x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Man manager that he is, Sir Alex Ferguson manipulates the system well

Ranting at referees in public but admonishing players in private is a balancing act few coaches have mastered like the veteran Manchester United coach.

Alex Ferguson, right, may rant at referees but is strict on players if they do not give them respect. Andrew Yates / AFP
Alex Ferguson, right, may rant at referees but is strict on players if they do not give them respect. Andrew Yates / AFP

I was through on goal in a huge match between Manchester United and Chelsea back in 2000. We were leading 3-2 at Old Trafford in the second half. I slid the ball under the goalkeeper and watched it go towards the goal.

Chelsea were playing really well under their new boss Claudio Ranieri, but 4-2 would have been too much for them.

From nowhere, Graeme Le Saux managed to slide across and clear the ball off the line. It was brilliant defending in his last game for Chelsea. The match finished 3-3.

Sir Alex Ferguson was asked about the incident after the game. He was full of praise for Chelsea and the way they came from 3-1 down to dominate the game. In the privacy of the dressing room, however, he cut a very different figure.

He absolutely slaughtered me. Hammered me. Called me every name under the sun. The word "greedy" was repeated time and time again. I gave as good as I had got. I had played well. We had not won, but I stuck up for myself.

And I went away thinking: "I'm going to prove him wrong." I was so livid that it didn't bother me if I never spoke to him again, but I was going to prove him wrong.

I kept my head down in training and worked.

The next match was PSV Eindhoven away a few days later. I was not picked. I walked out of their tunnel and kept hearing someone shouting, "Cole, you greedy so and so." The voice would not go away. I was livid, but could not see who was having a go at me.

Then I saw a little laughing head pop out from behind a pillar. Ferguson. The ice had been broken. We lost the game 3-1. I started the next match against Arsenal away, our main rivals.

None of the sharks in the media had a clue about our fallout. Our row was contained. It actually motivated me more. Had Ferguson been publicly critical of me, I would have seen it as a betrayal, someone putting themselves first. And I would have done the same from then on.

Ferguson does not publicly criticise his players, even if he is fuming at them.

He does everything in private. I had countless arguments with him, but they were not made public. He also criticises officials to deflect attention away from any underperforming players.

A rant against a referee will make the headlines, not a poor performance. He might take a fine, but it is one for the team. He manipulates the system. I see that as top management.

He once had a go at the poor referee Andy D'Urso, who had been guilty of being bullied by my United teammates. They had chased him into the corner of the Old Trafford pitch. Fergie's rant took the attention away from the bad behaviour of his players. In private, he hammered us for not showing the referee respect.

Ferguson does not belittle his team in front of the media. Have you heard him speak ill of goalkeeper David De Gea? No chance. He will defend him publicly, but in private he will say what he feels he needs to say.

Arsene Wenger is the same. Another top manager. Jose Mourinho is slightly different, but he usually defends his players. He recently said that Angel Di Maria's form had slipped since he signed a big new contract. Criticism? Yes. Motivation for the player? Even more.

Public criticism of players is risky and lacks class. Managers may think they are being honest and are telling the fans how it is. That is true, but they need to be cleverer than that because players can see it as betrayal.

A manager cannot afford to betray his whole team - because they will not play for him. I had one manager who criticised me in public and four days later told me that the team needed me. Not as much as he needed me. I was not inclined to do him any favours when he had belittled me and made me the talk of the town.

Ferguson has changed his management style. When I started playing, a manager could say almost what he wanted to a player. With the influx of foreign players into the English game, new cultures have to be respected.

What motivates one player offends another. A top manager will know the nuances, the mental state of each player and understand which egos need to be stroked or who needs to be shaken up to get the best of out them.


Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten


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