Sir Alex Ferguson gave an interview to PBS' Charlie Rose earlier this week, where the former Manchester United manager reflected on his glittering managerial career.

Ferguson's autobiography is released at the end of the month, when more light will be shed on United's post-Treble years (his first autobiography was published in 1999).

Below is a detailed transcript of the conversation...

Sir Alex Ferguson: I never worried about teams who spend what they want to spend. It never bothered me. It never bothered me. At the moment we have a lot of Middle Eastern owners, we have American owners of course, Russian owners. It never bothered me one bit. All I was concerned about was that we at United maintained our level of expectation, be competitive, be at the top part of the League.

We might not win it every year, but we’d always be up there competing for it every year. The only consideration I had was to make sure that we are there. You do things different ways. I’ve spoken about young players, and yes, that’s really important that part, but from time to time we have spent big money and brought in the player who could make a difference.

Charlie Rose: Who is the best player that you ever saw?

AF: I’m a Pelé fan from way back when I was a kid, and then there was always this thing later about Pelé and Maradona. I was young and impressionable as a kid but it was always Pele for me. Today, I think that you have got to look at Messi and Ronaldo. They are unbelievable. The best today. They are fantastic – absolutely.

sir alex ferguson pele

Ferguson: A Pelé fan "from way back"


CR: The best have what it takes - is that correct?

AF: The best have the courage and I say this all the time. The courage to take the ball all the time, the courage to make sure that they are not going to be intimidated by their opponents, and the courage to express themselves at all times and I think that all the great players have got that.

CR: Are they born with it?

AF: Possibly, yes. You can develop them through coaching, but I don’t think that you can ever develop the courage. I think that makes a big difference – you either have courage or you have not.

CR: In some ways it’s like a game of basketball, you always want the best players to have the ball in the last 15 seconds.

AF: When we assessed teams, we looked at who was their player who wanted the ball all the time, who is the one who wants to take the free-kicks all the time, who wants to dominate, and he’s the one that you concentrate upon.

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    File photo dated 16/05/1999 of Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson holding aloft the Premiership Trophy as he celebrates Manchester United becoming Champions of the Premiership at Old Trafford.

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    Manchester United's new manager Alex Ferguson (L) at a press conference at Old Trafford, with chairman Martin Edwards. * 05/11/2001: Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates 15 years as Manchester United manager, he knows he faces his toughest title challenge yet in the remainder of the season. *29/11/2002 : Martin Edwards has resigned as a non-executive director of Manchester United plc, Friday 29 November, 2002. In a statement to the Stock Exchange, United said he would step down from the position immediately and also revealed Edwards will retire from the board of the football club at the end of the current season.THIS PICTURE CAN ONLY BE USED WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF AN EDITORIAL FEATURE. NO WEBSITE/INTERNET USE UNLESS SITE IS REGISTERED WITH FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION PREMIER LEAGUE.

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    11 May 1996: Alex Ferguson with the trophy after Man Utd's victory over Liverpool in the 1996 FA Cup Final between Manchester United v Liverpool at Wembley Stadium, London. Mandatory Credit: Shaun Botterill/ALLSPORT

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    Manchester United's new manager Alex Ferguson (L) at a press conference at Old Trafford, with chairman Martin Edwards. * 05/11/2001: Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates 15 years as Manchester United manager, he knows he faces his toughest title challenge yet in the remainder of the season. *29/11/2002 : Martin Edwards has resigned as a non-executive director of Manchester United plc, Friday 29 November, 2002. In a statement to the Stock Exchange, United said he would step down from the position immediately and also revealed Edwards will retire from the board of the football club at the end of the current season.THIS PICTURE CAN ONLY BE USED WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF AN EDITORIAL FEATURE. NO WEBSITE/INTERNET USE UNLESS SITE IS REGISTERED WITH FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION PREMIER LEAGUE.

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    15 May 1991: Manchester United Manager Alex Ferguson holds the trophy aloft after the European Cup Winners Cup final against Barcelona at the Feyenoord Stadium in Rotterdam, Holland. Manchester United won the match 2-1. \ Mandatory Credit: Simon Bruty/Allsport

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    Manchester United manager, Alex Ferguson

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    ALEX FERGUSON, MANAGER, MANCHESTER UNITED WITH FA PREMIER LEAGUE CHAMPIONSHIP TROPHY IN THE CROWD.

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    File photo dated 03/05/1993 of Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson with the Premier League trophy.

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    MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 8: Ryan Giggs, Sir Alex Ferguson and Lee Sharpe of Manchester United celebrate in the dressing room with the Premiership Trophy after becoming FA Carling Premiership Winners in the 1993-94 season at Old Trafford on May 8, 1994. Manchester United 0 Coventry City 0 (Photo by John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

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    8 MAY 1994: MANCHESTER UNITED MANAGER ALEX FERGUSON AND BRYAN KIDD STAND WITH THE FA PREMIERSHIP TROPHY FOLLOWING THEIR 0-0 DRAW WITH COVENTRY CITY AT THE OLD TRAFFORD STADIUM. Mandatory Credit: Shaun Botterill/ALLSPORT

  • FA Cup Final

    11 May 1996: Alex Ferguson and Bryan Kidd celebrate after Manchester United's victory over Liverpool in the 1996 FA Cup Final between Manchester United v Liverpool at Wembley Stadium, London. Mandatory Credit: Shaun Botterill/ALLSPORT

  • Soccer - Sir Alex Ferguson 25 years in charge of Manchester United

    File photo dated 12/05/1996 of Manchester United's Eric Cantona (left) with the FA Cup and manager Alex Ferguson with the Carling Premiership trophy on their victorious return to Manchester's Victoria Station.

