Sir Alex Ferguson’s protective side

Adeola Ogunleye

by Adeola Ogunleye

According to a notable and international news agency, Agence France-Presse (AFP), as reported in a Fifa news item

Sir Alex Ferguson will take his Manchester United side to the Reebok Stadium on Sunday [September 26th 2011] concerned about how Wayne Rooney’s personal life is starting to affect his form. The United and England striker has been hit hard by recent revelations that have seen media scrutiny into his life increase tenfold. Rooney has scored just twice so far this season, whereas last term he already had six goals to his name by this point and there seems little doubt that he is struggling to cope with his new-found infamy.

“I don’t believe he has a confidence problem, but the boy is starting to realise finally, without any question, what kind of focus is on him as a human being. He is realising what it means to be at the centre of media attention for non-football-related questions. I don’t think the boy can turn a corner at the moment without a camera on him.”

“Is charisma enough?”

Over the past 36 years, Sir Alex Ferguson, who has mostly been portrayed as a charismatic leader, has a bevy of achievements as proof of his undeniable talent and outstanding expertise as a football coach and sports leader. Fergie as he is widely called is also known for his mind games and bullying methods in and out of the dressing room, even with the press, the English FA and match officials. These, to my mind bring to bear the fact that unlike a Barack Obama charismatic type that involves a functionalist or action approach, the situation of a sport leader is slightly different and though charisma may be important at the initial stages of a coach’s career, it is not enough.

Leaders on and off the pitch

In the case of action teams (like a football team) participants have to perform on the pitch with the coach watching on from the sidelines. The leadership type needed becomes more complex. According to leadership author Gary Yukl, ‘Leaders influence and are influenced by the specific situations they are placed in’. Transformational leadership, a modernist version of charisma, requires that a leader elevates the levels of maturity, achievements and well-being beyond that of narrow (‘transactional’) self interest.” It therefore behoves a sports leader to identify and display a style which matches his of her prevailing predicaments or dilemmas.

Here we see Ferguson refraining from his sometimes autocratic and usual ‘lash-out at the press’ style to a more subtle way of sharing the blame of Rooney’s poor scoring form in recent times between the player’s error of judgement and unrelenting media attention. In this situation he displays a protective leadership side for the young player to help him through this patch and severally insists that he is not worried about Wayne Rooney’s scoring abilities to boost his confidence and keep the dressing room morale.
Ferguson again confirms that differing situation require an assortment of styles in order to meet expectations. He must indeed manage this Rooney situation tactfully as current and potential injury may result in a selection dilemma for the United Manager in the near future. Ferguson’s approach appears apt following mixed reactions and a poor outing at the recent World Cup tournament, in the wake of Fabio Capello’s handling of the John Terry versus Wayne Bridge saga.

No “one-size fits all”

According to Dr Sue Bridgewater in her book ‘Football Management’, the particular context in which football managers work plays an important part in their success. She argues that for football managers, success is contingent on doing the right things for the circumstances which surround them. This is supported by House’s “path-goal” theory of leadership which discusses different leadership styles which might work for different types of task and with different types of followers.

Her proposal suggests that there is no “one-size fits all” approach to sports leadership. Football is a results-oriented business. However, football managers are no longer judged only on the actual performance of their teams but also on all-round management, including their stewardship to club owners, maintaining fan support, media appeal, and dressing-room morale amongst other things.


Link to creative commons image

6 Responses to Sir Alex Ferguson’s protective side

  1. Mimoyemi Opaniyi says:

    Well done Dee…….very articulate….clear conscice thought process…..generally well written

  2. Yemi Ogunleye says:

    Nice write-up. Concise and crisp but yet very profound. It magnifies the core of what leadership is about.

  3. Adegbenga Osinowo says:

    I agree. Charisma is not enough, but a charisma-situation match.

  4. Tudor says:

    Thanks for the encouragement for a new contributor ro LWD.

  5. Well thought out and professionally expressed. Sound people oriented leadership is highly needed in football. Great lesson for those desirous of making invaluable impact. Well done!

  6. kemiogunkoya says:

    I am really amazed by the depth and wealth of this article. Truly leadership doesn’t wear the emblem of a one size fits all, it is more relational than most people assume. Thanks for blessing me with this article. Great Job.

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