Fear of the sack drove Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, says Olsen

With the Scot set to retire at the end of the season, former Red Devils winger Jesper Olsen has shed some light on the motivation that spurred on his former manager
By Paddy Higgs

Former Manchester United winger Jesper Olsen believes the secret to Sir Alex Ferguson's longevity was the Scot's fear of the sack.

Ferguson's 27-year stint at the Old Trafford helm will come to an end after the 2012-13 season, with the 71-year-old announcing his retirement on Wednesday.

Success become a byword of his reign, though it took until his fourth season after moving from Scottish Premier League club Aberdeen before his United side claimed a major trophy.

Now 52, Olsen was on the transfer list when the Scot replaced Ron Atkinson as United manager in 1986, spending the next two seasons at the club before departing Old Trafford.

But talking to Goal, Olsen said the Ferguson he first encountered at United during those initial years was unchanged by his eventual success.

"No I don't think [he was different], because I don't think he ever - until now, when he has announced his retirement - he ever relaxed and felt he was safe at any stage," Olsen said.

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"He was always striving to get a better player or a better team or better preparation...All this stuff that's been built, in terms of training facilities and stuff like that.  It's been amazing.  All these things he's been involved in.

"He just tried to cover all the different areas he felt could help the team perform on matchdays, and at the end of the day that's what it's all about, isn't it?  You take away all the excuses, but when you go out there... You can't say if the training pitch isn't good, or the food or whatever."

With Sir Alex having flirted with retirement in the past, Olsen said he believed the Scot's decision this time to be permanent and also added that it would not come as unexpected for many at the club: " I think they had a sneaky feeling about it," he said.

"Sir Alex has always had a great timing with things and when he decides to do stuff, and I think this was probably a good one, to finish as champions again."

A coach with Melbourne-based Football Star Academy, Olsen backed Everton manager David Moyes for the job and said Ferguson's fellow countryman would be "ready for it".

He believes Moyes - rather than the headline-hogging Jose Mourinho - would be a better fit for United.

"He's done a fantastic job with limited resources, and the players seem to play for him," Olsen said.

"He's brought some great players in and made a team out of it, which at the end of the day is what's important."

A Melbourne Heart assistant coach for their inaugural A-League season in the 2010-11 campaign, Olsen's playing career took in stints at Bordeaux and Caen in France after his departure from United in 1988.

He represented Denmark at both the 1984 European Championships and the 1986 World Cup, having won a move to England after the former on the back of his impressive performances for Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven.

He has no trouble recalling his four-year stint at United, particularly the two seasons under Sir Alex.

"When Sir Alex arrived in October 1986, I remember Gordon Strachan, who had left Aberdeen," he said.

"As a joke, he said he had left Aberdeen to get away from Sir Alex.  And then suddenly he finds that he is going to Man U, Gordon Strachan, and that Sir Alex is following.

"So we had a little bit of an insight into what he was like.  Gordon was spot on - there was a lot of times when you thought, 'This is the hairdryer that is coming out'.  [He was] also a very, very honest guy, and straight away [it was] in the past and we're moving forward, so that was his character and has always been

"We had a bit of an inkling we were in for some hard times when he arrived, but it was a pleasure to work under him, for sure."