Alex Ferguson MUTV interview transcript: The former United manager on life in retirement, the fortunes of the club and Ryder Cup involvement

The former United manager talks about life after the game

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The Independent Online

How has life after management been for you?

I think the most important things I’ve had to do is be active. And I’ve been active. I’ve got a lot of things going. I’ve been travelling a bit, I’ve done things I’ve wanted to do and I love watching the team from a different perspective. That’s been interesting.

Overall, how good was it for you to be at the heart of the Ryder Cup?

It was fantastic, the best excitement I’ve ever had outside football. It was unbelievable. I went out to the first tee on the first day and on the last day to get all the tee-offs and the fans were magnificent. The players responded well. You talk about pressure on players and this is an examination of great players. That teeing off at the first tee - what an examination that is, because all of a sudden there’s a silence which is deafening as they play their first shot. It’s absolutely brilliant.

Without giving away exactly what you said [to the Ryder Cup team], what was the thrust of your message?

I think it was talking about the experience of being a favourite because Europe were favourites for the tournament. There’s nothing wrong with being favourites, it’s just a matter of living up to the expectations. But I must say I got more out of it than they did because I was excited by it, to speak to such great golfers. There was great chemistry and a bit of banter after it too because Poulter’s an Arsenal fan so he was giving me some stick and Lee Westwood’s a Forest fan and Thomas Bjorn’s a big Liverpool fan so he gave me some stick. There was some great banter and I enjoyed all that.

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Sir Alex Ferguson with Fred the Red during the Premier League match against Everton at Old Trafford earlier this month (Getty)

What can you tell us about the updated part of your book?

Basically there are a couple of chapters about the time spent since I retired and the things I’ve been up to. I went to the Oscars and had a fantastic time there. The interesting thing about that first year is that Cath and I went on holiday in December. First time I’ve ever had a holiday in December in my life. Not just talking about my time at United or at Aberdeen or as a player, in my life. I was sitting there poolside in Abu Dhabi and I said to Cathy, “I should be at Carrington.” It was freezing cold at Carrington and there I was sitting by a swimming pool.

Fighting back is part of United’s DNA. Is the team in a situation now where a fight back is paramount as the main target?

Obviously Louis van Gaal has made a lot of changes and I was thinking about that actually. Maybe he’s doing the right and correct thing, to clear the decks and build his own team, because he's got the experience and the coaching ability to do that. And he's got the reputation to do that. I think the way he’s approached is, I think, brilliant. He’s not been getting the results that are expected but when I came to the club I didn’t get the results I expected myself at the beginning. What we needed then was Sir Bobby Charlton, Martin Edwards and the board to stick by me and we had a great spell after that. Once I got settled into the club, everything was fine. Louis is going through that same process and there’s no doubt in my mind that he will sort it out.

 

Have you crossed swords with Louis in the past and what sort of relationship did you have with him?

I've always got on well with Louis. The first occasion was when we played Barcelona in 1998 when we were in the group stages together. He was asking me how I dealt with the press and I said I've got a few interesting things about that! He had a different approach to the press at that time. My advice was don't read it. Don't get yourself upset about it. He has his own way. Watching his press conferences actually it's quite interesting. He's very, very honest in his press conferences, which is interesting.

How big a wrench has it been for you in the past year, not getting up at 5.30am or whatever time you used to do?

It’s interesting actually. This morning I woke up at three so I watched television for an hour and then went back to sleep. I don’t get up at six o’clock any more. I usually doze off again and then wake up about quarter to eight, eight o’clock, something like that. Sometimes I get on my bike and do some exercises, have my breakfast with Cathy – it’s the first time she’s ever had that with me. We have an office in Wilmslow and I’ve got Lyn there. She also retired with me [from United] she was my secretary there for 27 years. Jason is there as well and there are a lot of things happening. It’s still amazing that I keep getting these letters from all over the world wanting autographs and photographs.

What have you got planned this time around for publicising the book?

It comes out in October and the big night is with Jimmy Nesbitt at Drury Lane. That follows on from last year which worked very well in terms of the theatre nights with Eamonn Holmes, Dougie Donnelly, Dan Walker, all the different people who interviewed me. On this occasion, it’s Jimmy Nesbitt. He’s a terrific character and he’ll be really good at that. I’m looking forward to that.

