After 25 Years at Old Trafford, Alex Ferguson’s leadership style remains largely masked by popular simplifications

A remarkable milestone

Sir Alex Ferguson reaches a remarkable milestone as Manager of Manchester United for twenty five years. Much has been written about his management style. Much has been an over-simplification of a complex leadership style.

The charismatic leader

Although a term that remains open to many interpretations, Ferguson is more often than not labelled as a charismatic leader. One implication is someone whose leadership style transcends the rationality of modern ‘post-charismatic’ management.

Will the real special one stand up?

For a while, his charisma as a football manager appeared to be eclipsed by that of the self-styled special one, Jose Mourinho. However, Jose still has a long way to go to hold on to that title…

Love him or hate him…

I suggest that many accounts gloss over weaknesses in his leadership style. However, even less-than sympathetic reviews of his achievements reveal an outstanding managerial career

The Hair Drier

Time and again, the management style of Sir Alex Ferguson begins with the memorable term ‘hair drier’. It encapsulates his intimidating ‘in your face’ behaviour directed at an individual player who has attracted his anger. Players who become pundits eventually describe it with a touch of masochistic pleasure. Lee Sharpe comes to mind in this respect. He has certainly incorporated it into his own rebranding as a minor celebrity.

The Flying Boot

One of the most celebrated of hair-crier stories involves a flying boot which left David Beckham scarred and needing medical treatment. At the time of the 25 year anniversary [Nov 4th 2011] Beckham claimed ‘the hair drier’ treatment had contributed to his success as a player.

Mind games

Another popular simplification is to elevate his every action to the deliberate working of a leadership figure of genius. Comments about other managers were for a while attributed to his deep psychological insights revealed in his successful deployment of mind games.

As with the hair drier symbolism, an incident has become part of the story. This involved a radio broadcast when his then rival manager Kevin Keegan became almost incoherent at the thought of Newcastle United beating Ferguson’s Manchester United in the Premiership title race. The U-tube above captures the famous rant.

To coin a phrase…

Ferguson sometimes displays his boredom and contempt for the media at his press conferences, which are clearly tiresome obligations. But they sometimes are lit up with a memorable phrase such as ‘squeaky bum time’ which becomes part of the narrative. One recent gem neatly captured his feelings towards the resurgent ‘other’ Manchester football team which he described as his ‘noisy neighbours’.


Then there are the dangers of hagiography in its modern usage of uncritical and reverential accounts of iconic figures, often leaders of cults. There is more than a hint of hagiography in accounts of Saint Alex of the Blessed Hair Drier of Old Trafford


One Response to After 25 Years at Old Trafford, Alex Ferguson’s leadership style remains largely masked by popular simplifications

  1. İstanbul Firma…

    […]After 25 Years at Old Trafford, Alex Ferguson’s leadership style remains largely masked by popular simplifications « Leaders We Deserve[…]…

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