Sir Alex Ferguson on Practice, Practice, Practice at Stanford GSB (Full Transcript)

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?

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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?

Sir Alex Ferguson: Just the top clubs, only the four ones. I will know by January 1st who our main challenges are going to be. And then I used to do that, I kept to myself, I didn’t share it with anyone. I was never far wrong. I knew even the years we lost it. I knew that dangers we had in terms of challenges.

Sir Michael Moritz: You’re pretty accurate about, say in January, about the number of points that United itself would have at the end of the season.

Sir Alex Ferguson: Yeah.

Sir Michael Moritz: Let me change the topic a little bit, to two things that again are germane to every sort of business. One is assessing and judging talents and another is discipline. So, let me take you back. It’s 1957. There is a young man growing sideburns. Alex Ferguson who’s turning out in his first seasons for a club in Scotland in Glasgow called Queen’s Park. How would you assess the talent of that player?

Sir Alex Ferguson: Well, outstanding comes to mind. But, well, I probably was one of the few players that played for Glasgow Skills, Scotland Skills, Scotland Youth, Scottish Amateur, and the full Scottish team. But I wasn’t an outstanding player, I was a goal scorer. In fact, at United we used to get into the video analysis room most mornings. And this morning our Goalkeeping coach Eric Steele says, I was just pulling up your goalscoring record. He said that’s pretty good, that. 179 goals in 300 games or something like that. And I said, that’s only league goals, I said where are my cup goals? So, I said, well, I’ll try and get them out. We couldn’t get them. We couldn’t find any cup goals. I don’t know why, but no, I was a goal scorer, and had a great career without actually winning anything. I went to Rangers about the time when Celtic were completely dominant. They’d just won the European Cup under Jock Stein, and they were the fantastic team. The were a devil to beat at that time. But I enjoyed it, I had a good career.

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The thing about playing is that that is the best time of your life, which relates to how I would never ask any of my players to retire to become a coach. I encouraged them to take their badges. When I went to fulltime at football, because I was an engineer. I was a tool maker until I was 22, was part-time at football. I made my mind up. I was not going back to Engineering. So I took all my coaching badges, I prepared to stay in the game. Like everyone should do, if you’re going to do something, prepare. Whether it’s through study, or like I did, take your coaching badges, I think that’s an important issue.

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