Is there anywhere you’ve been where you’ve not been recognised?

Not really. I think with the advent of Sky when the Premier League started, that changed the parameters of football players. They were always projected like film stars. I go to New York a lot where ESPN and Fox Television are on all the time and they’re fantastic actually. That brings United into the picture over there so it’s very difficult to go anywhere even in New York now without somebody recognising you.

Your UEFA work keeps you very much in touch with what’s going on in the game…

I’m the chairman of the coaches’ association in terms of relating to how the game is changing. If the coaches have any points they want to make to Michel Platini or the committee about improvements that can be done. Over the years they’ve done very well. Michel Platini’s good because he listens. He was a footballer and that always helps. This year we got ten new coaches over which was fantastic. The point I’m making is they have to make a contribution because it’s as much their game as the older coaches. Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, all the experienced coaches are there but I want the younger ones to contribute as much as the older ones because we want to hear the young people.

You’ve been picking a team every week since 1974. How tough is it to not have that now?

I thought when I retired I wasn’t going to look back in terms of my role as a manager. What I didn’t do as a manager all my life was look back at things we’d achieved. I never did that, ever, because I didn’t think it was important. I always thought tomorrow was the most important day. That way there was always a challenge for myself. Win something – it didn’t matter, it was gone. Are we going to win something again? That was my attitude as a football manager. Obviously I miss the players and I miss the staff at Carrington, fantastic staff. The camaraderie. The morning meetings when we’d sit in the video analysis room and the hundred things we’d discuss. Then we’d talk about what we’d be doing in training. We had a great time and I’ve had a fantastic life, I’m very lucky and I love watching the team. When you’re at a club for as long as I was, you get engrained in the fabric of the place, there’s no question about that. You start thinking the way the supporters think and that’s the way sometimes I am now. I haven’t been to every game, obviously. I’ve missed a couple this season already but I’ve been to a few of them and I continue to do that, combined with the fact I’ve got other schedules to fulfil before the end of the year. It’s really enjoyable. Picking a team… I always thought the strongest thing to do was to tell the players who weren’t playing. That was the starting point. Every time I chose the team, I told the players who weren’t playing first because they’re just as important.

Do you feel helpless watching from the directors’ box after 27 years of being involved?

I got annoyed when we lost to Liverpool last year. I didn’t enjoy that. I don’t like losing to Liverpool and Manchester City last year, because they are your biggest rivals and the ones you always strive to defeat and are always in our way. Particularly Liverpool of course. The way I’ve always been and I did it as a manager, I’m actually quite stone-faced watching a game. I don’t try to show any emotions unless we score. I always celebrate a goal, even now as a director I still celebrate a goal. You’re always conscious maybe the cameras are on you and this is happening quite a lot.

Does that annoy you, that you’re being depicted as someone who’s looking over at the current guy in charge?

There’s a bit of that and obviously the press don’t miss an opportunity to focus on me during a game.

From your point of view as a director, how pleasing is that the club has attracted £150m worth of talent despite not being in Europe?

It’s the rebuilding of the team and they brought in some good quality. It was really important because you need quality at Manchester United, you need the best players. What has pleased me about Louis is he’s given seven young kids their debuts this year which falls into line with the history of our club, there’s no question about that. I think the supporters particularly respond very, very well when a young player gets his opportunity. Young people have to be given an opportunity, particularly if they’ve got ability. If you wait too long, they just stagnate and you lose them. You can never afford that, in my time in particular, and there was always a time when you had to assess exactly where they’re going, whether they are first-team players or going to get careers elsewhere. The great thing about United that still exists is there are probably around 90 players playing in England at the moment who started their careers at United’s Academy. It tells you the operation produces not just young players but good human beings, young people who can go anywhere. I think that’s a lot down to the staff we’ve had at United going right back to when I started with people like Eric Harrison to Les Kershaw and Dave Bushell, who are still there at the club. They laid down certain criteria of how to behave and what it takes to be a Manchester United player. Once they pass the test, then giving them the opportunity is really important. Then you want to judge if they have got the temperament to play in front of 76,000 people. When I used to sign young players in the office on the day of a game, I would say I hope I'm watching you in front of 76,000 people.

Are you confident that will continue, that Academy players will always come through?