  • Alex Ferguson

    11 May 1997: Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United manager holds aloft the FA Carling Premier League Championship Trophy after the match against West Ham United at Old Trafford in Manchester, England. Manchester United won 2-0. \ Mandatory Credit: Ben Radford /Allsport

  • FA Cup 1999

    MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 22: Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates at the final whistle with Roy Keane after victory in the FA Cup Final between Manchester United v Newcastle at Wembley Stadium on May 22, 1999 in London. Manchester United 2 Newcastle United 0. (Photo by John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

  • Alex Ferguson

    22 May 1999: Alex Ferguson the manager of Manchester United celebrates with the trophy after the AXA FA Cup Final match against Newcastle United played at Wembley Stadium in London, England. The match finished in a 2-0 win for Manchester United and they completed the 'Double' for the third time in six years. \ Mandatory Credit: Ben Radford /Allsport

  • Bayern Munich v Manchester United

    BARCELONA, SPAIN - MAY 26: Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates with the European Cup in the dressing room after the UEFA Champions League Final between Bayern Munich v Manchester United at the Nou camp Stadium on 26 May, 1999 in Barcelona, Spain. Bayern Munich 1 Manchester United 2. (Photo by John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

  • Alex Ferguson celebrates with Manchester United players and the European Cup

    26 May 1999: Alex Ferguson celebrates with Manchester United players and the European Cup after winning the European Champions League Final against Bayern Munich in the Nou Camp Stadium, Barcelona, Spain. Manchester United won 2 - 1 with both United goals scored during injury time, to secure the treble of League, FA Cup and European Cup. \ Mandatory Credit: Shaun Botterill /Allsport

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    MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 27: Sir Alex Ferguson kisses the European Cup the morning after the victory in the UEFA Champions League Final between Bayern Munich v Manchester United at the Nou camp Stadium on 26 May, 1999 in Barcelona, Spain. Bayern Munich 1 Manchester United 2. (Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

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    This picture can only be used in the context of an editorial feature. Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson smiles as his side are crowned FA Carling Premiership Champions, after their football match against Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford. * Final score : Manchester United 3, Tottenham Hotspur 1. * 07/02/01 Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson smiling after his side are crowned FA Carling Premiership Champions. Manchester United today, Wednesday 7th February 2001 announced they are joining forces with baseball club the New York Yankees in a bid to tap into the vast untapped soccer market in America.

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    THIS PICTURE CAN ONLY BE USED WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF AN EDITORIAL FEATURE. NO WEBSITE/INTERNET USE UNLESS SITE IS REGISTERED WITH FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION PREMIER LEAGUE. Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson (left) lifts the FA Carling Premiership trophy with his captain Roy Keane after Premiership match against Derby County at OId Trafford, Manchester.

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    Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates with his grandson Jake after the 1-0 win against Arsenal, during the FA Cup semi final at Villa Park, Birmingham. THIS PICTURE CAN ONLY BE USED WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF AN EDITORIAL FEATURE. NO WEBSITE/INTERNET USE UNLESS SITE IS REGISTERED WITH FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION PREMIER LEAGUE.

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    CARDIFF, WALES - MAY 22: Goalkeeping coach Tony Coton, Kit men Alec Wylie and Albert Morgan, Nutrionalist Trevor Lea, Manager Sir Alex Ferguson, Masseur Garry Armer, Physio Rob Swire and Assistant Manager Walter Smith of Manchester United celebrate with the FA Cup after winning the AXA FA Cup Final between Manchester United and Millwall at the Millennium Stadium on May 22, 2004 in Cardiff, Wales. (Photo by John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

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    Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates with the trophy after defeating Wigan Athletic in the Carling Cup Final at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Sunday February 26, 2006. Final score: Manchester United 4 - Wigan 0. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Photo credit should read: Gareth Copley/PA THIS PICTURE CAN ONLY BE USED WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF AN EDITORIAL FEATURE. NO WEBSITE/INTERNET USE UNLESS SITE IS REGISTERED WITH FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION PREMIER LEAGUE.

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    BOLTON, ENGLAND - APRIL 1: Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United celebrates at the end of the Barclays Premiership match between Bolton Wanderers and Manchester United at the Reebok Stadium on April 1 2006 in Bolton, England. (Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

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    LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 28: Manchester United Manager Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates with Cristiano Ronaldo and Michael Carrick following his team's victory, as Mikel Arteta shows his dejection at the end of the Barclays Premiership match between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park on April 28, 2007 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

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    MANCHESTER, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 13: Manchester United Manager Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates as Ryan Giggs (L) and Gary Neville of Manchester United lift the Premiership trophy after winning the Premiership title at the end of the Barclays Premiership match between Manchester United and West Ham United at Old Trafford on May 13, 2007 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

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    WIGAN, ENGLAND - MAY 11: Sir Alex Ferguson and Carlos Queiroz of Manchester United celebrate with the Premier League trophy on the pitch after the Barclays FA Premier League match between Wigan Athletic and Manchester United at JJB Stadium on May 11 2008, in Wigan, England. (Photo by John Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)

  • Soccer - Sir Alex Ferguson 25 years in charge of Manchester United

    File photo dated 21/05/2008 of Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson with the trophy after the UEFA Champions League Final at the Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow.

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    YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - DECEMBER 21: Manchester United Head Coach Alex Ferguson celebrates after winning the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008 final match between Manchester United and Liga de Quito at the International Stadium Yokohama on December 21, 2008 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. Manchester United defeated Liga de Quito by 1-0. (Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images)

  • Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson

    Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson celebrates as he leaves the pitch after huis side had beaten Aston Villa 3-2 during the English Premiership football match at Old Trafford, Manchester, north-west England, on April 5, 2009. AFP PHOTO/ANDREW YATES. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY Additional licence required for any commercial/promotional use or use on TV or internet (except identical online version of newspaper) of Premier League/Football League photos. Tel DataCo +44 207 2981656. Do not alter/modify photo. (Photo credit should read ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Manchester United v Arsenal - Premier League

    MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 16: Manchester United Manager Sir Alex Ferguson (R) and Assistant Mike Phelan celebrate with the Barclays Premier League trophy after their side won the Premier League title at the end of the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford on May 16, 2009 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

  • Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson

    Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson celebrates after his team scored their winning goal during the English Premier League football match against Manchester City at Old Trafford, in Manchester, north-west England on September 20, 2009. AFP PHOTO/ANDREW YATES --- FOR EDITORIAL USE Additional licence required for any commercial/promotional use or use on TV or internet (except identical online version of newspaper) of Premier League/Football League photos. Tel DataCo +44 207 2981656. Do not alter/modify photo (Photo credit should read ANDREW YATES/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Manchester United manager Sir Alex Fergu

    Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates with the trophy after his team beat Aston Villa 2-1 to win the 2010 Carling Cup Final at Wembley, in north London, on February 28, 2010. AFP PHOTO/CARL DE SOUZA (Photo credit should read CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)

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    Manchester United Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates after winning the Barclays Premiership during the Barclays Premier League match at Ewood Park, Blackburn

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    Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates with the Premier League trophy

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    Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is given a guard of honour as he celebrates 25 years at the club

  • London Olympic Games - Day 8

    General view of the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand at Old Trafford

  • Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester United v Aston Villa - Old Trafford

    Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson celebrates after the final whistle

  • Soccer - Alex Ferguson Filer

    File photo dated 08/06/1996 of Newcastle boss Kevin Keegan (left) gets to grips with Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson as they meet at Wembley for the start of the European Championships. PRESS ASSOCITAION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday May 8, 2013. Sir Alex Ferguson will retire at the end of this season, Manchester United have announced. See PA Story SOCCER Man Utd. Photo credit should read: Adam Butler/PA Wire.

  • Soccer - Alex Ferguson Filer

    File photo dated 17/08/2012 of Manchester United's new signing Robin Van Persie (left) with manager Sir Alex Ferguson following a press conference at Old Trafford, Manchester. PRESS ASSOCITAION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday May 8, 2013. Sir Alex Ferguson will retire at the end of this season, Manchester United have announced. See PA Story SOCCER Man Utd. Photo credit should read: Barrington Coombs/PA Wire.

  • Soccer - Alex Ferguson Filer

    File photo dated 01/09/2004 of Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson (left) and new signing Wayne Rooney (right) with Joe Ruane (centre) who held a sign pleading for the club to sign Rooney at the match against Dinamo Buchrest. PRESS ASSOCITAION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday May 8, 2013. Sir Alex Ferguson will retire at the end of this season, Manchester United have announced. See PA Story SOCCER Man Utd. Photo credit should read: Gareth Copley/PA Wire.

  • Soccer - Alex Ferguson Filer

    File photo dated 26/05/99 of Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson with the UEFA Champions League Trophy following victory over Bayern Munich. PRESS ASSOCITAION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday May 8, 2013. Sir Alex Ferguson will retire at the end of this season, Manchester United have announced. See PA Story SOCCER Man Utd. Photo credit should read: Phil Noble/PA Wire.

  • Soccer - Alex Ferguson Filer

    File photo dated 9/12/2001 of England's David Beckham (L) with his BBC Sports Personality of the Year Award 2001 and Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson with his Lifetime Achievement Award at BBC Television Centre, London. PRESS ASSOCITAION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday May 8, 2013. Sir Alex Ferguson will retire at the end of this season, Manchester United have announced. See PA Story SOCCER Man Utd. Photo credit should read: Toby Melville/PA Wire.

  • Soccer - Alex Ferguson Filer

    File photo dated 22/02/2002 of Manchester United's new 30million signing Rio Ferdinand stands with club manager Alex Ferguson as they pose for photographers at the club's Old Trafford ground. PRESS ASSOCITAION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday May 8, 2013. Sir Alex Ferguson will retire at the end of this season, Manchester United have announced. See PA Story SOCCER Man Utd. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

  • Soccer - Alex Ferguson Filer

    File photo dated 05/03/2013 of Manchester United's manager Sir Alex Ferguson. PRESS ASSOCITAION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday May 8, 2013. Sir Alex Ferguson will retire at the end of this season, Manchester United have announced. See PA Story SOCCER Man Utd. Photo credit should read: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.

  • Soccer - Alex Ferguson Filer

    File photo dated 17/05/1990 of The Manchester United team after winning the FA Cup at Wembley. United beat Crystal Palace 1-0. PRESS ASSOCITAION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday May 8, 2013. Sir Alex Ferguson will retire at the end of this season, Manchester United have announced. See PA Story SOCCER Man Utd. Photo credit should read: PA Wire.


CR: This is what the Economist Magazine said about you; Mr Ferguson could reasonably be described as Britain’s Steve Jobs, given his unorthodox talent obsessed, and sometimes bruising approach to making something beautiful. We’ll talk about all those things, but did you think that you were making something beautiful?

AF: I think that the encouragement that I got from the club during the early days when they stood by me when the times were really difficult, really helped me a lot.

CR: People wanted you fired didn’t they?

AF: Yes, that’s correct. One or two banners were up saying ‘time up’ and things like that, but I think it would be true to say that at that period I did lose a little bit of confidence. However, I didn’t lose my determination. I knew that the things which I was doing at youth level were correct.

So the Board, Martin Edwards and Bobby Charlton in particular, stood by me because they knew what was happening. So by doing that, I then knew that I was doing something special with these young players – Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, Butt, the Nevilles. They all came into the first team round about the same time. So when people assess United today, they maybe don’t understand that those boys were the spirit of the club. They created the fantastic spirit of Manchester United as it is today.

CR: Looking at the Harvard Business Review. You went up there and they developed a key study. What was the question? Generally these things have a question.

AF: The main central point of the discussion was love and hate. Do the players love me or, do they hate me, or was there a balance? Of course there was also many different opinions about that, but the central thing to it all was respect. That was always looked for – respect.

CR: So you could have the love or the hate, but you looked for the respect every time?

AF: Yes, that was it.

CR: Suppose that they said love or fear?

