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The Master Surgeon

By Mark Burke



The Master Surgeon

Manchester United are about to be crowned Champions again and because of the gap it has become almost an irrelevance with the battle for relegation and the 'battle for fourth'(?!) being a more interesting topic of conversation.

Geniuses are usually only fully appreciated after their deeds have been fully analysed and digested and looked at from a distance.

Sir Alex Ferguson is one such genius who will only be fully appreciated when he leaves the game and what a hole that will be to fill.

With all the awards he has amassed over the years there must be one somewhere in his trophy cabinet from The National Surgeons Association. 

An award given to a man who knows the exact moment to operate and do it so skilfully and successfully that nobody sees the join.

In between this operating process there may be the odd twinge for patient and the stitches may pull a bit but on the whole it's difficult to see where the work ended and where it started. 

Sir Alex Ferguson has operated on more teams at one club than anybody in the history of the game.

The most amazing thing about his success is it's been done under constant scrutiny at possibly the most famous club in the world.

He has adapted to new competitors, hes seen it before, maybe there are more now but that's just a new challenge that this piece of managerial granite will rise to and chisel his way out of.

Being a player I used to observe my managers, the little details how they spoke to people, how they carried themselves, how they dealt with problems both with other players and myself.

It's incredibly difficult for a manager to retain authority, well not so much authority, maybe credibility is a better word, at a football club. 

After 2-3 years the players have heard everything the manager has to say, they have been observed in good times and bad times in minute detail and players, being possibly the most cynical, selfish and unremittingly ruthless bunch will have picked up in every one of these details with their football antennae.

These are developed at an early age and are honed to  razor sharpness and can pick up on every vibration emitted by the manager.

A good mood is picked up early in the morning, the manner in which the manager says hello to the first player he sees can set the tone.

The word filters back to the dressing room, 'gaffers in a good mood today', imperceptibly shoulders loosen and the mood lighter.

'Watch out!! He's not in a good mood today!!' Deep breaths are taken and muscles and minds prepared to meet the challenge of a demanding manager.

To command a dressing room of exceptionally talented young men, whose egos have become if not inflated then bulletproofed against criticism, from an early age due to their outstanding talent and a huge financial cushion is a difficult thing. 

A friend of mine is a top Physio in Belgium and sees around 80 patients a day! 

He told me one day, when he was really out on his feet, that every one of these 80 patients thinks THEIR condition is the most important. 

Multiply those egocentric sentiments in a football dressing room by 1000 and you get an idea of the difficultulies of a managers job.

He must convince 25 wealthy young men that what he asks them to do on and off the field is always in THEIR best interests and that the teams best interests are their best interests. 

That may be the key to a managers success and nobody has ever done this better than Sir Alex Ferguson. 

A football dressing room misses NOTHING. 

These are players at the absolute peak of their physical prowess but are also incredibly sharp minded, with banter as sharp as Gillette's latest Mach.

A football manager is aware of this and be aware that the slightest hiccup will be mercilessly scrutinised and never forgotten.

A manager has to be absolutely ruthless, theres no other way, it's either him or them.

'Them' being the players. 

(Sometimes its hard to understand the gulf between players and manager who both are ultimately after the same thing, it seems at times they are going in different directions) but when it comes to deciding if a player has outlived his usefulness them the manager has to make that quick, sharp surgical incision and remove the player before he starts to 'infect' the rest of the team.

I've seen these 'operations' and been 'operated' on.

Sir Alex Fergusons rate of success in the 'operating theatre' (of dreams) is incredible, maybe once or twice the operation could have been delayed a little but better to do it quick, be done and give the patient time to adjust.

When players see these operations being carried out and being successful it inspires and encourages their faith in the manager and the message he preaches.

They see and admire his cold hard ruthlessness, rather like children who secretly appreciate firm parenting.

The players need and like to know what the limits are.

 If another player is in their eyes not adhering to the team 'contract' they have all signed up to and the manager deals with it quickly and swiftly the he gains instant respect from the team.

Alex Ferguson has done this more times and more consistently than possibly any manager ever.

This summer expect the scalpel to be carefully applied with all of the skill we are accustomed to.