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Historian compares Alex Ferguson to Vladimir Lenin

Alex Ferguson's managerial style has been compared to the ruthless reign of Lenin. Pictures: AFP/Getty

Alex Ferguson's managerial style has been compared to the ruthless reign of Lenin. Pictures: AFP/Getty

  • by MARC HORNE
 

HE IS a formidable leader who led a red revolution and whose ferocious outbursts struck fear into the hearts of comrades and opponents alike.

And now Sir Alex Ferguson’s robust and uncompromising managerial style has been compared to the ruthless reign of Vladimir Lenin.

Dr John Bew claims the Scot’s obsession with iron discipline and determination to crush any form of dissent was reminiscent of the tactics used by the father of the Russian Revolution.

The award-winning historian and academic insists the unyielding, hard-line stance which the Govan-born football legend adopted at Manchester United and Aberdeen was comparable to the ethos espoused by the dictatorial Soviet leader.

The reader in history and foreign policy at King’s College London, who has written an essay analysing Ferguson’s political influences, believes the implacable coach and the resolute revolutionary shared the credo that control is everything.

Bew told Scotland on Sunday: “There is something reminiscent of Lenin in Ferguson’s approach and I don’t necessarily mean that in a critical way.

“What Lenin argued for was the absolute necessity of authority and leadership when it came to the revolution.

“Things didn’t happen by chance. Both Lenin and Ferguson were believers in authority, direction, leadership, drive and vision.”

The director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence claimed both leaders relied on covert surveillance to maintain discipline and ensure that dissenting figures could be identified.

The former Cambridge University lecturer, who has hosted seminars on diplomacy at the Foreign Office, said: “Like Lenin, Ferguson had a network of informers.

“They were in place throughout the watering holes of Manchester and kept an eye on the players and kept control of everything that could possibly subvert the revolution that he had instituted at United.

“Ferguson did have a very clear revolutionary vision at the club. He has often spoken of his need to establish complete ‘control’ over his staff and players.”

Bew claims the 71-year-old’s left-leaning politics were shaped by his working class Glasgow roots and his one-time role as a trade union representative at an engineering firm.

He said: “The section of the workforce to which he belonged was referred to as labour aristocracy.

“Ferguson is absolutely an authoritarian. I don’t know if it comes from shop steward culture, but there is no question that he is all about control and drive. That’s not incongruous with his background, which is all about structure, hard work and respect for authority.”

The Northern Irish-born academic pointed out that the high-profile Labour supporter had a life-long interest in charismatic and influential leaders.

Bew said: “Ferguson is fascinated by history and historical figures and has a genuine interest that goes beyond the conventional stuff.

“He does have an interest in dictators and is very well read about figures like Stalin and Hitler. He also enjoys biographies of left-of-centre American heroes like Abraham Lincoln and JFK.”

While Lenin relied on the Cheka, his feared secret police, to identify and eliminate potential opponents, the former caretaker Scotland manager used more direct methods to weed out those he believed to be shirkers and trouble makers.

Former players at Aberdeen and Manchester United claim their arch-disciplinarian boss frequently dragged individuals out of bars and nightclubs in a bid to prevent a drinking culture taking root.

Neale Cooper, who played in the Aberdeen team that lifted the European Cup Winners Cup in 1983, believes Ferguson could be every bit as intimidating as a Kremlin despot.

He recalled an incident when his irate employer caught him in a Granite City bar with a drink, which he insisted was nothing stronger than cola, in his hand.

Cooper said: “He came really quite close to me and said: ‘That doesnae smell like bloody Coke to me.’

“He tasted it, looked at me, came closer and said: ‘You’re dead. Monday morning I’m ­going to run the bollocks off you. You won’t know what’s hit you’.”

Current Scotland coach, Gordon Strachan, who clashed bitterly with Ferguson at Aberdeen and Manchester United, has also claimed his former manager used to routinely keep tabs on him.

Ferguson, hailed by many as the greatest football manager of all time, was never afraid to unleash blistering dressing room tirades, known as the “hairdryer treatment”, in the direction of those he felt were not pulling their weight.

David Beckham, who was involved in an infamous incident in which Ferguson kicked a boot in his direction, insists his tough stance was effective. “The fear of getting the hairdryer was the reason why we all played so well,” he said.

It is not the first time the former Rangers player has been accused of acting like a Soviet dictator. Earlier this year Ferguson responded with shock when broadcaster Jon Snow accused him of running a controlling “Stalinist” regime at Old Trafford. He retorted: “Jesus Christ! That’s a bit extreme. The control means the players will know who the manager is. If it goes the other way they’ll think you’re weak and I don’t think I’ve ever been weak.”

 

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