AF: Yes, I think that fear does come into it in some respect in the sense of when I lost my temper I didn’t hide behind a bush on it in respect to the times that I did lose my temper. But you know the quality that I had when I lost my temper, I never, ever brought it back again. The next day was another day for me.

CR: You never held grudges?

AF: No, never – I never held a grudge and that’s really, really important. And then they understand what you are and who you are. And they could get support from that.

CR: You are a fan of Doris Kearns Goodwin and her book Team of Rivals which was about Lincoln choosing his rivals for his cabinet because he respected their talent plus he wanted them where he could see them.

AF: Yes, he wanted to see who they were and how they would fit into his Cabinet, pretty clever really. And of course I think that Lincoln at that time was facing the most difficult period for a President in terms of the South and the North. He was also very good at not making quick decisions. He thought it all through and allowed his Cabinet to have their say and then he would decide thereafter. It’s a great book, a fabulous book.

CR: Did you see the movie Lincoln?

AF: Yes.

CR: Did you like it?

AF: I didn’t think that it was a great movie but I thought that the central piece about the period that it had to deal with was fantastic. The acting in that movie was unbelievable.

sir alex ferguson lincoln

Ferguson was impressed by Daniel Day-Lewis in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln


CR: By understanding that he had to do everything that he could – push, pull, in order to get emancipation because that was the goal and he understood the consequences, so let’s go all out for emancipation.

AF: There was the situation at Antietam when he was able to announce emancipation, and winning that particular battle allowed to give that proclamation. It was such an important time.

CR: You are a kind of student of the Civil War?

AF: Yes, I love it. I think that it is a great history, it’s a young history. The funny thing about it is that I bought a couple of books when I was in Chicago having a week’s holiday. I went to a bookstore, and this is about 14-15 years ago now, and I picked these two books up. Then later in I was in London doing a thing about young apprentices, and Gordon Brown came over and asked me what I was reading at the time, and I told him that I had started to read a couple of books about the Civil War. He said to me; 'I’ll send you some tapes.'

So he sent me a dozen tapes by a Professor Gary Gallagher, and I was playing them in my car every morning going into work. I got really fascinated by it. It is a fantastic history. I’ve since been to Antietam, Gettysburg, Manassas – the Bull Run where the first battle; there was two battles there of course, and I went up to Princeton to meet James McPherson, the great historian of the Civil War who wrote the book ‘Battle Cry of Freedom.’ He was very engaging, and very accommodating to me in terms of how he saw it.

CR: But not WWII, not WWI, not the War of 1812 – it is the Civil War that fascinates you?

AF: I took it on and I grew interested and more interested, and I went to a gentleman’s house down south in Atlanta, and he had every armament that was used in the Civil War, and then he showed me the battle plans of Sherman who burned Atlanta.

CR: Famously saying 'War is Hell'.

AF: They destroyed all the rail tracks…

CR: I think he may have said, I’m not sure, 'the people who hate war the most are those who fight it.'

AF: Of course and that’s a fact.

CR: Patton may have been the exception! Remember he said 'I love it!'

AF: How can you love war?

CR: I think that it was probably command that he loved. Napoleon probably loved war too.

AF: I think that before you enter a war and first go into the army, you think that ‘oh! it’s great to join the army’ but when you get there and go into these combats it’s entirely different, it changes you.

CR: So you go to Harvard Business School and they want to do this case study about all this and the question of love versus hate, and you come up with this thing called the ‘Ferguson Formula’. A formula for leadership, a formula for what? Management?

AF: I think that leadership comes along, there’s no question about that, how you have control of a bunch of millionaires, you know. But there it is, it is quite extraordinary. You have to control that part. I think that there are certain things that I would like to put across, and it was always to make the players better human beings, to develop their character, so that when they leave me they could know not about teaching them history or mathematics, it’s about inspiring them to be the best that they could possibly be.

CR: You are teaching them life?

AF: Yes, I think that is really important. You also develop their character. You know that if you develop the right character, they won’t let you down. Once they go out on that football field, they are playing for all the things that you have ever taught them. Of the winning mentality, of the determination. How to handle defeat which is always just as important. It helps you develop a group of people that are you. You can see yourself in them, and I think that I have always tried to do that.CR: So every team member that plays for you, you look at him and see yourself?

AF: Not always, but I do like to try and see myself in them. Everybody is different and express themselves in different ways. There are different kinds of talents of course and there are many who I would never have had the talent that they have when I was a player. But I still had that determination to be successful and try my best.

CR: We met a few days ago and you were talking about the idea that often the best players don’t make good coaches or good managers because they don’t understand someone who doesn’t have the same level of skill.

AF: Yes, it’s a fact that. I remember that I was talking to Bobby Charlton about that, and he’d been the manager at Preston North End, and he couldn’t understand why the players could not understand him. So he gave up on it and he was honest enough to say to himself that it wasn’t for him.

sir alex ferguson bobby charlton

Charlton was a key ally for Ferguson during his early years at United


It’s a fact of life, I think that if you look at my career and I always say this to anybody who wants to be a coach - prepare to be a coach. At 24 years of age when I left engineering to become full time in football, I made sure that I was never going back to engineering.

I was doing all the coaching schools so that I’d be able to stay in the game, and I gave myself a chance by doing that. I was only an average player, could score a goal or two, that sort of thing, but I wasn’t a Bobby Charlton or a Messi, or Ronaldo. There are very, very few really great players who have become great coaches.

I think that you can look at Beckenbauer who won the World Cup twice with Germany, once as a player and once as coach. You could look at Cruyff who was a great player and did great things at Barcelona. Other than that I can’t think of any of the really great players who have gone on to become great coaches.

CR: Would it have been for you impossible to manage anywhere else? You could not go somewhere no matter how much they offered you, no matter what the opportunity – or, you might have for the right circumstances to prove to yourself that you could do it again?

