Them vs Us – Good For Sport, Bad For Society

This week we have looked at how Sir Alex Ferguson became the most successful manager in history through being completely resolute in his mission and demanding the same from his team. He could only envision victory. He encouraged creativity and ideas, he hated sub-standard performance. He demanded loyalty. If you read interviews by players under Graham Westley it was a similar demanding environment. It is the same mentality that allows soldiers to go into the war-zone, it’s the mentality that “We’re in this together, committed to the same cause, and I trust the people around me.” One person wavering in their commitment destroys the confidence of the group. When it’s the leader it is fatal. In his autobiography, Rio Ferdinand has this to say of Ferguson’s successor, David Moyes:

“He tried to impose a vision but never seemed to be completely clear what that vision should be. Unintentionally, he created a negative vibe where, with [Alex Ferguson], it had always been positive. It was always how to stop the other side. Moyes set us up not to lose. We’d been accustomed to playing to win.”

Ferguson created success on three pillars that, with patience and dedication can be the bedrock of the success of any club, even my beloved Stevenage F.C.
Managers like Ferguson create a culture of high confidence in which the players would play for each other and they knew their leader has their back. No matter what, he had their back – with one caveat. If you break the unspoken rules you are dead to the group. He also created a world in which the players believed they would only win if they were determined and single-minded, and this meant always putting the team first. Finally there was the mentality that no one was going to help them, it was them against the world. He created a brand that would get in the minds of those on the outside, creating an image that others would come to fear.

In a wider view of society the “us vs. them” mentality is why we have extremists. They keep the outside out, the inside protected and don’t allow room for dissent. They live in an echo chamber believing their own myths and fight for something they believe offers identity and certainty. In the wider world it forces people into a division. It does the same in sport, with managers like Ferguson and Westley having very few people having an undecided opinion of them. In sport it is an amazing culture to build, and in possibly the only way I would dare disagree with Brian Clough (even in death he scares me), I believe it takes a very tough skin to be effective at this approach.

Here are the three takeaways for today:

1 – Temporary success can be attained in many ways. Leicester City did it a couple of years ago. Unending, relentless, and persistent success, that takes a method and an unwavering vision.

2 – Don’t create the goal with “not losing” in mind. Set your goal to win, and be relentless in your vision. All you have to do it outlast your competition.

3 – It takes a lot of courage and confidence to storm forward, and results may take time, but when they do they will remain.

It takes a relentless and ruthless mentality to be successful, the kind of mindset that takes teams like Stevenage F.C. from being almost relegated from the Conference in 2004 to being in League One seven years later. And to go on record – I love Marmite, believe Ferguson to be the greatest manager in the history of the game (but Pep may get there), and love Westley’s approach to the game.

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