Ryder Cup 2014: Sir Alex Ferguson given motivational speech duties at Gleneagles

Paul McGinley brings in former Manchester United boss

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The Independent Online

Fergie time enveloped Gleneagles on Tuesday as the most successful manager in the history of English football marched into the European team room to address the players ahead of the Ryder Cup.

The Agincourt Speech delivered by an inspirational figure has become a feature of the European Ryder Cup experience and this year captain Paul McGinley handed the mic to golf devotee Sir Alex Ferguson.

You wonder if the footballing knight might have been better utilised in another dressing room, given the plight of Manchester United, the institution he rebuilt over 25 years. McGinley had intended to keep the identity of his speaker secret but there was nil chance of that once Sir Alex was spotted out on the course watching the European team practise.

“I played with him in the JP McManus Pro-Am about 15 years ago,” said McGinley. “He’s a guy I’ve seen now and again over that time, and when I became captain, for a number of reasons, I asked him.

“Of course, he was more than willing to help. But the one thing he asked me to do was keep it really quiet. And walking around is not keeping it quiet, is it, when he’s on site? We wanted a bit of surprise for the players. But I guess it’s not a surprise. A lot of people have said it to me this morning.

“Although I’m not a Man United fan, as everybody knows, I’m a West Ham fan, but I’ve always loved the way his teams played. And there are a number of things that he was particularly good at that I think will be a particularly strong fit, a lot of similarities.

“We met a number of times over the last few months. We’ve had lunch, no more than that. I haven’t gone into massive detail. He’s asked me a lot of questions and I’ve given him some interest, and I know he’s very keen and looking forward to tonight.

“He’s a big fan of golf, as we know. He knows Rory [McIlroy] very well, and Rory is a big Man United fan. Not everybody in the room is a Man United fan, so that should be a bit of fun. But this is not about him being a headmaster and coming in and preaching to them. This is about fun.

“[There are] areas that I’ll be talking to the players about, [with] him relating it to football and getting some football stories. So I very much like to think that we’re both coming from the same direction and he’s talking along the lines that I’ll be talking this week.”

Ferguson is well versed in the role of international motivator. He was ringside at Flushing Meadows during Andy Murray’s conquest of the US Open tennis in 2012 and communicated with McIlroy after his Masters meltdown of 2011.

The retired football manager does not, however, boast a 100 per cent record in the business of making a difference. At Castle Stuart during the 2011 Scottish Open, Ferguson, being the patriot he is, had chosen to follow Colin Montgomerie.

So enraged was Monty after dropping a shot at the short, par-four third, he walked within two feet of the great man as he crossed to the fourth tee completely ignoring his outstretched hand. Ferguson turned to his chaperone for the day, Gordon Simpson of the European Tour, and shook his head in disbelief.

 

McGinley is obviously prepared to overlook that episode. “He’s a very keen golfer. He watches a lot on TV. He knew a lot about the players. He’d observed a lot of them and was very keen on getting to meet the ones he had not met. And of course, the players are mad about football, every one of them.”

Ferguson is following in the footsteps of rugby great Gareth Edwards, who gave a speech to the European team at Celtic Manor in 2010. Montgomerie also had the founding father of European Ryder Cup golf, Seve Ballesteros, on speakerphone in the 2010 locker room.

Two years on, Jose Maria Olazabal unleashed Pep Guardiola, on sabbatical before joining Bayern Munich from Barcelona, in the team room. He also used a collection of posthumous clips of Ballesteros to inspire the players, who responded with arguably the greatest fightback in the history of the contest, coming back from 10-4 down to win.

The US captain, Tom Watson, said he would be doing the talking in the American team room, unlike previous incumbent Corey Pavin, who invited United States combat pilot Dan Rooney to rouse his troops, unsuccessfuly as it turned out, in 2010.

Other than that, table tennis appears to be the bonding agent of choice. European rookie Jamie Donaldson reported a 3-0 tonking at the hands of veteran Thomas Bjorn. “He had a jumper on and I had a T-shirt on and I was dripping with sweat and he didn’t have any sweat on him at all. He was winding me up all morning. I’ll be looking to play him again tonight,” Donaldson said.

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