AF: There was one or two offers that did come along during my time at United, but I always came back to this point; why would you leave United? Where is the bigger challenge? And the thing about challenges is, once you have won something, you can’t live on that. Not at Manchester United – you have got to win the next one. And that’s the challenge. Maintaining that consistency of winning which is a mentality that I have had.

Every time we won the League, we would celebrate the night – the next day was another day for me. Where are we going forward? So therefore when clubs came to me and offered me jobs, I thought to myself, “Where is the bigger challenge?” Creating history at United or trying to create somewhere else when I would have start again and build on the philosophies I had when I first came to United.

CR: Let me talk about these principles which are in this article in what’s called the Ferguson Formula. Start with the foundation – what’s that?

AF: Well you start with what you believe in. I believe in building a football club rather than building a football team. I can understand coaches who concentrate on building a football team because it gives them a job. It’s a results industry. You only have to look at Paolo di Canio last week – 5-6 games into his first season at Sunderland. They allow him to spend £19 million and then they sack him. To me, there is no evidence that that is going to bring success. So in building a football club I wasn’t interested in losing my job because of the results of the first team.

I knew that I had to do a job in terms of building the football club, so we worked really hard with the youth system and we made sure that we had a solid foundation that would hold the fort for years and years. So when you see a Manchester United team, we got to a position where I could plan ahead. So I could see three years ahead where this team was going knowing that I had certain players coming through the youth system who would step up when the time was right.

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Ferguson instructs his players before extra-time in the 1994 FA Cup semi-final


CR: The second one was – dare to rebuild your team which you have briefly touched upon. Even though team may have another great season ahead of them, if in fact you know that to have a good team the next year, the next year, and the next year, you have to rebuild. Even at the sacrifice say of winning?

AF: Well the horrible part of the job really is when you have players who have been with you for years the evidence is always on the football field. So when you see a player and you notice that the level has started to dip, there is no point on waiting another two years. You have to act because you will only hurt yourself. He’ll not want to recognise that the day has come when he has had his time. To have to say that to a player and make the change is very, very difficult. You can only do that if you have a system where you can fill the gaps and rebuild the team.

Over the years I have probably built maybe five teams, through the consistency of being there as a manager, and the continuity of the youth system, and the players that you have are not joining last. Even the ones that we buy are not going to last for two or three years. You want them to be lasting six, seven, eight years. So you have to buy at a good age, maybe 22/23 because they have had good experience playing elsewhere and they have got plenty of years left in them. So you can build a continuity of team.

CR: So the main point here is that you have got to be ruled by your head and not your heart?

AF: Oh! Absolutely. It’s a horrible part of the game when you have to tell a player, probably somebody who has helped you win so much that his time is up. You treat them like family, and because they are your family it becomes even more hurting in the sense that you have got to say “well son, I’m sorry, you won’t be a regular here, but you will still have a career elsewhere.’ It’s happened more than a few times but it is not an easy thing to handle.

CR: Then you say that you have got to set high standards and hold everyone to them.

AF: Absolutely. Every training session there is high expectation. The concentration has to be right, and any deficiencies will always manifest themselves on a Saturday, and that’s what we look for at United. I would never envisage having a bad session in terms of the training. We wanted to make sure that the players were completely concentrated on what they were doing.
CR: The training sessions had purpose. You knew exactly what they would be doing in order to get ready for Saturday.

AF: Exactly.

CR: The other one is – never cede control – ever. You have to be in control?

AF: Well the point I’ll make is that you are dealing with very rich young men. I always said to the directors that the minute a player becomes more powerful than the manager of Manchester United, it’s not Manchester United. You have lost control of the whole club. So I always made sure that I was in control. They always knew who the manager was.

CR: Your word was law?

AF: If you want to put it as blunt as that - yes. But you don’t necessarily need to use power in that situation. the control is nice but they know who the manager is, and they know that it is me who is going to make the decisions. They know that they can trust me which is really important. They know that I had the ability to adapt to change, and they have seen that many times over the years. I think these are important parts of being in control of footballers.

CR: What does this mean – match the message to the moment?

AF: The moment that we look for is that they are aware that every game is about winning. We try to get the message across that this is the moment that we have got to win. Every week, my expectation of you is to win the match.

CR: But to come back, and be able to say to yourself that you’re that close to defeat?

AF: There has to be a moment when they realise that they have to show their character to overcome this. We’ve had some great moments. We’ve been behind at half-time and winning games late on.

CR: You liked that didn’t you?

AF: Oh! yes. I loved that. I was a bit of a gambler that way because I always used to say to them at half-time, 'Be patient. The last fifteen minutes throw the kitchen sink at them. It’s worth a gamble'. You are going to lose the game anyway. There is nothing better than when you get to that last fifteen minutes and you actually win the game late on. The fans are going out of the gates I gave it a try and it worked.

CR: Rely on the power of observation.

AF: It’s an important part that people don’t recognise. I remember when it first dawned on me. I had a young coach at Aberdeen. He said to me, “Why am I here?” So I says “What are you talking about?” He said, “Well, I do nothing. You shouldn’t be doing all the training sessions, you should be in control of the training sessions and let me get on with it.” I said “No, I’m not having that.” He told me that he thought that I was wrong. We had an old trainer there at the time, teddy Scott – he was a great old man.

sir alex ferguson aberdeen

Cultivating an image: Ferguson brought unparalleled success to Aberdeen


He said to me, “Boss – he’s right.” So I thought about it. We gave it a try and it worked. It was amazing what you were actually watching. Seeing the player’s habits. Seeing the little defects in their performance. You could see sometimes that a player was not quite right on the day and you would wonder what was wrong with him. It could be a million things. And that observation I’ve carried through with me all my career and I’ve used that really well.

CR: You have to make sure that you really are ‘in the moment’ because it is only when you are in the moment that you can see with great focus. You always have to say to yourself, “What is happening here? What is going on?”

AF: That’s the power of observation. You don’t take your eyes of it. By doing that all the time you increase your ability to see things happening.

