Analyzing The Differences Between Louis van Gaal And Sir Alex Ferguson

“Fergie time” was a symptom of Alex Ferguson’s approach to soccer and its high degree of contingency. Instead of trying to conquer and beat contingency, instead of trying to control it with his brain and rationality, Ferguson accepted it as part and parcel of soccer and eventually got the upper hand over it by playing with it, by entering the zone of contingency on its own premises. It would be a big mistake to underestimate the hard work and meticulous preparations carried out by Alex Ferguson, René Meulensteen, Carlos Queiroz, and Mike Phelan at Carrington. They used scripts, studied video material, knew all the physical performance levels of each player, and their dietary details as well, and they practiced 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, and 4-4-1-1. In short, they devoted a lot of time and energy on “automatisms” and “systems.” But when these automatisms didn’t work, when the patterns and designs were malfunctioning or without effect, during matches, Ferguson’s teams could always switch into another dimension, the dimension of beastly instinct, intuition, and risky adventure. Turn off your brains and go full throttle forward was his mantra. Was it the result of pre-calculated moves when Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjær scored against Bayern Munich in injury time? No, not at all. It was the consequence of Ferguson’s successful “play” with contingency – successful because of Peter Schmeichel causing panic in Bayern’s defense, successful because of a predatory character instilled into the team by their docker manager, and successful because of the spatial intuition of Solskjær. And perhaps also, back then in 1999, successful because of “destiny”. After all, the final was played on what would have been Sir Matt Busby’s ninetieth birthday.

The differences between van Gaal and Ferguson may have been exaggerated a little in the above. van Gaal take risks and lets his feelings be known. Ferguson conceived tactical master plans and used his brain in moments of chaos. Nevertheless, their basic conception of soccer and their attitude toward its contingent nature seems to be very different. If the one puts emphasis on the brain and rationality, the other encouraged the use of intuition and considered feelings to be fuel. If one wants to control contingency, the other wanted to play with it. If one likes to anticipate, the other wanted to seize the moment. If one rarely gets off his seat during matches, the other often stood by the touchline either instructing, encouraging, or “hairdrying” his players, or giving the referee a dressing, or manipulating the fourth official into adding an extra minute or two of injury time. If the one has a background as a schoolteacher, the other has a background in the shipyards and factories of Glasgow.

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