“That purpose and determination is something that’s in you.”
Alex Ferguson knew a thing or two about winning. After all, during his 26 years as Manchester United boss, he won 895 games.
But while Ferguson basked in the most glorious victories, the Scot suffered his fair share of devastating defeats.
This was a man who lost two Champions League finals to Barcelona and the Premier League title in the dying seconds of the season to Manchester City in 2012.
Alex Ferguson on defeats.
Yes, Ferguson won more than most, but he always appreciated the value of learning from defeats. As the old adage goes, failure is not the opposite of success, it is part of success.
In 2015, Ferguson sat down for a fascinating interview with Sky Sports presenter Jim White.
During their chat, he offered an insight into his psychology and why, he felt, reacting to a defeat was as important as winning.
Ferguson’s philosophy on losing.
“Defeat happens,” said Ferguson.
“I can accept defeat no bother, no problem for me. Maybe when I was very young, I found it difficult, but you have to have the dignity to be able to accept defeat and be a good loser.
“But it doesn’t mean to say you don’t forget it. My purpose after that was to make sure it never happened again, I just hated losing that way.
“I would tell my players at the end of the game, in no uncertain terms, and we’d always try to find the reason why we lost that game, but the next match was another world – and I made sure I was going to win that next match.”
Ferguson on Hitzfeld.
Ferguson proceeded to tell a brilliant story about how he observed a masterclass in graciously accepting defeat from legendary Bayern Munich manager Ottmar Hitzfeld.
Hitzfeld was one of Ferguson’s great continental contemporaries. His Borussia Dortmund side had knocked United out of the 1996/97 Champions League en route to upsetting Juventus in the final.
Ferguson, of course, exacted revenge on Hitzfeld when they met in the final in 1999. For much of the match, it looked as though the German would once again emerge victorious thanks to Mario Basler’s deflected free-kick.
United, however, pulled off the most stunning last-gasp comeback, with late goals from Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer sinking the Bundesliga giants.
Later that year, Ferguson met Hitzfeld and was taken aback at how his counterpart had drilled a sense of magnanimity and courteousness into his players.
“It’s either there or not there.”
“That purpose and determination is something that’s in you,” said Ferguson.
“It’s either there or not there. There are some great examples of how you handle a defeat.
“We won the ’99 [Champions League] final in Barcelona. [Ottmar] Hitzfeld was devastated, you could tell that.
“How you’d recover from that, no one knows, but he did because, as you know, he won the European Cup shortly after that.
“The following season, I went to see Rangers play Bayern in Munich – I’d actually gone to see a player, and after the game, the Bayern PA says ‘Ottmar would like you to join him for dinner.
“I said ‘oh, well that’s very nice, so I go and go into the lounge and his two brothers are there.
“‘Oh, Mr Ferguson, please to meet you, fantastic performance last year, well done’.
“It was fantastic. Talk about magnanimity, it was absolutely brilliant.
“So, then Ottmar came, ‘it’s great to see you’ and then, all of a sudden, all the Bayern players start coming up, to shake my hand, to congratulate us on beating them in the final, can you believe that?
“Now that’s a great example, and I’ll bet you, Ottmar felt the same as I always did the next day – ‘that won’t happen again.’