Sir Alex Ferguson: Hairdryers and Foul Mouthed Tirades
Sir Alex Ferguson embodies what Manchester United are all about. No other man in the history of the game has taken one club to such dizzying heights almost all by himself. Yes there have been lows as well but these are few and far between them.
Sir Alex’s man management skills have always come to the fore when building a new team or while managing a team full of stars. It has been seen time and again that he doesn’t let any one player get bigger than the club. The main thing that kept his teams grounded and players level headed (well almost) was a certain amount of fear and a whole lot of respect. The fear came from the managers oratory skills. Yes, the same skills that made a certain senator the President of the USA helped Sir Alex build world class teams for the last 25 years. No, SAF didn’t go around saying ‘YES WE CAN’ but he instilled a certain degree of discipline in his players and they were expected to respect the manager.
- So what’s with the hairdryers?
Instead of being mundane, Sir Alex usually came up with rants targeted at his players at half time or after a match in case they hadn’t performed up to acceptable levels. These rants weren’t just a description of how the ‘lads’ had played or how they should thereon, instead they were full blown foul mouthed tirades which left half the players shell-shocked, especially those who were used to fluffy and cushioning half time talks. The players usually got hit so hard by those words that their performance levels would automatically rise, probably from the thought of what would happen if they continued at the same level.
Former United player Mark Hughes coined the term ‘hairdryer treatment’ to describe his managers habit of dishing out fearsome decibel-busting rollickings to his players. It probably came from how you would feel if a hairdryer was placed right at your face at full blast; wind, heat et al. Players would thus refrain themselves from saying anything untoward against the manager or the club, lest another flurry of abuses be hurled towards them. Sir Alex never bothered who the players facing the hairdryer were. If it was warranted, he let it out.
- Why so serious??
One question that comes to many minds is that how a full throated blast at the players helps? Everybody makes mistakes. The players have had one bad half/game and bawling at their faces would only make things worse. Possibly they would feel un-valued as footballers and drop their performance. But then, to know the reason behind ‘the hairdryer’ one needs to know Sir Alex’s background; a bit.
To understand Sir Alex, one should visit a neighborhood called Govan in Glasgow, Scotland, where Alex Ferguson was born under a tenement roof shaken by Hitler’s bombs. The neighborhood was fiercely independent and was filled with revolutionaries and militants. Govan was Protestant. Rangers played there, the city’s Protestant soccer team. The atmosphere in their stadium was like a furnace of fury forged from the shipyards nearby. Ferguson’s father worked in the yards, Alex followed, his socialist creed formed on Red Clydeside. His brick minded toughness flourished even when he moved to England to manage United, which is possibly why he wants his players to be just as competent and tough. There isn’t any place for softies in a side managed by Sir Alex.
Ferguson’s infamous temper tantrums have been a feature of his management style ever since he took the reins at his first clubs, East Stirlingshire and St Mirren, in 1974.
Even then, colleagues admitted they were terrified of the fiery Scot’s rages. East Stirlingshire forward Bobby McCulley once admitted that he had never been afraid of anyone before, but “Ferguson was a frightening b*****d from the start.”
Even star players such as David Beckham, Roy Keane etc. haven’t been spared the hairdryer and the current lot should take note of this. Here are a few famous incidents which generally led to the ouster of the player from the club.
- 1994-1995 Season
The 1994-95 Premier League season could well be remembered as the hairdryer season. Sir Alex had issues with 3 of his players which led to their ouster from the club. The players in question were Andrei Kanchelskis, Paul Ince and ironically, the man who coined the term, Mark Hughes.
It is no secret that Fergie was tired of Ince, the self – appointed ‘Guv’nor’, and his increasingly cocky manner in 1995, selling the midfielder to Inter Milan for £7.5million in a move that proved unpopular with fans and the board at the time. A more accurate description of Sir Alex’s view of Ince at the time can be found in the United boss’s autobiography, in which he details just why he decided to offload one of his most successful players at the peak of his talent.
“I was bothered by Paul’s attitude around the dressing room. He’d attached a rather silly title to himself: ‘Don’t call me Incey, call me the Guv’nor’. That didn’t go down too well.
“Paul had reached an age of maturity and this ‘Guv’nor’ nonsense should have been left in his toy box. It was quite apparent that he was completely carried away.”
Ince’s attitude towards his co-players and backroom staff didn’t go down too well with Sir Alex and Ince left the club. The animosity between the two didn’t end there, as Ince left Inter to join Liverpool. Before a game against Liverpool in 1998, a documentary crew captured Sir Alex deriding Ince while talking to his players,
“If he tries to bully you he will f—– enjoy it. Don’t ever let him bully you. Right?
“You just make sure you are ready for him. That’s all you need to worry about. He’s a f—– big-time Charlie.”
That young players like Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt were trying to force their way into the first team, possibly riled Ince even more which led to his ultimate ouster from United.