CR: Let me talk about some of the great players. Ryan Giggs you mentioned. You and I talked about it the other night. You said to me you’ve got to get to their mother.

AF: So I go tell my assistant, I’ve been up every second night to his house. And it got to a level when Ryan’s mother says we’ll be back on Thursday. She was buying tea for us, getting us supper.

CR: You were becoming the best friend of the family.

AF: Absolutely. The mother’s the secret - the mothers are always the strong ones in the family without question. I say always get the mother.

CR: You get the mother, you’ll get them.

AF: Yes.

CR: Yes. Because the mothers have, and they want what’s best. Sometimes they want the best coach because they think that that coach or that manager will bring their son’s or daughter's talent out.

AF: Yes. There’s always danger with the father. He tries to live his life through the boy, you know. You get a little bit of that. Not all of them. But you do. I’ve seen evidence of that and therefore the mothers, no, she won’t do it that way. She’s -- my boy, I want more of this for my boy.'

CR: Gary Neville.

sir alex ferguson gary neville

Neville was United captain for five years under Ferguson


AF: Fantastic character. Gary gets up every morning at 6am reads every newspaper. He wants to know what’s going on in the world and more about everything, you know. He’s such a successful person. He’s no genius but he’s really good, really good. He’s also doing his very own business. I wanted to bring him on the staff. He didn’t want to do that he's a very, very determined character.

CR: And then there was a fellow named David Beckham.

sir alex ferguson david beckham

Beckham played for Ferguson for 11 years at United


AF: David, yes - amazing boy. I mean how he’s created himself. He’s conquering young people, it’s fantastic. I mean he’s a wonderful boy.

CR: How did he do that?

AF: Well, he always had a lovely smile, you know, and he always presents himself well. But as a young kid when I got him at 12 years of age, his great desire was to do the best. He was a fantastic trainer, practiced all the time and at night he would come back with the school boys and practice with them.

And he was in that collection along with Giggs and Scholes. And then of course his life changed when he married the girl from...

CR: Spice Girls.

AF: Yes. And his focus changed.

CR: What did it become?

AF: Well, he got drawn into that celebrity status, you know. For me I’m a football man. I’m a football man. It wasn’t my...

CR: So you had to go to David and say -

AF: Yes, he has to focus. And so they’ll be trying to -

CR: So what did you do? I mean did you go - tell me what you said to him when you believed that he was becoming more interested in celebrity than football?

AF: I just think he was over his head. I don’t think he could listen. I always remember in the he says "I’m in love" and there was nothing you can do with that, you know. And therefore he lost the focus. But I saw them in Real, Madrid. He did well.

He was going to make sure he went to the best and Real Madrid was the best outside United. And he reinvented himself, of course, and plays for the English team after a couple of years. He goes and plays for Milan. And well done. You can’t argue with the status he has in life.

CR: Yes. But would it have been better if he stayed at Manchester United and still have all the celebrity?

AF: But how can you argue with life? He’s an icon for young people; represents himself the proper way. And I say well done.

CR: Was he one of those guys? You have said you looked for guys who are bad losers.

AF: Oh David, definitely.

CR: He was a bad loser.

AF: Oh absolutely. Absolutely. Grumpy, yes.

CR: Grumpy.

AF: The bad losers are all grumpy.

CR: They are.

AF: Oh yes.

CR: Those are the ones you want, though.

AF: Yes.

CR: Because they’re driven not to be unhappy.

AF: Absolutely, yes. Winning’s the name of the game, they don’t forget that.

CR: Again are you born with that or is that something you acquire? Is that in your DNA?

AF: I think it must come from part of your family somewhere along the line. Some people look back and ensure they’ll win entirely in a different way. Some are very emotional and demonstrative about it. And David was very demonstrative as a young man and loved winning. I think it must come from somewhere in the genes.

CR: You’ve given advice to Tony Blair, even about some strategic and how to handle people, yes.

sir alex ferguson tony blair

Blair with Ferguson in 1996


AF: Yes, I used to. I always think Tony was best at question time [Prime Minister's Questions]. I loved him at question time. He destroyed those boys.

CR: You like the competition.

AF: I love to see him unite, yes. We spoke of many things. One thing I always said to him at the election time, why don’t you take your physical therapist with you.

CR: The other thing that’s interesting me about you is that, you know, is that the sense of mission. You know how to infuse the sense of mission. And you know how so that everybody knows they’re playing for themselves. They’re playing for their person to their right and their left. And they’re playing for something larger than themselves.

AF: The team ethic.

CR: The team ethic.

AF: Work on aggression, looking at each team member beside you and trust him. And that’s the essence of a team where they can understand the qualities and the failures and weaknesses of the team-mates.

CR: And accountability too.

AF: Yes, absolutely. So if you were in a game of football always think you need maybe eight to win the game. Three can on an off day or semi off day but you always hard. And the players recognize that and they’ll do that extra to make sure they get winning. And the next week can be changed around of course. But that’s the essence of the team is to understand and trust each other and to trust me.

CR: To trust you.

AF: Absolutely.

CR: In other words, trust your plan, trust your strategy.

AF: Yes.

CR: Trust your -

AF: My team selection -

CR: Yes, team selection -

AF: Which is always difficult because I have to maybe weed five or six players out each week. I always bring them in individually to explain to them why they’re not playing. It’s not easy because they all want to play. But next week they may -

CR: So what would you say to them? Give me a speech.

sir alex ferguson ole gunnar solskjaer

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer often had to make do with a bench berth under Ferguson


AF: I say to them I could be wrong. But I’m thinking of the team -

CR: I could be wrong.

AF: Yes. I always say that. I could be wrong but I think it’s the right team for this game. On other occasions, maybe picking a team for two or three weeks ahead so I maybe leaving an older player for that occasion. And I would say get yourself ready for three weeks from now you’ll be playing in that game. So therefore you’re giving them a boost.

CR: Something to look forward to.

AF: Yes.

CR: Not playing tonight but I will be playing three weeks from now.

