A captivating image of Sir Alex Ferguson, published in the introduction to a book that applies intellectual theories to his management techniques, shows him in his shirtsleeves in a Harvard lecture hall in front of a blackboard flowchart of his methods.
His meticulously clean work includes arrows, braces, exclamation marks, and two ominous words written in chalk that clearly refer to his players: SELECT AND FIRE.
Harvard and the business world had a blast extemporizing with Ferguson’s help, which built his success after his retirement — 10 years ago next spring — and perhaps it was that intellectualization that preserved something as prosaic and visceral as “fear.” . from the narration.
But just when we think such an emotion belongs to another, more brutal age – Graham Potter has a master’s degree in “Leadership and Emotional Intelligence” – the recent addition to Manchester United’s literature shows the importance of fear.
fear of failure. Fear of failing in the eyes of teammates. Fear of Roy Keane. Matt Dickinson’s beautifully written story of the 1998/99 season that won the Treble, 1999, does more than the cover suggests.
It’s a glimpse into why United have thrived for as long as they have. What impresses you most is how these players lived on the brink, desperate to be at that level and being told in no uncertain terms when they weren’t. Sometimes just a little scared.
Some of the Keane stuff was madness. The book’s story of the feud between him and Teddy Sheringham is extraordinary to anyone who was unaware of the club at the time.
The two nearly clashed at a team night in 1998 and didn’t speak to each other on the same team for three and a half years. Even after Sheringham’s massive contribution to the Nou Camp miracle in 1999.
Gary Neville and Paul Scholes both admit the process hasn’t always been fun. “To be honest, you could say sometimes they weren’t the nicest people to play with,” Neville says of his teammates. But Ferguson moderated and regulated this climate.
The book reflects his surprisingly light touch. He had doubts about the decision to pick Jesper Blomqvist for the Nou Camp final – legitimate doubts as things turned out – but stuck by it for having promised him his place.
He felt Ryan Giggs underperformed ahead of the iconic FA Cup semi-final replay against Arsenal but went around the houses to say so.
All things in view. Wayne Rooney had a revealing response when asked in an interview published yesterday whether Ferguson encouraged debate. “Depends what it was,” he replied, smiling.
The mix of characters is something Ferguson couldn’t have planned. The book brings to light Dwight Yorke’s effervescent, happy part in it all. He was the one who delivered messages between Sheringham and Andy Cole, who also didn’t speak to each other. Its luminous light shines through the pages.
And at the end you understand why United won the Treble; why Neville instinctively ran 50 yards to take a throw-in down the left wing at the Nou Camp, which won the corner from which Sheringham eventually scored.
And why not clearing the first man out of that corner was the last thing Beckham would have done. These actions were innate and instinctive, fueled by brotherhood and years of fear of the consequences.
Neville says culture is a thing of the past. “I don’t think you can have that 80’s, 90’s spirit in a modern work environment.” But for once, he might not be entirely right.
United are showing the first flicker of renewal due to the burning intent of the likes of Lisandro Martinez and Tyrell Malacia, who is already showing the hallmarks of Patrice Evra’s intense determination.
A few weeks ago in Leicester we saw evidence of Martinez’s influence over Diogo Dalot as the two fist and chest jabbed after tackles and blocks. If you watch Erik ten Hag on the sidelines, you can see that he has that toughness too.
There is evidence of this in the Brazilian Antony. United have burned millions trying to figure out what they once had, but maybe it was there all along, burned into the collective memories of one of their greatest teams.
1999: Manchester United, The Treble and All That, by Matt Dickinson (Simon & Schuster, £20)
Beckham must stand up for workers in Qatar
It was the spontaneity of David Beckham’s appearance in the 13-hour queue to get past the Queen’s coffin that got your heart pumping. Just the man, his hat, his tattoos and some basic groceries.
So how about a few spontaneous words from Beckham, Qatar’s World Cup ambassador this week, about the godforsaken lives of the young immigrants who died building the infrastructure for the World Cup?
A week ago, I was strolling along Doha’s Corniche, where scores of them were struggling under a relentless late afternoon sun to prepare the venue for the World Cup, with not a single shelter between them. Nothing changes. Just a little spontaneous honesty could change so much.