Kanchelskis’ transfer to Everton was more a result of the emergence of one David Beckham from the United academy than any rift between him and the gaffer. Yes, he had issues with the younger Beckham stealing the limelight and the fall-out with Sir Alex combined with a trophyless 1995 season led to him being deemed expendable.
Hughes’ case was a strange one as it was his second stint at United, after being sold to Barcelona in 1986. Sparky, as he was known, was doing pretty well but was deemed surplus when younger strikers like Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole were signed. With Eric Cantona the kingpin in United’s attack, Hughes was no longer needed at United and left eh club for a second and final time.
- Dwight Yorke
Dwight Yorke suffered the worst days of his career after falling out with Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Despite winning the Treble and a hat-trick of Premier League titles, Yorke admits he spent the final three months of his glorious Old Trafford career getting drunk every Sunday in a bar while watching his fellow pros on TV.
Fergie had been looking to flog the golden boy striker to Middlesbrough following a series of bust-ups over his playboy lifestyle. Yorke’s only hope was that Fergie had insisted he would retire at the end of the season. Then came a very blunt warning from skipper Roy Keane that sent Yorke spiralling into despair; as Yorke recalls,
“Yorkie – you’re f***ed, mate,’ he said as I arrived for training”
Yorke was stunned. He thought his life was finished. The despair and anger combined made him go every night to a bar and get himself drunk.
Yorke’s first ‘hairdryer’ rollicking from Fergie came at half-time during a 3-1 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday in 1998 and he admits it left him “shocked.”
He got another shock after Fergie accused him of “failing” in the season after United’s historic Treble. Says Yorke;
“Only at United, could you follow up the amazing triumph of the Treble by winning the Premier League again, this time by a record distance, and still have Sir Alex chill you to the bone with his damning verdict as that second season closed: ‘Yorkie – you’re failing.”
Yorke fell foul of Fergie’s temper again in September, 2000, after returning to United a day late from Trinidad following a 4-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Canada. Yorke admits he deliberately missed his scheduled flight for an “aboslutely wild night” of partying. BIG MISTAKE!
“Fergie lost his cool with me for the first time in the confrontation that followed. “He was angry and frustrated.”
Fergie’s words of warning echoed around his head:
“If you are not 100 per cent committed here, you will suffer the consequences.”
Yorke was in Fergie’s bad books again later that same September when United prepared for a home match with Chelsea.
Ferguson told him that he had not made the 16-man squad and Yorke didn’t like it. And instead of hanging around all glum-faced, he left the stadium before kick-off.
The next day Yorke got the call to go to Fergie’s office again. Once there, Ferguson raged;
“What the hell were you playing at? You stay and support your team-mates at all times.
“Do you think you are bigger than the team?”
Yorke was due to catch a 6.45am flight back to Manchester in time to get to the training ground for 10am. But this time the flight WAS REALLY delayed. Yorke was late and with Fergie already at training, the striker tried to sneak in without being spotted.
“No chance. ‘Yorkie, come here!’ screamed that voice. And in front of the entire squad he was subjected to a tirade that left him shaking.
“Until you show more commitment to this club, then this club doesn’t want you here! And the rate you’re going, you won’t be here much longer anyway.’
The tension between Yorke and Ferguson had been growing and there would be one more conflict with Fergie before the season’s end.
It came after a night out with a pal in an Edinburgh bistro. They were stopped by police on the drive back to his pal’s flat and his friend failed a breath test. Yorke recalls his worst times as a United player;
“I had been caught breaking Fergie’s rule of no drinking 48 hours before a game”
“I got another rollicking to ensure the season ended on a sour, sour note.
“Of course, I can look back now and see things clearly.
“I had f***ed up off the pitch and had been caught out too many times.
“The word was out that I was a prime candidate to be eased out of the club, the manager having finally grown weary of my ‘playboy lifestyle’. My life was falling apart.”
It had all been so different when Fergie splashed out £12.6million to sign the Trinidad and Tobago frontman from Aston Villa.
- Jaap Stam
Stam was a high profile signing made by Sir Alex. He joined from PSV Eindhoven in 1998 to then become the most expensive Dutch footballer. United’s success was down largely to the bald pate defender who wasn’t afraid to launch himself into headers and tackles. But in 2001-02, he was sold to Lazio after Sir Alex was reportedly furious with allegations Stam had made in his autobiography about himself and the club. Stam had mentioned in the book that he was illegally tapped by Sir Alex without consent from Eindhoven. In all probablity, Ferguson decided to sell Stam because of the book, adding to a long line of examples of the United manager reacting ruthlessly when he felt his authority had been questioned. Sir Alex mentioned in an interview;
“Jaap himself is a bit embarrassed by it all. He’s very regretful now, and he has some making up to do in the dressing room.”
Stam was operated on for a chronic injury to his Achilles tendon, early in the season before he left. He had been subject to mild but growing criticism. After his return to the side United won their ritual English title, but were knocked out of the Champions League in the quarter-finals by Bayern Munich. The consensus had been that he was the weak spot in United’s defence – its Achilles heel, if you like.