AF: Yes. Of course I’ve been manager there for a long time. I was able to go on that way. And also the confidence to make changes for three or four games ahead.

CR: Now what about this? In 1999 when you won all three major competitions, which is unheard of. And up until the last minute of the European Cup final, it looked to everyone like you were not going to win, you were going to lose.

And your assistant manager at the time has said that your belief, your belief never wavered. Even though it looked like you were going to lose you didn’t think so.

AF: Going at your goals and then to attain them is not an accident. That was the character of the team. Too many times we did it that season coming back from a goal down to winning matches. So it wasn’t an accident. But you have to say a little bit of faith, you know, a little bit of luck. It happens. You don’t know where that happens or how it happens but it happens.

CR: When the Glazer family first got involved, it was 2005, was it?

sir alex ferguson glazers

Ferguson's legacy is tainted by his support of the Glazers


AF: Yes.

CR: What did it change?

AF: It changed nothing, Charlie.

CR: Nothing.

AF: No, no. The thing that... there is a misconception about the Glazers buying the club that created hostility and different factions of Manchester United supporters and because a single member was owning the club. You forget, the minute it became a PLC someone was going to buy it. Somewhere along the line someone’s going to buy that club.

The Glazers did buy it. And in my time with them - they were nothing but supportive - very strong, single-minded people but always supportive of the manager and the things that happen in the club. They’ve been very good. And I’ve absolutely no hesitation in supporting the way they’re going about the job - very low key - never give me a phone call. No phone from the chief executive or maybe once a week to go over the various things about the club but never the team.

CR: Didn’t buy it to run it, they bought it to see it be what it could be.

AF: Yes. What it will be.

CR: When you think about the record, the career, the wins, the losses, what do you remember? Do you remember the losses or the wins?

AF: That’s a good one. I could tell you about the losses we’ve had. There was 6-1 to City and 5-1 to City as the games you never forget. But I remember we lost a City game and I came home and I put my head under the pillow. And my wife had been-
CR: Under the pillow?

AF: Oh, absolutely. I was going nowhere. And my wife came in and says what’s wrong with you. I said we lost 5-1. She said no, you couldn’t have lost 5-1. Now, it was a mad one, you know.

CR: There is also - your wife is wonderful and you told me a story the other night about when they - they’re putting a statue up of you and they got it under the hood and she comes to you and you said to her, who do you think should be here for the presentation? Maybe Prince William.

AF: She said Prince William, and I said no. But he’s president of the FA, it could be him.

CR: Yes.

AF: And I’m standing there and David Gill announces my wife. I couldn’t believe it. I said how did you manage to do that.
CR: She never told you.

AF: No. She doesn’t go to the games either.

CR: She never would go to the games.

AF: No. She’s been in a few cup finals -

CR: Why would she not come?

AF: I don’t think she's comfortable.

CR: Yes. So she’s getting ready to jerk the cover off and she says - she does it rather gently.

AF: Yes, she fairly - she -

CR: Decapitated it.

AF: Yes. Absolutely. When the head comes rolling down. It was amazing. I think she was absolutely the correct person to do it.
CR: What did she mean to you?

AF: Well, she brought the kids, we went over that -

CR: She was?

AF: She brought all the kids. You know the children, she brought them up.

CR: She brought up the kids.

AF: Yes, yes. Because when you go back to my older days and 32 years of age I went into football and we had two public houses in Glasgow. We were running two bars in Glasgow and part-time at football you know. Cathy’s got them - getting them dressed, going to school, doing the homework with them, putting them to bed. All the same - and so that role was fantastic, there’s no question.

I always remember she used to say to me when they get to 16 they will be daddy’s boys. I say why do you make that kind of statement. You wait.

CR: She was right.

AF: She’s always right. Even at home she’s always right.

CR: You just didn’t like the conclusion.

AF: Yes, yes.

CR: And they’re right.

AF: It is always the support system. And always agreed to tell the truth, you know, when she says you’re wrong.

CR: She would tell you.

AF: Or not good enough.

CR: She would tell you.

AF: Absolutely.

CR: Never.

AF: Absolutely. She was good at that.

CR: There are two things that remind me of you and it’s interesting. What happened to you and Wayne Rooney.

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Ferguson last shook hands with Rooney at United's trophy presentation


AF: Well, I don’t think anything really happened -

CR: Really? Really?

AF: - that I would get upset about. He came in the day after we won the title and it’s just an expectation thing again. I manage a team who I see, but at that particular moment it wasn’t doing particularly well. But now we see him today, he’s got his energy back. And he’s doing great.

So maybe that was a good timing for the boy, you know.

CR: But you thought of him - didn’t you think of him as a son in a way.

AF: Well, he came as a 17-year-old boy and of course, all the players will support him and look after him. Do our best to make him better. And there were some great moments.

CR: But did it end badly.

AF: No, I don’t think so. I think if Wayne walked in here today, he would shake my hand. I don’t think -
CR: When was the last time you shook his hand?

AF: The day we won the league. When he was presented with the cup was the last time. You see you've got to also look at the media. What’s unfortunate in this, internationally, he's a big white hope. So therefore the media’s always centered around Wayne.

And he has people who advise him and I think that’s where all that’s coming from. I never felt at any time, you know. Sometimes I would discipline him but sometimes they’re only discipline. But not to the extent that you would think there was some sort of -

CR: How would you discipline them?

AF: Well, it’s set. You fine them a week’s wages.

CR: Oh yes, like that. But not put them in the line-up.

AF: No, no. I wouldn’t do that.

CR: You never do. That would hurt you.

AF: Yes. You see he’s back to his form and in some way I’ve helped to bring that right then I’ve done the right thing for him. Make him a winner basically.

CR: Yes, but you weren’t thinking about what I’m doing for him, you were thinking it just doesn’t work.

AF: It’s for the team.

CR: Yes. Good for the team.

AF: Yes, absolutely.

