“With his silver hair, leather coat and small cigar, reminded me of Paul Newman.”
Over the years, Alex Ferguson enjoyed a series of intense rivalries with his opposite numbers.
During his 27-year reign as Manchester United boss, the Scot could count Kenny Dalglish, Kevin Keegan, Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho and Rafael Benitez among his closest adversaries.
At times, the rivalries became personal. With United battling to stay at the top of the Premier League, it’s no surprise that Ferguson often developed a siege mentality during title run-ins.
But while Ferguson often looked to have the last word with his rivals on the domestic front, he was more of a willing student when it came to Europe.
With his side dominating the Premier League landscape throughout the 90s, Fergie often studied the methods of European managers in charge of the continent’s top clubs.
He shared a respectful rivalry with Ottmar Hitzfeld, whose Bayern Munich side lost to United in the 1999 Champions League final.
Ferguson also admired Vicente del Bosque. In 2000, for example, the Spaniard’s experimental 3-3-2-2 formation with Real Madrid prevented Fergie’s United from retaining their European crown, with defeat forcing the former Aberdeen boss into a tactical rethink when it came to Champions League games.
Another manager for whom Ferguson had the utmost respect was Marcello Lippi.
Lippi’s Juventus were the team Ferguson sought to model United after. Under the legendary Italian, Juve were a dominant force in European football in the 1990s, winning the 1996 Champions League by beating an Ajax side coached by Louis van Gaal, one of Ferguson’s successors at Old Trafford.
In his 2015 book Leading, Ferguson wrote: “Nonetheless, you can learn from your competitors and more importantly, you can rise your standards by trying to match or outperform them.
“Between 1994 and 1999 Juventus, the Italian club, served that role for United, when they were managed by Marcello Lippi and played at the level I wanted to attain.
‘Nobody could make the mistake of taking Lippi lightly’ – Ferguson
“I greatly admired Lippi. He had such a sense of style and, with his silver hair, leather coat and small cigar, reminded me of Paul Newman.
Ferguson also mentioned his admiration for Lippi’s Juventus in his first autobiography, Managing My Life, which was originally published in 1999.
“I have developed immense respect for Juventus,” he wrote. “They are a class act from top to bottom and I hope United use the Italian club as a benchmark.
“We went to the Stadio Delle Alpi knowing that the new coach, Carlo Ancelotti, an outstanding player on his day, had steadied the ship skilfully after the abrupt departure of Marcello Lippi.
“But I kept thinking what a godsend it was that Lippi was not in the Juve dug-out. Lippi is one impressive man. Looking into his eyes is enough to tell you that you are dealing with someone who is in command of himself and his professional domain.
“Those eyes are sometimes burning with seriousness, sometimes twinkling, sometimes warily assessing you – and always they are alive with intelligence.
“Nobody could make the mistake of taking Lippi lightly. On top of all his other advantages, he is such a good-looking bastard he makes most of us look like Bela Lugosi.”
As Ferguson alluded to, Lippi left Juventus in 1999 and joined rivals Inter Milan. After a year at the San Siro, he returned to Turin, leading Juve to successive Serie A titles in 2002 and 2003.
And while he was unable to guide the Bianconeri to a second European crown under his watch – being defeated in the ’03 Champions League final by Ancelotti’s AC Milan – he secured his place in the pantheon of managerial greats by leading Italy to the World Cup in 2006.
After an unsuccessful second stint in charge of the Azzurri between 2008 and 2010, he spent the rest of his career in China, managing both the national team and Chinese Super League club Guangzhou Evergrande.