I think that's exactly what Louis van Gaal believes in too. I think the greatest example is how he produced at Ajax to win the European Cup with all players created by Ajax themselves. Edwin van der Sar was in goal, Edgar Davids, Patrick Kluivert. Some fantastic players - all produced by the club.

You and Louis – is there an ongoing dialogue? How does that work?

There’s no ongoing dialogue. He comes into my office sometimes after the game, into the lounge, and we have a chat. But it’s not a matter of picking up a phone or anything like that. He’s a very capable person with a strong mentality. He’s a strong leader. He knows where I am if he ever did need me but there has not been any need for him to phone me.

Could you talk a bit about the players who have arrived this season?

It’s no great surprise that United should break the transfer record again for Angel Di Maria…

That's the way the game is going today with fees like £85million for Gareth Bale. I think when you can identify ability like that needed by Manchester United, they have the resources to do that. They are fees I never quite equalled but nonetheless they were needing quite a big injection this year.

Herrera played against us three years ago for Bilbao in the Europa League. In fairness, they gave us a right battering at Old Trafford. He’s a talented young player and we scouted him quite a lot at that time. Obviously I think they tried to get him last year but it fell through for some reason or another. He’s athletic, quite aggressive actually for a lad who has not got a great frame and he’s quite slim but he’s quite aggressive and he gets around the pitch.

The signing of Shaw was the one we tried to get when he was 16 years of age. They wouldn’t sell him to us but they always said we’d be first to know if they ever did. Of course, Ed Woodward has carried that through and we got him for, I think it was £30million. He’s a talented boy, a good footballer who likes to get forward all the time.

Rojo, the Argentinian boy, I watched him at the World Cup, I thought he did really well for them and I think he's capable of playing either left side as a wing-back if you like or as a centre-back.

Daley Blind is one of those common-sense footballers that make up a team. He’s probably a version of Darren Fletcher of a few years ago, that type of player. He’s a good professional with common sense to his game. He keeps it simple and protects the defenders and the attacking midfield players in his role.

The big one is Falcao who we’re all waiting to see. Obviously, he has fantastic goalscoring ability. He had his injury so getting him on loan is the right thing to do.

How much pleasure does it give Sir Alex Ferguson to be a grandfather to 11?

One of my grandsons came up to the Ryder Cup and on the way back we stopped off to see one of them who’s at a school up in the North. It was his 15th birthday. They’re all doing well. Two of them are at university and one’s teaching in Kenya. As they grow older, they’ve all got their own challenges. One thing we’re really proud of is they’ve all got good manners which is important.

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Sam Torrance with Sir Alex Ferguson and Paul McGinley at Gleneagles

You once said to me that retirement is for young people. You might be post-management but you’re certainly not retired are you?

I’ve kept active. That’s important. I always remember someone saying ‘Never put your slippers on when you retire.’ That’s just an analogy about retirement which means keep busy and that’s the way I am, I’m on the go all the time. In some case I’ve felt I’ve overdone it, travelling here, there and everywhere so I’ve taken a wee breather, got some rest and relax and do things you want to do like reading. It’s good to read.

Are you working hard to keep yourself physically fit as well?

I go on the bike some mornings. I was on this morning for half an hour did a few exercises and then I had breakfast and got ready to get the grilling from Jim Rosenthal.

When you look back, is there an outstanding memory, moment, match?

Well the final in 99 was unquestionably the greatest moment. Not just because we won it so late,. It was the manner of the team, the character of the team.

You’ve done a lot of work helping young managers. Do they still ring you for advice?

One or two, not many. I think they probably think I’m dead! I’m in the past! But I’m still involved with the League Managers, I’m still on the committee, still have dialogue with Richard Bevan and there’s a good committee there. Good experience with Sam Allardyce and people like that. The next event I’ll be speaking at, about leadership, is in November. I think that’s important for young players. I had a chat with Sean Dyche – he phoned me not so long ago. I think he is one of the [most] promising managers in the game. The job he has done at Burnley has been fantastic. I like to see young people do well.

What are the tomorrows for you?

I’m carrying on the things I’m doing. I’ve got things planned for the first half of next year. I’ve got a few leadership speeches. I’ve got my work with UNICEF, UEFA, my United ambassadorial work so there’s plenty there for me to do. My Harvard connection is still very strong. My problem now is getting time for relaxation but I’m enjoying it, I really am.

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