the next game, win. And that’s the best way to answer the critics and also to show the resolve and the determination to get over a defeat. Because it’s not easy at Club United. Because when you lose you’re front page, when you win you’re back page. It’s a difference.
Sir Michael Moritz: Better to be on the back page. So, there are, I think if I counted correctly, there were 8 of the 18 players who showed up, who were in the squad on Saturday, were players that you had signed. How long does it take to knit everybody else together into a really cohesive unit? Is that a matter of years or can you do it in a season?
Sir Alex Ferguson: Well, if you’re talking with the present court of players — and five last season, five this year, and that’s difficult. Particularly, the players they brought in were players from other countries. The division’s very difficult, really difficult. When we brought players in from abroad, we always gave them first season, forget it, second season, okay. But one or two excelled, surprised us by doing really well at the beginning. In my time, the thing that was different from me and Louis Van Gaal of course is that I had longevity. I was there 27 years. So when I went to United at first, my job was to build the foundation at that football club. Because I think most managers, quite rightly, have to think about a football team, the first team because as a result industry they are to make sure the first team does well. I never thought that way. I thought that rebuilding the youth in the club so they would give me a foundation and I’d given them with the young players coming through. My conviction was never going to change. I told the directors on day one, that’s exactly what I was going to do. And of course, yeah, I was concerned that the first team — second bout of the week. And I just took my time with that, I wasn’t in a hurry, most concentration was on scouting, trialing, and coaching for the young people.
Sir Michael Moritz: Now at the end of the Everton game, United are in third position in English Premier League. It’s the end of October and obviously everybody here is connected to the business school in one way or another. And an important thing in business is setting expectations. And how would you, were you managing United today, knowing that there’s a long part of the season still to come? You still got to play Christmas, you got to get, you’re in the other different cups and championships. How do you go about setting the expectation of where you would want the club to wind up at the end of the season knowing that you’re in third position today?
Sir Alex Ferguson: Well I think the definition, you take my job at Aberdeen. Aberdeen’s in the north of Scotland. Cut off from the central bell with a mainstream of footballers. I had to build an expectation, to create an expectation for the players. Whereas in United you have to live with the expectations for every player that comes through that club. Even after Saturday’s game, every player on that team has to weather the expectation. So, the expectation is to win. Absolute, whether it’s a European cup or a cup. They all have to win. That’s the mentality they have. The mindset is the winning mindset. There’s no question about that.
So, I never ever said to the press, we’ve got to win the European cup, we’ve got to — I’ve never said that. Every time at press conference, well, I hope we win something. I wouldn’t want to get carried away and give them a headline. But, deep down, win every game. That was the mentality. I never expected to lose a game, ever.
Sir Michael Moritz: Would you be talking to the players at this juncture about the possibility of winning the league this year?
Sir Alex Ferguson: No.
Sir Michael Moritz: And when would you start privately calculating whether or not you thought.
Sir Alex Ferguson: You won’t believe this if I tell you. Every beginning of January, I used to get all opponents games and predict the point that we want to get against us. And I was never far wrong. Never far wrong. Even to the point that, I knew we’d maybe have to make three points up on one of our main opponents. I was pretty accurate in that. And I did this every year. And so that, add my win. Sort of a challenge.
Sir Michael Moritz: Would you sit down with each of the top clubs or the whole league?