These two reasons are said to have led Sir Alex to sell his no. 1 centre back but the former one seems most likely. If injuries were enough to sell a player, Louis Saha would never have signed for United.
- Roy Keane
Roy Keane’s career was marred by controversies. He was supposed to sign for Blackburn Rovers when Sir Alex phoned him and asked him if he had a change of heart. Within two weeks of that he signed for United and soon became the midfield rock in Ferguson’s side. 1995 saw United sell Ince, Hughes and Kanchelskis and give Scholes, Giggs, Beckham and Butt a chance in the first team leaving Keane as the most experienced midfielder. He became club captain soon and was called ‘Captain Fantastic’ for his admirable performances as skipper. He was accused of intentionally going in dangerously on Leeds United’s Alf Inge Haaland which ended Haaland’s career. Keane accepted the charges and was subsequently suspended and fined. Keane caused further controversy when he criticised sections of United supporters for not backing them in home games. Sir Alex fined him in 2002 for elbowing an opposition player.
Keane provoked more controversy, when, after a humiliating 4–1 defeat at the hands of Middlesbrough he took the opportunity to criticise the performances of John O’Shea, Alan Smith, Kieran Richardson and Darren Fletcher. The harshest analysis, however, was reserved for the club’s record signing Rio Ferdinand:
“Just because you are paid £120,000-a-week and play well for 20 minutes against Tottenham, you think you are a superstar.”
The outburst was deemed too damning by the United management and was subsequently pulled from transmission by the club’s TV station.
Two weeks later, after another row with Ferguson, Keane reached an agreement with Manchester United allowing him to leave the club immediately in order to sign a long-term deal with another club.
His departure marked the climax of increasing tensions between Keane and the United management and players since the club’s pre-season training camp in Portugal, when he argued with Ferguson over the quality of the set-up at the resort. Ferguson was angered further by Keane’s admission during a phone-in that he would be “prepared to play elsewhere” after the expiration of his contract with United at the end of the season.
- David Beckham
The official golden boy of Manchester, David Beckham had it all. Superb ability on the footballing pitch, a mentality to work hard on his game , give his best in each match. To cap it all, he had those good looks that made girls swoon for him. Beckham was part United’s glory years including the treble year and it seemed that he would never leave United. But all that was set to change. Sir Alex, a hardcore disciplinarian didn’t exactly appreciate David’s off field histrionics. His regular appearance at night parties and marriage to Victoria “Posh Spice” didn’t go down too well with the gaffer. In early 2000, the relations between player and manager began to deteriorate. Ferguson was furious when Beckham asked to miss training to look after his son when his wife was at a photoshoot the same night. This is what Sir Alex said about Beckham in 2007,
“He was never a problem until he got married. He used to go into work with the academy coaches at night time, he was a fantastic young lad. Getting married into that entertainment scene was a difficult thing – from that moment, his life was never going to be the same. He is such a big celebrity; football is only a small part.”
His relationship with his manager deteriorated further, when, in the changing room following a defeat to Arsenal, a furious Alex Ferguson threw or kicked a boot that struck Beckham over the eye, causing a cut that required stitches. The incident led to a great deal of transfer speculation involving Beckham, with bookmakers offering odds on whether he or Ferguson would be first to leave the club. Finally as it had been on all the previous occasions, the player had to leave the club and David Beckham left for Real Madrid at the end of the season.
- The hairdryer backfires
Ferguson confessed that there were times when he feared he might have gone too far, especially when he once squared up to United’s legendary Danish goalkeeper, the giant Peter Schmeichel.
“I had a bust-up with Schmikes once. He was towering over me and the other players were almost covering their eyes. We’re eye to eye and I’m looking up and thinking to myself: ‘If he does hit me, I know I’m dead’. But although I’ve a quick temper, I’ll get over it quickly. If I have an argument with a player on a match day, next day it’s all forgotten.”
Frank McDougall, a legend in his own right was at Aberdeen when Ferguson held the reins of the club. He was relaxing with his team-mates after a game when Fergie entered the room all flared up and full of rage. In the previous match, McDougall had declared himself fit, only to be subbed after a few minutes with a groin injury that hadn’t fully healed. McDougall had already downed a couple of beers and was enjoying when Ferguson bellowed;
“Ah’ve seen a f*****g snail move quicker than you. We’re gonna work you on that training ground today. Still injured, McDougall?”
Without thinking what t e repercussions of his actions would be, Frank lashed out at Ferguson and hit him with a punch on the side of the face. Ferguson went down like a ton of bricks. Of all the stupid things he might have done, putting Fergie on his backside had just stormed straight to No.1 in the charts. Ferguson got back up like he’d hit a trampoline and screamed;
“F**k off McDougall, get to f**k back to Glasgow.”
“You’re f*****g finished.”
- The time Sir Alex had to face the hairdryer himself