Sir Alex Ferguson

Classic Q&A: When the celebrities asked Sir Alex

Monday 31 December 2018 14:45

To mark Sir Alex Ferguson's 77th birthday on New Year's Eve, we mined the official magazine archives for one of our favourite interviews with the former Manchester United manager.

In the 200th edition of Inside United, published in March 2009, the club reporter's role of coming up with questions for the boss was delegated to a host of famous faces, from celebrity fans of the Reds to former players and his fellow club legends.

Here we present a selection of their queries and his answers, so sit back and raise a glass to Sir Alex as you read this piece from almost 10 years ago...

Who is the quickest player you've worked with? – Usain Bolt, Olympic champion
“We've had a lot of quick players here. If you're talking over certain distances, then Gary Pallister would have taken some beating in a sprint. I think he was definitely the quickest over 100 metres. Yet speed in football isn't about running 100 metres on a pitch, so you have to consider Andrei Kanchelskis, Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs, Andy Cole, Paul Parker - he was very fast - Anderson, Rio Ferdinand and Lee Sharpe, who as a young kid was swift before he started to get bigger. Paul Ince was quick, too. So that group of players would be among the fastest, but over 100 metres, Pallister would have beaten any of them. In a football sense, I'd say Giggs – particularly when he was younger - and Kanchelskis.”
Olympic legend Usain Bolt was one of the celebrities who submitted a question for Sir Alex.
How do you account for the fact that so many big names in football, including Hughie Gallagher, Alex James, Matt Busby, Bill Shankly and George Graham, all came from within a few miles of each other in Scotland? - Harold Riley, artist
“I think that the communities and environments they came from created a sense of loyalty and determination. This is particularly true of mining areas. The mining community is probably the most devastated part of life in Great Britain's industrial history - for its loss of jobs and the loss of lives in such a perilous vocation. Any person who grows up in that situation tries to fight their way out of it. Football was a great common factor as far as that was concerned. The same goes for boxing - a lot of great fighters came from that area, too.”

You seem to be the object of more public speculation and criticism than any other manager has ever had before. How does it affect you? - Simon Le Bon, singer (Duran Duran)
“I think it's part of the job when you're manager of Manchester United. It's not just me, either. Look at the criticism Ronaldo gets, the best player in the world. He only has to have half a bad game and he's slaughtered. Cantona got it, he got slaughtered for ages. You see the criticism that Gary Neville gets because he's a dyed-in-the wool Manchester United man. You have to accept it's part of the package. It doesn't bother me one bit.”

What do you consider to be the turning point in the early part of your United career? - Mickey Thomas, former United player
“I think there were a few turning points. Obviously, there was a big job to be done in terms of the restructuring of the club - from youth development right through. As I'd done in my early management at St Mirren and Aberdeen, I always felt having a youth programme was important. That was the foundation we built at this club. We held trials every week up at Albert Park in Salford, on the floodlit astroturf. We had meetings with the scouts to focus on exactly what their job was. I remember saying to them: "I don't want the best boy in their street. I want the best in their town." We worked really hard at the youth and you could start to see the fruits of that after a year and a half. I brought Les Kershaw in as chief scout, then I recruited Brian Kidd for youth development and local scouting, and we started to make ground. In those days, you could have trials all the time, you can't do that now in the academy. We'd have the kids in for two or three weeks in August, then two weeks in October, a week in December, two weeks in March... that way we were getting all the best young kids and trialling all the time. It was hard work.

An early pic of Sir Alex in the United manager's office at Old Trafford, back in 1986.

"Meanwhile, I felt that the first-team squad was too old to carry on challenging, and we had to start changing that. In 1989, I brought in five players and we sold off quite a few - Paul McGrath, Norman Whiteside, Gordon Strachan, Jesper Olsen, Peter Davenport, Chris Turner and Graeme Hogg. We also gave free transfers to Kevin Moran, Frank Stapleton and Mick Duxbury. We started to build a new team. But the biggest thing was the youth development, it was starting to progress."

Sir Alex, as the greatest manager of all time, is it hard to be humble? - Ian Brown, singer (Stone Roses)

“The important thing is just to keep your feet on the ground. I have a common sense attitude to life. My wife cringes every time someone calls me Sir Alex, or calls her Lady Cathy. She says to me, "I don't know why you accepted it in the first place!" So your famiIy keep your feet on the ground. I've never been the type to get carried away, so it's easy for me.”

Which player, past or present, would you most like to spend an evening with? – Angus Deayton, TV presenter
“Denis Law was my hero as a player, so it would have to be him.”

Sir Alex and his idol, United and Scotland legend Denis Law

Has the legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi been an influence on your career? Do you share any qualities? - Ed O'Brien, guitarist (Radiohead)
“He hasn't been an influence on my career, as I only read a book about him for the first time about 10 years ago. But I was inspired by him when I read it, [When Pride Still Mattered by David Maraniss], because I thought I was reading about myself! Everything he did, where he started from, it all had echoes in my own life. When I began in management, people said: ''What the hell are you going to East Stirling for?" At the time, I said: ''You've got to start somewhere." I asked Ally MacLeod, my manager at Ayr at the time, for advice and he said: ''You only need to be out of this game for two minutes and you're forgotten. Don't let yourself be forgotten. When a job comes along, take it." Vince Lombardi was driving up to become coach of Green Bay Packers. There were four-feet-long icicles along the road, it was that cold, and his wife said to him: ''What the hell are we doing going up here?" Nobody had heard of the Packers, but they went on to win two Superbowls under him. When he was dying, three former American presidents went to see him, and Frank Sinatra went too... amazing. When you read what some of his former players wrote about him, you realise how special he was.”

What's the most amazing thing you've seen a player do in training? Dominic Monaghan, actor (Lost, Lord of the Rings)
“Without doubt that would be Paul Scholes' pot shots at his team-mates. When a player goes to have a pee at the side of the training pitch, he fires balls at them from 40 yards away right at their heads! He's unbelievable. He got John O'Shea about two weeks ago, right on the shoulder, while he was having a pee. He got Gary Neville right on the head, and Neville chased him across the pitch!”

Happy birthday, Sir Alex Video

Happy birthday, Sir Alex

Happy birthday, Sir Alex! To celebrate, here are just a few highlights from a United career like no other...

How did it feel when, as a Rangers player, you lost 4-0 to Celtic in the 1969 Scottish Cup final? And why weren't you marking Billy McNeill for the corner that led to their early goal? - Paddy Crerand, MUTV pundit & United legend
“Och, Paddy's evil... that was my worst moment in football as a player. It was my last game for Rangers, in the first team, anyway. I had to man-mark McNeill but our centre-half Ronnie McKinnon was supposed to attack the ball. Neither of us did our job and McNeill scored. It was the second minute of the match, so it was a killer. The other goals we lost were absolutely ridiculous, it was a shambles. I've watched a video of the match, and I certainly wasn't the worst player on that pitch, that's for sure. Rangers were shocking that day, right through the team. David Smith was the only Rangers player who played well that day. We were absolutely thrashed, it was unbelievable.”

Who would you co-star with in a film, given the chance? - Ken Doherty, snooker player
“If you go back to the old movies, then I'd say Spencer Tracy. He was fabulous, so was John Wayne. As for the present-day actors, it would be Sean Connery, without a doubt.”

When you retire from United, probably in another 20 years, would you accept the Scotland job if it was vacant? - Denis Law, United legend
“No. I won't turn to international management when I retire from the club. When I've finished here, I think I deserve a rest! I'll be off to my wee butt 'n' ben [holiday home], for a complete rest. After United, I'm done with managing.”