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Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography— Coaching Tips

The following are excerpts from Sir Alex Ferguson’s Autobiography. I believe all these points are important for any coach to take away and learn from…

  • I was helped by my ability to observe. Some people walk into a room and don’t notice anything. Use your eyes; its all out there. I used this skill in my assessment of players’ training habits, moods, and behavior patterns.

  • It’s a virtue to be straightforward about yourself

  • It was an asset for me to be able to make quick calculations when it would have been easier just to be disheartened

  • ‘Dulcius ex asperis’: ‘Sweeter after difficulties’- that optimism severed me well through 39 years in football management

  • Origins should never be a barrier to success. A modest start in life can be a help more than a hindrance

  • Football management is a never-ending sequence of challenges. So much of it is a study in the frailty of human beings

  • As Big Jock said to me about players: Never fall in love with them, because they’ll two-time you

  • With young people you have to try to impart a sense of responsibility. If they can add greater awareness to their energy and their talents they can be rewarded with great careers

  • One asset I possessed when I started as a manager was that I could make a decision. I was never afraid of that, even as a schoolboy picking a team

  • You have to stand up for yourself. There is no other way.

  • No matter how good your CV, there are moments when you feel vulnerable, exposed

  • There is a fear in failure in a manager the whole time, and you are on your own a lot; in management you have to face that isolation

  • I always adopted a positive approach to players confiding in me, even if it was to ask for a day off to deal with fatigue, or to address a contract problem.

  • If a player asked me for a day off, there had to be a good reason, because who would want to miss a training session at United?

  • On Carlos Queiroz- he would walk in and tell you directly: I’m not happy with this, or that. He was a Rottweiler.

  • A constant tactic of mine was always to have my players on the edge, to keep them thinking it was always a matter of life and death. The must-win approach.

  • I tapped my watch in games to spook the other team, not encourage mine… The players would know they were going to get a goal. It didn’t always happen, but the team never stopped believing it could. That’s a great quality to have.

  • My plan was: don’t panic until the last fifteen minutes, keep patient until the last quarter of an hour, then go gung-ho

  • The opposition manager would know he faced a final 15 minutes in which we would go hell for leather. That fear factor was always there.

  • In a crisis you’re better just calming people down

  • What we did at all times, in success and adversity, was make sure the training ground was sacrosanct. The work there, the concentration, and the standards we maintained never dropped.

  • Expressed properly, criticism can be an acceptance of collective responsibility

  • Ball retention is a religion at Man United. But possession without penetration is a waste of time

  • I used to say, ‘The moment the manager loses his authority, you don’t have a club. The players will be running it, and then you’re in trouble’.

  • You cannot have a player taking over the dressing room.

  • Center-backs were the foundation of my Manchester United sides. Always centre-backs. I looked for stability and consistency.

  • When you acquire a young player, you don’t get the complete package on purchase day. There’s work to be done.

  • Pace, and the ability to read the game, are non-negotiables at the top in modern football.

  • There is more to the art than the goalkeeping. It’s a question of the personality you bring to the job. Not only do keepers have to deal with the business of making saves, they must cope with the process of making errors.

  • It’s not an easy thing for a manager to see change coming from long way down the road

  • You have a range of targets and compensate from the list when one gets away. The unifying aim was to develop whichever player we ended up with

  • With full-backs it’s like searching for a rare bird

  • You can’t leave your character in the dressing room. It has to come out of that room, down the tunnel and onto that pitch.

  • When you have that experience, of seeing this talent right before your eyes, you know you’re experiencing one of those moments you search for every hour in management

  • ‘When you’re going through on goal, lengthen your stride.’ By lengthening your stride you slow yourself down and your timing is enhanced. When you’re still sprinting, you have less coordination in your body, but when you slow your mechanics down you give the brain a better chance.

