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Sir Alex Ferguson Case Study

Omar Dweik
Sports Leadership and Management (Summer 2017)
July 5th, 2017

Team Design:
Youth as the Club’s Foundation
 Upon his arrival in 1986, Ferguson sold star players (such as Paul McGrath and
Norman Whiteside), whose performances did not match their reputations – took heat
from fans.
 He stated that he wanted to “put an end to United’s reputation being almost as much a
social club as a football club”.
 Ferguson increased the number of scouts, as there were only four when he first took
on the role.
 Contrary to most managers, Ferguson would personally travel across the country to
recruit youth players (e.g. when he travelled to London to recruit Beckham on his 14th
birthday.1)
 He invested in youth talents such as Paul Scholes, Danny Welbeck, Gary Neville,
Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo- all signed and played before their
18th birthday.
 In 1995, after selling some of the star players, Ferguson had no plans of purchasing
other players, instead, he let Scholes, Beckham, Giggs and Neville play.
 Despite losing home opener to Aston Villa and receiving mockery from press,
Ferguson insisted on having the youth play, and ended up winning two consecutive
EPL titles.
Finding the Right Balance
 Ferguson constantly focused on finding the right balance of older and more
experienced players to set the example for the younger ones.
 He categorized players into three different age groups: 30+, 23-30, and the those
younger than 23.
Homegrowns as Assets
- On one hand, Ferguson knew that youth players will eventually grow up, hence he
made sure that they were given the experience they needed so he could sell them down the

1 David Beckham: My Side (Autobiography)


road for a large profit (e.g. David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo sold to Real Madrid, with
the latter being sold for a world record transfer fee of $125 million2
- On the other hand, he knew that investing in youth talents would grant him longevity,
as he would gain the players’ loyalty towards him.
- The proceeds were used to acquire other players, to sustain the ‘right balance’.
The Team Consisted of More Than Just ‘Players’
 Ferguson made sure that the team was a macro-term, as he went on to create a family
culture that involved everyone at the club, from the kit manager to the club’s CEO.
 He had an open-door, all ears policy, which allowed anyone at the club to come in
and talk to him privately about anything they wanted.

Team Process:
Setting a Standard
 As soon as he arrived to Man United, Ferguson had set the tone by introducing
‘intensive fitness sessions, detailed positional training, and a new disciplinary code’.
 He made sure that his assistant coaches knew that the expectations for training
sessions were high, which meant the standard was applied to everyone at the club,
including the coaching staff.
 Prohibited the publicizing of internal affairs, and made sure reprimands were put in
place (Ferguson never criticized a player publicly or through the press, and when
team captain Roy Keane did it, Ferguson immediately laid him off the team).
Practice is Key
 Ferguson was not a “pleasing manager”; he made sure players would learn and
improve from training sessions.
 Pre-season was a foundation that the team can build on throughout the season.
 He challenged his star players, which made them only improve more and more.
 He mentally and physically trained his players to deal with certain circumstances so
when the going gets tough they know how to bounce back. (E.g. being trained to play
for more than 90 minutes each game)
 Practice also included off-field video sessions, which aimed to better prepare them to
take on a particular team.

2 Ogden, Mark (11 June 2009). "Cristiano Ronaldo transfer: Real Madrid agree £80 million
fee with Manchester United". The Daily Telegraph. London.
When Behind, Leapfrog
 Whenever United were behind in a game, Ferguson would direct all players to shift to
ultra-attacking. (“Putting more bodies” as he called it)
 In his reign, United experienced more than 10 comebacks during stoppage time.3
 The Champions League final comeback against Bayern Munich being the most
notable of them all.

Team Effectiveness:
Comparing Results to Expectations
 Ever since his arrival, Ferguson aligned the organization’s goals with the fans, players
and his very own.
 He always played for a win.
 If a flaw occurred, Ferguson was quick to fix it and move on to the next game.
 He was never fond of excuses, and would never use injuries or the club’s financial
position to justify a loss or a draw.
 He set benchmarks; being within three points away from the first place by “New
Year’s Day”.
 During his tenure, Ferguson won 38 trophies in just 26 years with Man United  13
EPL titles, 5 FA Cups, and 2 UEFA Champions League titles.
Delegating Responsibilities to Others
 Ferguson learned to delegate responsibilities and trust his co-workers more and more
over the years, so he can stand back and have a pilot’s view of what’s going on.
 By doing so, Ferguson would not be missing out on any of the small details.
 Delegating responsibilities not limited to coaching staff, but also included players.
 Trying to win all championships, Ferguson would let youth players take on certain
games so he can rest the star players.
Know What to Say, and When to Say It
 Ferguson prepared his half-time minutes before the end of the first half.
 He made sure that the speech was concise and would ignite a fire within the players.
(E.g. The half-time speech he delivered against Bayern Munich)

3Ibid (27 April 2009). “Top 10: Manchester United comebacks”. The Daily Telegraph.
London.
 He would surprise the players; even if they were up, if Ferguson felt that they were
being complacent, he would have a go at them.
 Whenever the team lost, he would have something to say right after the match and
then immediately moved on to the next match; he always marched forwards.
 He understood that different players were motivated differently, which made him
develop certain methods with certain players in order to bring the best in them.
Coping with Change
 In his quarter century at United, the club had gone through different phases of
financial positions, and Ferguson had always set himself ahead of the curve.
 Despite his age, Ferguson coped easily with the ever changing technology and
medicine (e.g. Vitamin D machine, avoid running for long distances and one-week
breaks in the winter months for players to replenish.

After closely looking into Sir Alex’s managerial success, I cannot help but think of
German Football’s recent successes, whose triumph in the 2014 World Cup, 2017
Confederations Cup and 2017 UEFA Under-21 European Cup had become a testament to
their unmatched brilliance. Just like Ferguson, Germany acknowledged the importance of
building a solid, everlasting foundation, one that was based on nurturing the youth. This
underlying structure was instilled in the late 1990s, at a time when German national teams
were experiencing a downward spiral, losing in just about every competition they had
participated in. Contrary to United, where the success can be attributed to Sir Alex alone,
German Football’s success can be attributed to several key figures; Jürgen Klinsmann,
Joachim Löw, Bayern Munich and German Football Association. Those figures played
different crucial roles in bringing German football to where it is today. For example, the GFA
has the second highest number of registered coaches in the world after Spain (34,970)4.
Moreover, the GFA made it a prerequisite for German clubs to have a youth academy in
order to renew their annual licenses. As for Löw, who had become known for giving youth
players a chance over the years (especially after the World Cup final when the game winner
was scored by the 22-year old Mario Götze). The amalgamation of such distinctive processes
have resulted in Germany being ranked within the top three globally for the past 7-years, and
with such a momentum it is highly unlikely that anything can stop them from sustaining their
position as world leaders in the next few years.

4 Bundesliga. “10 reasons Germany are football's greatest force”.