The challenge of filling Sir Alex Ferguson's shoes: why was he such a good manager?

The Challenge of Filling Sir Alex Ferguson’s Shoes: Why was he such a good manager?

My Football Facts ⇒ Articles

By Jonathan Lewis | 27th JAN 2022

Think of successful football managers and Sir Alex Ferguson immediately springs to mind. During his time at Old Trafford, he lifted more than 30 trophies and has been a hard act to follow. Several managers, such as David Moyes, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho have all tried, but just couldn’t find the winning formula to bring back the glory days for the team.

So what is it about Sir Alex Ferguson that made him such a successful manager and Man United such formidable opponents? Below is a look at the skills and attributes the next Manchester United manager needs to have if they’re going to even come close to emulating the legendary manager’s success.


Some managers tend to be able to only succeed in some areas and less so in others. When faced with a new challenge, they crumble. Sir Alex Ferguson wasn’t one of the crumbling kind. He was flexible enough to shape his team to different environments, whether they were playing out in the cold climate in the Premier League or on warmer shores out on the continent.

This wasn’t the only aspect of his adaptability, however. Even when the going was good, Sir Alex would still adapt and rebuild his team. He was always looking to the future and had a good sense of the value his players were contributing. No matter what his personal attachment to a player was, he’d cut them if he didn’t see them in the team’s future.

Delegation while still being in control

Sir Alex was in charge; no doubt about that whatsoever. But he still delegated duties and trusted his assistant coaches and other members of his team. Relinquishing control is hard in any management role, but Sir Alex had the confidence to do it, which isn’t easy to do when you’re responsible for engineering the success of the biggest football club in the world.

It’s not just his pitch-side team he placed his faith in, though. His scout network were also recipients of Sir Alex’s trust. Colleagues had the freedom to explore, form their own opinions and advise Sir Alex of possible targets and of upcoming players.

Setting high standards and holding the team to them

Sir Alex wished to instil values in his players and had a strong desire to win. He inspired them to strive to do better and to never give up, values of his which he wanted them to share. It was an attitude the whole team developed as the years went by. Soon there was no such thing as never giving your team everything you’ve got on the pitch in a Sir Alex Ferguson Manchester United squad. Not only did the manager demand this of the players, but the players demanded it of each other.

No nonsense approach

Sir Alex was committed to the club and wouldn’t tolerate any nonsense from his players. He may have seemed to the players as if he was their best friend, but he also had the steel in him to look them in the eye and let them know if they were doing something wrong.

Some players moved on from the club after the manager, allegedly, wouldn’t give in to their wage demands. Sir Alex stamped his authority on Manchester United, letting everyone know who called the shots and that no player was bigger than the club.

Breeding talent

Sir Alex has a tried-and-tested approach when it comes to nurturing new talent. His ‘Class of 92’ — Ryan Giggs, brothers Gary and Philip Neville, Nicky Butt, David Beckham and Paul Scholes — are proof of his ability to spot potential. Whereas some managers can become completely involved in first-team matters, Sir Alex continued to keep his eye open for emerging stars and give them a chance on the first team. Young they were, but boy didn’t they serve the team well!

Calm under pressure

Management of a football club puts a gaffer under a lot of pressure. When things aren’t going well, clubs waste little time in showing their manager the door, so the main man’s head is constantly on the chopping block.

Sir Alex was incredibly calm when things weren’t going the team’s way. There could be just minutes left on the clock and the team could either be drawing or be a goal down, but somehow they managed to come back. Spectators, fans and commentators might have ruled out any other team, thinking it was all over bar the shouting, but not in the case of Manchester United.

The calm from Sir Alex transferred to the team. People always felt they could pull an ace out of their sleeve, which they did in spectacular fashion in the Champions League final versus Bayern Munich in 1999. If ever you needed a lesson in remaining cool under pressure, that was it right there.

Tactical knowledge

Like any other manager, Sir Alex may have made mistakes, but he had immense tactical knowledge that helped him to shape the team to different playing environments. He was able to choose the right players, adapt the team formation the best way to face the opposition and opt for either a more defensive or offensive approach as he saw fit.


Sir Alex may have delegated more and more training sessions to assistant coaches, but he still turned up to watch the players. This gave him the opportunity to evaluate players better. He could see whose energy levels or work rates were changing and if there had been any shifts in training patterns. Sir Alex still had control and the power to supervise, but the ability to step back and just observe his players allowed him to spot issues they were experiencing, support the players and go further with them.

Who will become the next Manchester United manager?

Despite his best efforts, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the latest manager to have made an exit from the club. Erik ten Hag, Brendan Rodgers, Mauricio Pochettino and Graham Potter are some of the names that experts are expecting to throw themselves into the hat and assume the controls at Old Trafford. Mauricio Pochettino seems to be the main favourite. Perhaps you agree and fancy placing some money on him or another manager to take the job or even on some of the other football betting markets.

Who will restore Manchester United to their former glory once again? It’s an unenviable task. The manager who does will have to harness the skills above or develop them if they’re to stand any chance of performing to the same high standards as Sir Alex. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Jose Mourinho, Louis van Gaal and David Moyes have all had a crack at the job but not been able to find the formula for glory. Hopefully the club will hire the right person and soon reward their fans with some silverware to acknowledge their long, painful wait for the glory days to return.

Jonathan Lewis is an MFF sports writer

The challenge of filling Sir Alex Ferguson's shoes: why was he such a good manager?