  • In all my time, the strong personalities have helped shape the team’s actions

  • If they want to analyse, criticize or praise, there’s an area of managerial involvement right after the final whistle where influence can be brought to bear: 10 to 15 minutes

  • The religion at United was that when one of our players had the ball, we moved, and all the others supported the play

  • I always felt that my best moments as a manager were when I made quick decisions based on irrefutable fact, on conviction

  • The question in life is: how far do you take a grievance?

  • I always protected my players and Roy was no exception. It was my job.

  • I knew the minute a football player started trying to run the club, we would all be finished. The real players like that. They like a manager who’s tough. Or can be tough.

  • The player will be thinking: ‘1.Can he make us winners? 2. Can he make me a better footballer? 3. Is he loyal to us?’

  • There is one abiding truth about Manchester United: we are always capable of producing new players, fresh names

  • When you’re managing change, you have to accept the quieter spells and acknowledge that transformations take longer than a year

  • Be bold sometimes: play young players, test them. I was never afraid of that. It was never just a duty, but part of the job I loved

  • I would sit in my office in the afternoon, with my work complete, wanting company. There is a vacuum attached to the job that people don’t want to break into

  • ‘The most important thing in my job is control. The minute they threaten your control, you have to get rid of them’

  • If you have a worry about one of your staff, that tells you straight away there is a problem. It never made sense to me to go to bed every night worrying when you could do something to cut the problem away

  • Control was my aim

  • When you’re young, the 14-hour days are necessary, because you have to establish yourself, and the only way to do that is by working your balls off. By those means, you establish a work ethic for yourself

  • There’s no secret to success in this world. The key is graft. You cannot beat hard work.

  • We didn’t lose the game, we just ran out of time

  • Jose put in lots of pre-season work on the defensive shape

  • Everyone I speak to tells me that Jose is exceptionally good with players. He’s meticulous in his planning, the detail.

  • Barcelona would attack beautifully, but they would also hound the ball when possession was lost. They were a hard-working unit, a collective.

  • Jose was a pragmatist, no question. The starting point in his philosophy is to make sure his team don’t lose

  • Rebuilding held no terrors for me. It was second nature. A football club is like a family. Sometimes people leave. In football, sometimes they have to, sometimes you want them to, sometimes there is no choice for either side, when age or injury intervene

  • Experience taught me to stockpile young players in important positions

  • On Wenger- If we shared one characteristic it was an absolute hatred of losing

  • I had a formula for defeat. After saying my bit in the dressing room, always, before going through that door to face the press, to face the television, to speak to the other manager, I said to myself, ‘Forget it. The game’s gone’… No blaming the referee

  • I don’t like this, but well have to meet the challenge. We have to step up a mark

  • Every time those moments poked us in the eye, we accepted the invitation to regroup and advance again

  • We would say to our players: ‘Stay with the runner, then intercept the pass’

  • When they lost the ball they would hound it. Every one of their players would be after it to win it back

  • If you expect a player to go through a season without infringing the laws of the game, you’re asking for miracles

  • When you think you know everything in the game, you don’t

  • His (Giggs) relative quietness would not be a barrier. There are plenty of non-vocal managers. But your character must be strong.

  • You need self-confidence, a bit of nerve. If you’re surrounded by people who are scared to express themselves in life, they will be equally frightened when it really matters, on the pitch, in games.

  • Then I went to St Mirren without a dime. I freed 17 players in my first season: they weren’t good enough. They had 35 before I started swinging my machete.

  • Benitez persuaded his players to work their socks off for him, so there must be some inspirational quality there: fear, or respect, or skill on his part. You never saw his teams throw in the towel, and he deserves credit for that

  • Benitez had more regard for defending and destroying a game than winning it. You cant be totally successful these days with that approach.

  • You need a strong manager. That’s vital.

  • You look for movement in the modern striker

  • In general you have to give players you might not rate a chance


I am a youth and college soccer coach who is passionate about making coaching my career and helping assist players in their development. I am always trying to learn from the game and always willing to share with others the insights I have made from the game. If you have coaching tips or materials you would like to share, just contact me.

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