Owen Hargreaves has shed light on a story which perfectly encapsulates the way Sir Alex Ferguson extracted everything possible from his players at Manchester United.
The Scot presided over the most successful era in the club’s history, including 13 titles and two Champions League victories, over a 27-year period.
Almost five years on from his retirement, United have won three major honours and, despite the horror against West Bromwich Albion, look set to record their best league finish since the gaffer’s final campaign.
Speaking on BT Sport, Hargreaves made note of how Ferguson would tell players of a list – most likely imaginary – of players he did not fully trust ahead of a campaign to engender a sense of fight among every player.
“I remember when I first signed for United (in 2007), we were in Asia somewhere, pre-season,” he said.
“He [Ferguson] said we have all these players from all different countries, we should win the league and the Champions League. And he had an envelope and had some names in it.
“He said, ‘There are some names in here of people I think are going to let us down. Make sure your name is not in here.’ And everybody ran out of the room and basically tackled through the door not wanting to let the gaffer down.
“That’s what he did well, he made you want to not fail him because you didn’t want to disappoint him.”
To think anyone could recreate – even in the slightest – that collective ethic brought to the fore under Ferguson would be to misunderstand the true greatness of the man – somebody who, without complicated tactics or a devised way of playing, managed to create a group of relentless warriors capable of going way beyond their perceived limits.
He wouldn’t say much, but it would resonate deeply – no matter what language you did or didn’t speak – and make the difference. Nobody wanted to disappoint him; nobody wanted to be on his wrong side; everybody just wanted to win under him, and they usually did.