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‘The mental battle’ – Neville opens up on how Sir Alex got in the heads of players and rival managers

Gary Neville has given an insight into the psychology and management style of Sir Alex Ferguson, revealing how the former Manchester United manager got inside the heads of players and rival managers. 

Discussing the methods of the managerial great – who won 13 league titles during a glittering career in charge of Manchester United – Neville revealed the subtle comments Ferguson would make ahead of big fixtures, including specific details when taking on perennial title rivals Arsenal in the late nineties and early 2000’s.

“Sir Alex always felt that players like Thierry Henry and Robert Pires had an air about them that they couldn’t be tackled,” Neville told Sky Sports The Football Show.

“He said he didn’t see players getting around them or tackling them. He said the opposition were too busy planning how to swap shirts with them. That would psychologically get into our heads.

“He’d say things like ‘I don’t want Vieira refereeing this game today, or Adams, or Keown’ – he’d say little things like that without ever encouraging us to intimidate the referee. People thought that happened but it didn’t.

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“But those little things were the difference in matches. Sir Alex always said ‘find a way to win’ – there was an element of madness to us in the final 10 minutes of matches but that’s the risks he took to win matches.”

Neville added that the Scot would analyse every aspect of each game in order to get the upper hand, especially ensuring his side won ‘the mental battle’.

“Not just in title run-ins, Sir Alex would identify weaknesses in the opposition, work out what kind of records we’d have under certain referees, at certain grounds – he would really pinpoint the areas of weakness in the opposition,” he said.

“If there was one player you could get at. When we played against Arsenal during their ‘Invincible’ era, we played completely different than how we would ordinarily play. He adapted us to certain situations.

“There were certain points he’d identify mentality issues with certain people within the game that would contribute to the game. He was very much into the detail of the battle on matchdays – the mental battle.”

Perhaps Ferguson’s most memorable psychological victory came during a heated title battle with Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle in the 1995/96 season, as United came back from a 12-point deficit in mid-January to claim the title.

Keegan’s iconic ‘I would love it’ rant is etched into Premier League folklore as the tensions of Ferguson’s mind-games took their toll on the Magpies manager, and Neville has revealed it was all part of the plan.

“He’d play those games with managers, saying he’d get them a lovely bottle of wine if they beat a rival,” Neville added.

“That would wind up other clubs that were in a title race. He would be always thinking how to get an advantage mentally not just on the pitch from a tactical point of view.”

Read – UEFA’s Champions League plans threaten the Premier League model and must be resisted

See also – Sir Alex Ferguson – 20 of his greatest ever quotes

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