CR: But it so happened that it became good for him because he had to bring it together.

AF: Yes. When the club could very well refuse him to sell him to Chelsea, you realised his only job is with Manchester United and it’s brought back his focus, it’s brought back his work ethic and his purpose and he’s doing well again.

CR: What do you think of Roman Abramovich - speaking of Chelsea?

roman abramovich

Abramovich wanted to bring Ferguson to Chelsea


AF: It’s a strange one, Chelsea, you know, the change of managers so many times. The European Cup in Abramovich’s time and they keep changing the coach, you know. That was in terms of winning.

But you look at the teams and they have been, the last few years they’ve been our main competitor. So it’s a very competitive situation between Chelsea and us.

CR: Suppose he came to you, maybe he has.

AF: There was - he used an agent when he first came and approached me and I said no, no chance.

CR: You couldn’t do that. No chance. You didn’t even want to have the conversation.

AF: No.

CR: You didn’t want to see what they would offer.

AF: No.

CR: You just said no chance. I could never be that way for the team that was a rival where I made my home.

AF: Manchester United is my team, my club.

CR: So anybody who speculates that you may be back in football in any way is simply wrong.

AF: The job came up there, they always say the odds are 80-1 Ferguson. Good odds, huh? You will be wasting your money. You’ll be throwing your money down the drain.

CR: No way. No way Ferguson is back in football.

AF: I made my decision Charlie. The timing was perfect. I went out a winner. There’s no way back. I look forward to the challenges of a new life and doing the things I’ve been waiting maybe 35 years to do.

CR: Yes.

AF: You know, I want to go to the Kentucky Derby. I want to go to The Masters. I want to go to the Melbourne Cup but don’t tell Cathy that. There are a lot of things I want to do. I want to go to the vineyards in Tuscany and France.

CR: Oh, yes. You did that.

AF: I’ve done France a couple times but I’d love to go to Tuscany, the beautiful wine, you know.

CR: So you are now having a very good time.

AF: Yes. I’m enjoying it.

CR: You’re enjoying what you’re seeing. You can go to a battlefield. You can go to The Masters, you can go to the Kentucky Derby.

AF: Absolutely. Correct.

CR: You can go to - what else is on the list? You have a bucket list. Do you know what a bucket list is?

AF: Yes, of course, yes. From the movie - it’s in a movie.

CR: With De Niro and Morgan Freeman.

AF: Yes, that’s right.

CR: No, no, no. Jack Nicholson.

AF: Jack Nicholson, right. But you know that I’ve mentioned the Kentucky Derby and I mentioned The Masters and the Melbourne Cup and doing France. There are a lot of things that are coming up, you know. And in terms of doing them, a lot of people when we do these things and these are challenges which I see because once I made my mind up to leave United I was never going to think that I’ve made a wrong decision.

I was just about looking forward. I’m not interested in managing. I’m not interested in getting myself worked up over United results. In good times, I do - you might as well do a good job.

CR: You’re still behind him (David Moyes).

sir alex ferguson david moyes

Ferguson told Moyes he would be succeeding him at United


AF: Absolutely, 100 per cent. And all the club will be. That’s the great thing about the club. They will support the manager and he will be fine, he will be good.

CR: Here’s my scenario. Let’s say - Roman Abramovich has got a lot of money, you know that. He’s got more money than God.

AF: That’s a good one.

CR: You love horses.

AF: Yes.

CR: He’ll say to you look, come manage Chelsea. I will give you the greatest stable of horses -

AF: You’ve ever seen?

CR: - you’ve ever seen.

AF: The temptation - everyone dreams.

CR: You have to know a man’s weakness do you know what I mean?

AF: I know. You always dream you have the derby winner. I have a share in the horse that was a favorite for the Derby this year - Telescope - good horse. It will come back next year, but it’s a very, very good horse. Everyone dreams we have a winner, Derby winner, whatever. But you know, as I said, I made my mind up. I’m looking forward to my new career and my new challenges.

CR: What’s the new career?

AF: I’m ambassador of United. I’m an ambassador for UNICEF which is great work.

CR: Yes, it’s good work.

AF: I’ve seen children in poverty and also child prostitution in Thailand, I’ve seen all that. You know the work that UNICEF do, they need support with that, they need funding, of course, but you see what they’re doing and it’s really worthwhile stuff. I kind of enjoyed doing that with them. It’s a challenge, you know, it’s a different type of challenge.

CR: You’re a big Labour party man, aren’t you?

AF: Yes. That won’t change ever, I won’t change that ever. I’ve been tempted to go to the National Party.

CR: I know, why don’t you like Scottish nationalism? I don’t understand that. I mean my friend Sean Connery is all aboard.

AF: Oh yes, Sean is very much -

CR: You know, what’s wrong with you?

AF: He’s from Edinburgh. No, I grew up in a socialist background. My father was a socialist. My mother was a socialist.

CR: So there you are. Socialist -

AF: Yes. Why change?

CR: OK.

AF: It’s never hurt me not changing. So I won’t change. And I think that United is OK.

CR: But with Ed Miliband, you know, they’re ahead in terms of the polls against the Tories, you know. They have an election, maybe he wins he might have a job for you, another job.

ed miliband alex ferguson

Ferguson is a Labour supporter


AF: Oh no, it’s one thing. I won’t get into politics, you know. That’s a different life for me. That’s not my scene.

CR: All right. Let me close with this. You’ve written your own biography, you did that about 10 years ago. You got this case study at Harvard in which you talk about leadership. What’s the best moment ever for you in football?

AF: The best moment has to be Barcelona, of course. That was the trophy I never won. This is always the albatross around my neck. Winning that particular one and the way we did it, you can never forget it.

But I think that to encapsulate my life, to have 27 years at Manchester United is a feat - it’s an achievement - the continuity and the consistency that I created there and going out at the top, I can’t ask for anything more. That’s for me, you know, I’ve achieved everything I ever wanted to achieve. And I’m going a happy man.