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

Sir Michael Moritz: And how well behaved on the field was that young player Alex Ferguson?

Sir Alex Ferguson: You’re getting this from my son Jason. Had a bad record.

Sir Michael Moritz: Pardon?

Sir Alex Ferguson: Had a bad record. I was sent off eight times.

Sir Michael Moritz: Pardon?

Sir Alex Ferguson: I know, I know. But I was misunderstood.

Sir Michael Moritz: Do you remember some of the incidents about why you were sent off?

Sir Alex Ferguson: Every one of them. Yeah. Retaliation was mostly. Or maybe a late tackle or something, or an elbow in someone’s jaw or something like that. I had a funny running style. I run with my elbows like this. So, I was always getting into trouble. Matt’s laughing here. I was always getting into trouble because of my elbows, yeah.

Sir Michael Moritz: The elbows. Yeah. So let’s talk about judging other talent several decades later. I’m going to pick two players, David Beckham and another one we’ll come to in a moment. So, how did you first come across Beckham and how old was he? And what did he seem like as a player when you first saw him?

Sir Alex Ferguson: Well, David came to know us through a scout in London, from the same area as David. He was a headmaster at school, Malcolm Fidgen. And he put David on the radar, but the real impact came from Bobby Charlton. Bobby had soccer schools at the time, and David had won a placement for Bobby’s soccer school in Barcelona. And Bobby came back and said I’ve seen a kid, you need. So I flagged it up with the chief scout. He said, of course, he’s coming next month. Just by coincidence. And that was a start, he would be eleven years of age at the time. He was a little thin boy, he had no height, no physique whatsoever. But he had this wonderful talent, in terms of control of the ball, striking the ball was really his forte. And, his parents were United fans. His grandfather was a Tottenham fan, but he and his parents were United fans. So he used to come to the game. After we got the contact with him, we invited him to the games every time we were in London. And, in fact, he was a ball boy in the West Ham game which is this area of London. And he was a certainty to come to United. He trained at Tottenham for a while. I think he trained somewhere else, maybe Fulham or something like that. But he was always destined to come to United because he wanted to come to United.

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And, in that class of ‘92, who were the team to win the Youth Cup, David never got on the team until the semi-finals because he was just a little boy. Then, within months, six foot, still thin, no confirmation in his body whatsoever. No, he was a skinny boy. And then, that group with the same desires, the seven or eight of them, they talk about the ones that are well known, Giggs, Scholes, Butt, the two Nevilles and David. But we had two other players would’ve been great players, but their careers were cut by injury, Chris Casper and Ben Thornley, they were outstanding. But they all practiced.

Sir Michael Moritz: Give a sense of how hard these guys worked.

Sir Alex Ferguson: Well, the training would start 10 o’clock to 12 o’clock. The other ones, they would be out in the afternoon practicing all the time, or with the youth coach in terms of their general training. And for David, who lived in accommodation with Mrs. Gosling with several other boys, he would go into the school at nighttime and help the coaches with the young kids. So his desires were strong, and also he was a practicer, he’d practice, practice, practice. And I think that the advice I’d give to any young kid is, anyone can play a game of football, anyone. But practice makes you a real footballer. You see games on a Sunday. Pub games. Oh, love a game of football. The real players had a practice ethic about them. I remember being at lunch in Glasgow many, many years ago, and Gary Player was the guest.

Sir Michael Moritz: The golfer?

Sir Alex Ferguson: The golfer. And they asked him that question, why do you keep practicing from the bunker? Because he was famous for, you know, the bunkers. I know, I’m going to be in the bunker at one time in the game, maybe twice in the game, and I’ve got to put it in the hole. That’s why I practiced, and practiced, and practiced. That’s a great example of what you have to do to be a top player. And David and all these young lads did that same. And all the young kids at United practice well.

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Sir Michael Moritz: Different well known name Cristiano Ronaldo, how old was he when you first came across him?

Sir Alex Ferguson: 17 he was.

Sir Michael Moritz: And how did he first tip your radar screen?

Sir Alex Ferguson: That’s a great story because my assistant, of course is a Portuguese. And he thought it’d be a good idea for us to have an association, a relationship with the sport in Lisbon, because he’d been there as a kid, and he was from Lisbon. And he set it up, and what we’re doing then was sharing coaching. So we would send coaches over there, and they would send coaches to us. And Jim Ryan, who was head of youth department at the time, youth scouting rather. He came back, he says, well I’ve seen a player. And he was playing center for youth team at the time, Cristiano Ronaldo. So I said to Carl, it would be a good idea if maybe we’d build a relationship here. And he spoke to the president, and the deal was that we couldn’t get him the next year, but we could get them two years from then. Then [Carlos] left me the next year, we’d promised through the association with him, the relationship, we’d offer the new stadium.

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