Sir Alex Ferguson reveals role of women in Manchester United squad development and interest in American Civil War
The former Manchester United manager has given his first in-depth interview since retirement to Charlie Rose on America's PBS. Ian Herbert picks out the key revelations from the discussion
1. Women are more integral to his squad development than we previously knew
Ferguson revealed the detailed story of how he visited Ryan Giggs' house "every second night" to persuade him to leave the Manchester City academy for United in 1987. So frequently did he go that Lynne Giggs "was buying tea for us; getting us supper," he said. There is a glimpse of Ferguson the psychologist in the conclusion he drew from this successful outcome. "The mother's the secret," he said. "The mothers are always the strong [ones] in the family, without question. I say always, 'Get the mother'. There's always danger with the father. He tries to live his life through the boy, you know. You get a little bit of that. But the mother? No, she won't do it that way. She's "My boy, I want more of this for my boy".
2. He'll never forgive Victoria Beckham
The legendary flying boot incident of 2003 stemmed from David Beckham being drawn under his wife's influence. Ferguson spoke nostalgically of the 12-year-old Beckham he first knew. "He always had a lovely smile, you know. His great desire was to do the best." Yet he cannot bring himself to name the most famous footballer's wife on the planet… "And then of course his life changed when he married the girl from…" ("The Spice Girls," Rose prompted) "Yes. And his focus changed. He got drawn into that celebrity status, you know. For me I'm a football man. I'm a football man."
3. He will not be jumping aboard the Scottish independence battlebus
There are no great intellectual reasons why Ferguson is not joining Sean Connery in the pro-independence camp. Just a belief that some things are best not changed. He observed that while Connery is from Edinburgh, he is a straightforward socialist like his parents. "It's never hurt me, not changing through my life. So I won't change. And I think that [a] United [Kingdom] is OK."
4. He gave Tony Blair the same kind of sports science advice he'd expect his players to take, during general election campaigns
We have always known that Ferguson had a direct line to Blair. He called the then Prime Minister directly to complain bitterly after United were getting flak for pulling out of the 2000 FA Cup. But now we understand a little more about why he wielded that influence. "We spoke of many things," Ferguson said of the relationship. "One thing I always said to him at the election time was, 'Why don't you take your physical therapist with you?' I always think Tony was best at [Prime Minister's] Question Time. I loved him at Question Time. He destroyed those boys…"
5. He's damned if he will play the diplomat over Wayne Rooney
David Moyes' head will be in his hands when he reads that Ferguson has reopened a relatively new wound by insisting Wayne Rooney asked for a transfer the day United won the title in April. "It's just [an] expectation thing again," he said. "I'm not his PRO [public relations officer]. I manage a team… but at that particular moment [Rooney] wasn't doing particularly well." Not for the first time Ferguson blames the media, agent Paul Stretford and England's expectations of its "big white hope".
6. A University of Virginia professor has triggered a new obsession in his life
It was Blair's successor Gordon Brown who mentioned Professor Gary Gallagher's work on the American Civil War to Ferguson, after an occasion when the two men had met in London and Brown asked what his compatriot had been reading. Ferguson mentioned a couple of books about the American Civil War, Brown sent 12 audio tapes of Gallagher's work and Ferguson played them endlessly in his car. He has since visited battlegrounds at Antietam, Gettysburg and Manassas. It is the fight for freedom which clearly absorbs him.
7. Improbable though it may sound, there is a substantial spirit of pacifism in Ferguson
His Civil War reading has acquainted him with William Tecumseh Sherman and his brutal scorched-earth tactics. General Sherman said that "war is hell" – but it is surely the knowledge of war carried by those of Ferguson's generation (he was born into the midst of the Second World War) that led him to say: "How can you love war? I think that before you enter a war and first go into the army, you think that, 'Oh! It's great to join the army', but when you get there and go into these combats it's entirely different, it changes you."
8. He thinks his wife almost decapitated him
Ferguson tells a good story about the subterfuge in which Lady Cathy engaged to prevent him knowing that she was unveiling the statue to him at Old Trafford last spring by suggesting that Prince William might do it. But she whipped back the cover vigorously when called upon. "When the head comes rolling down, it was amazing," Ferguson said.
9. 'Well done' is better than 'wonderful'
We are gradually learning how little Ferguson employed hyperbole and here is another for the Harvard management manual. "People get carried away and use superlatives, 'fantastic', 'wonderful'," he related. "I just minimise it to 'well done,' I think. The boys get to know that. They know I'm satisfied. 'Well done.' They're a fantastic two words."
10. The coach Teddy Scott taught him a life lesson about observation
Scott, the indefatigable Scot who served Aberdeen in various capacities between 1954 and 2003, took the side of a young coach who told an interfering Ferguson that he was giving him no freedom to train players in the late 1970s. So Ferguson stepped back and just watched while his trainers and players worked. "It was amazing what you were actually watching," he said. "Seeing the players' habits. Seeing the little defects in their performance. You could see sometimes that a player was not quite right on the day and you would wonder what was wrong with him. It could be a million things. And that observation I've carried through with me all my career. I've used that really well."
Belfast Telegraph Digital