You have a great reputation for developing talent. What do you look for in a young footballer?
Motivation and intelligence are the two main elements, because I believe you need minimal intelligence – do you know why you make a mistake? – and a desire to become better. The talent aspect is not enough, because what makes a career depends on how much you want to be somebody, and are you intelligent enough to understand what you can do with the talent you have?
If you look around you, you will see that most top players are intelligent enough to understand what you can do with the talent you have. If you look around you, you will see that most top players are intelligent – they have to be because it is not easy to manage a career.
Ideally, you want to have a player who has everything. Our game at Arsenal is based on technique and movement – that means I look at the pace of the player and his technical level. These elements don't always go with power or physical commitment, but we want our game to be very mobile and very fast, therefore we need a good technique and to be able to move quickly. Of course, you want power and physical presence, but the priorities for me are pace and technique.
How much can you change during a match?
When it comes to games, I am much more analytical during the first half because at half-time I need to help my team. It is difficult to communicate with the players during a top match so I don't shout too much but I do take notes, but only in the first half. The second half I can analyse at home. During the half-time team talk, I try to control my emotions and to be what the team needs me to be – this means that I can be very cool or I can be very emotional because the team needs a certain response from me. There is always a certain emotional component as well as a tactical contribution. There is always something to tell the team at half-time, but after the match not one word, because the players are not ready to be analytical at that moment.
I would say I have a flexible management style, although I am very demanding during training. I have always been lucky to have more than one pitch at my training centre, and I therefore prepare my sessions in such a way that I can jump from one situation to another with effective working time high and resting time very low. We go for quality and high intensity during short periods. Players want to work, whether it is in Portugal, England or Spain, as long as the training is well organised and serious, and they know the purpose of the exercise.
Sir Alex Ferguson
What qualities are needed by a coach to succeed at the top level?
I have thought about that a lot, and there are a number of things. As I progressed as a coach, I learnt that observation was vital. To coach and watch at the same time is difficult. If you are involved too much in the coaching, you miss many things. I started to delegate more things to my assistant and to stand back sometimes. Observation is definitely an important issue in order to make sure that the quality is high and that you get out of a training session what you want.
Next, you need perseverance because coaching at the top today is not an easy job. If you come in on a Monday after a defeat and you lack this quality, it will show and that will affect the players. So on Monday morning, you have the fire in the belly', you are ready. The passion has to come out.
I also think that a top coach needs an imagination. When people ask you what was your best ever goal as a coach, you want to identify a perfect goal that you influenced. It is about your imagination, inculcated into a training session, and which the players take on board. They then do it by habit. I remember as a young coach teaching takeovers in important areas of the pitch which was unusual at the time. So you put this imagination into a player's mind, and he can then take it to another level. You create a chain reaction, which produces thinking players, and this is a wonderful thing to develop.
It is also important to have simple communication. You see those training sessions where the coach is talking all the time and the message is lost – the words get lost in the wind. Keep it simple, be brief, but be decisive. Remember when we were players – we were standing there and we wanted to get on with it and the coach was rambling on. Talking too much is a big danger.
You had a difficult start as a head coach. What advice would you give to those starting out?
Put simply: you need passion and hours. You need passion and to spend endless hours at developing yourself as a coach. You also have to have faith in your ability. When I was sacked from my first two jobs, one of them after only nine games of the season, I looked for a new job and continued my education. I had a physical education degree, including four years of specialisation, and all my life I had been in sport, so it was my business. I remember my second agent telling me that it would be difficult to get a new job offer after two sackings. Without hesitation I told him I would be in the First Division.
When I went on my study tour to Italy, England and Brazil, I asked a lot of questions to the coaches I met, like Fabio Capello. If you don't know something, you must look for the answers. You must do the right things in order to win and this means knowing what works – it is not just about theory, but about being practical and flexible. In my parents' house alone, I had 1,500 videos, with three matches on each, and I used to analyse the details of the games. That was 10 years. Now I use the computer and I have all the DVDs at our training ground. I suppose you could say, all things considered, that I am a student of the game.
What are the significant trends in European football?
From a managerial perspective, the trend is for a coach to be judged more quickly and more harshly than in the past. Because of that, there is little scope for a coach to develop his philosophy or his management style because he might not get the results quickly enough to give him time. What it has meant, at the highest level, is that the ability to spend money and buy the right players, and to get them to fit in, has become more important than it was in the past when more time was given to the manager to develop the players at his disposal. Today he is being judged more on the quality of his buys than on the standard of work being carried out on a day-to-day basis.
From a tactical viewpoint, we could talk about a lot of things but I'll content myself with three. Number one is the importance of the counter-attack and ability to profit from the turnovers. Secondly, the improvement of athleticism and pace throughout the team. There is no doubt the game is faster and the selection of players reflects this. And thirdly, there is less high-intensity pressing from the front and in advanced areas, partly because concern over the interpretation of the offside law has led teams to play deeper. Sides are still compact, but this is mainly in their own half.
What is your coaching style?
I think I am a mixture between a coach and a manager; I like entering the managerial/ administrative part of the club, and I don't want to be isolated by only taking care of the technical side. I like to be involved in everything that happens. I believe in hard work, group spirit and discipline. If a player has discipline, respects his colleagues and works in a serious way, good results will be achieved. Otherwise, positive results may still be achieved but only in the short term. It's the system and the way you work which allows you to win on a continuous basis. You win by remaining concentrated, determined and disciplined. It's not necessarily a rigid sort of discipline. I am talking about disciplined respect. Regarding playing methods, it depends a lot on the type of players. If I can work with fast, strong-minded players, I can adopt a very different approach – while still implementing my personal style."
Extracted from 'The Technician – Uefa Newsletter for Coaches', which has been distributed to coaches across Europe since 1997.
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