The relentless pursuit of victory

Sir Alex Ferguson MUFC

In May last year, I wrote a post about the virtue of perseverance and never giving up. It was written the day after a dramatic final day of the English Premier League season when Manchester City clinched the title in the dying minutes of the campaign. As a Manchester United fan, it was hard to take – they themselves were only seconds from glory! But I nevertheless appreciated the resolve Man City showed to win their first league title for 44 years.

However, in that blog post I also recognised the following:

“I expect Manchester United to use this year’s league defeat to learn the lessons needed to improve for next season… I’m hoping that this time next year I’ll be writing about how Manchester United are champions again and the lessons we can learn from their inspiring return to glory!”

Manchester United duly responded and won the 2012/13 campaign at a canter with four games to spare, in the process winning their 20th top flight title (and 13th Premier League title). In this post I was going to expand on the many attributes Manchester United have shown this season – determination, drive, perseverance and an appetite for success.

It’s no coincidence that the virtues Manchester United have shown this year are also those of their manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, who this week announced his retirement from the game after 39 years in football management (26 at United). In tribute to Manchester United’s success and to Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign as manager, I thought I’d reflect on some of the qualities, characteristics and ethics that make them both so great:

Work ethic

Great teams like Manchester United have the unique ability to bounce back from defeat despite the agony of disappointment that must certainly consume the squad, management and individual players’ minds whenever they lose.

This season has not been a vintage year by any means, however it’s not necessarily their physical skill and ability that I admire so much – it’s their attitude and collective will to succeed that is so mind-blowing.

The work ethic and drive for success has propelled them to the title this year and it’s the term ‘work ethic’ that I have heard so much in the tributes that have been paid to Sir Alex Ferguson this week. Skill and flair is all very well but without the foundation of hard work these count for nothing.

A culture of success

It can’t be an accident that Manchester United’s dominance over the last 20 years has coincided with Sir Alex Ferguson’s presence as manager. During his time in charge, Ferguson has presided over numerous iterations of the squad – some good, some very good and some rather average.

Yet despite the various ups and downs, Manchester United have consistently over-achieved and this is very much down to the culture of success that has been instilled at the club and cascades down from the first team to the academy.

A unifying culture can give any organisation a competitive advantage over their rivals. Whilst Manchester City and Chelsea have spent millions building their clubs over the last 10 years, Manchester United have continued to succeed with squads they may be arguably inferior to their adversaries. And yet they have continued to challenge and win when others might be expected to fail and the strong culture has played a leading role in their success.

A relentless pursuit of victory

At 71, Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement could be considered to be long overdue and yet he has persisted whilst others have not. Football management, especially at the highest level, is surely no walk in the park so what is it that has kept him going?

Without a doubt it’s the burning desire to win that has driven him to the countless trophies and championships he has won with his teams over the last 39 years and it’s this appetite and relentless pursuit of victory that was so evident in this season’s Manchester United team.

Having this clear goal and vision has allowed the entire squad to remain focused on exactly what they wanted to do: to reclaim the Premier League title they so narrowly lost to their local rivals last season.

The story continues…

As with any other organisation, all good things must come to an end. Nobody can lead forever and although Sir Alex Ferguson will forever be regarded as one of (if not the) best football managers of all time, at some point the baton had be passed on to someone else.

Whilst the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson may seem like a devastating blow to the fans and supporters, the management have no doubt been planning for the day he would finally away for years. Effective succession planning allows for the performance of an organisation to continue with a seamless transition and this is surely the goal Manchester United have in mind with the appointment of David Moyes.

Whilst Moyes is not Ferguson, it is hoped that the squad, structure and finances in place at United will allow him to continue building on the winning culture the club has fostered so that victory will always be an expectation and never just a hope.