Retrospective #13: Alex Ferguson in 1986 – his vision for the club
Self-confidence, it would seem, is something Alex Ferguson has never lacked. Full of ambition, the Scot declared in his first programme notes as Manchester United manager: “I am not really interested in what has happened here in the past. I don’t mean any disrespect to the great achievements of Manchester United over the years. It’s simply that now there is only one way to go, and that is forward.”
But, perhaps not even he could have envisaged just how “forward” he would have taken the club. He had every right to be optimistic, although some of it did appear misplaced when you consider the club’s recent shortcomings at that time – and indeed, initially, not everything had gone to plan for United’s new boss. He spoke of his desire to win a trophy right away – the championship – and from that, success will almost certainly follow.
“There always has to be a starting point, and I see the championship as the basis for Manchester United’s future,” said Ferguson. “Success has a snowball effect as I found at Aberdeen when some people mistakenly thought that our first championship was a flash in the pan.” Of course, it was never going to be that easy. He had to wait a lot longer for that first title than he would have liked – the 1992/93 season, in fact – but, sure enough, it opened the door for many more. What makes this particular quote so fascinating, in retrospect, was that his “snowball effect” analogy could not have come together more perfectly. 36 trophies have come between then and now in a mere 19 years.
Back in ’86, he wanted to do things his own way – undaunted by the task: “Taking over a club of the magnitude of Manchester United is an awesome prospect. But ultimately a football club is a football club and I shall simply try to run things at Old Trafford in what I believe to be the right way.” In the years preceding, it was fair to say United were in something of an unforeseeable decline, so bad it was. Sir Matt Busby had never properly been replaced and so the atmosphere around Old Trafford was tense, understandably, and pessimistic. And so Fergie made it clear that if United were to win the championship, then that would be the “only real way to lay the ghosts of the past”.
When you look at it, there isn’t much difference from the Alex Ferguson of then and the Sir Alex of today. Through the years, he has reiterated just how vital it is that his players believe in themselves – that the ideal footballer is one who can rise to any challenge; putting a lot of emphasis on mentality, stressing how important it is to have the right one. “I only want players here who are determined to achieve…for the club and for themselves,” Fergie said in ’86. “Straight away they must rid themselves of any negative thoughts that it can’t be done. I am only interested in players who really want to play for Manchester United, and who, like me, are bad losers.”
And goes on to say: “Belief and confidence are very important, and instilling the right outlook will be my first priority,” he adds. “It’s not something that can be built overnight, and it could take a few months before I can create a true relationship with the players. But that is what I shall work towards and I am going to love every minute of it here.”
This was all said in the build up to his first game at Old Trafford, to be played against Queens Park Rangers. “Hopefully we can build on what we learned at Norwich last week,” Ferguson said, referring to a game that ended 0-0. “Our performance at Carrow Road, though only a draw, convinced me that there is nothing seriously wrong with Manchester United. The most important aspect was that there was a willingness and an appetite to play.” Before ending with: “the team perhaps wants some direction but they will be alright.” Indeed, once they had found that direction, which was, as noted earlier, “forward”, Manchester United under Alex Ferguson have never looked back.
With thanks to @DanLowth. (Quotes from United Review, 22 November 1986.)