Transcript of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Interview On the Charlie Rose Show

Sir Alex Ferguson was interviewed by Charlie Rose on Tuesday night on PBS. The famous American interviewer sat down with Ferguson for a candid, one-hour one-on-one interview.

While there are no plans by PBS to re-air the interview anytime soon, here’s the transcript of the interview in case you missed the show:

Thanks a million to Tom Clare of Red News for the transcript.

Alex Ferguson (AF): 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 (CR): Who is the best player that you ever saw?

AF: Och, I’m a Pele fan from way back when I was a kid, and then there was always this thing later about Pele and Maradonna. 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.

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.

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.

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 Antium 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 Antium, 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 WW2, not WW1, 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?

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