Sports · Strategy

Management Lessons from Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho – A study of strategies and lessons from football legends and their implementation in Indian Football


Football is undoubtedly the most popular sport in the world. Only in India, football remains cricket’s poor cousin. This is due to the indigent condition of football in India. Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho are one of the best football managers of all time. This paper analyzes the reason for the atrocious condition of Indian football, management lessons from two best football managers in the world and applying their philosophies to find solutions for Indian football.


Sir Alex Ferguson, arguably one of the best football managers of all time recently retired after 27 years of service to Manchester United. He is credited with transforming United from a rotting entity to a multi-million brand and a legacy of success which includes 38 trophies, 13 Premier League titles and 2 UEFA Champion League titles. Jose Mourinho, the self-proclaimed “Special One” possesses the Midas’s touch- everything he touches turns to gold. Also regarded as one of the best managers of all time, he is credited with winning the league titles in four different countries- with Porto in Portugal, Chelsea in England, Internazionale in Italy and Real Madrid in Spain.

Indian football has got itself tangled into a sorry state with the national team failing to qualify for major tournaments and the lack of popularity and mismanagement of its domestic championship, the I-League. Once Asian giants, Indian football team now languishes at the lower rungs of the football ladder with a FIFA ranking of 147 out of 207 countries below teams like war-torn Afghanistan and the poor African nation of Sudan.It is the need of the hour for Indian football to get itself out of this mess and this is possible only with good management.

In this paper, we take management lessons from the two best football managers in the world and apply their philosophies to find solutions for Indian football.


Basic physical and organizational system needed for the operation of a society or undertaking is termed as infrastructure.

Perhaps the biggest success for Sir Alex Ferguson lies in his role in making Manchester United into a global brand with world-class facilities. When he arrived, United had The Cliff training ground with 1 pitch, a small shooting area and a small gym; now they have excellent training facilities in Carrington which includes 14 football pitches,  training and rehabilitation areas, physiotherapy and massage rooms, and remedial and hydrotherapy pools. While earlier they had just one physio, now there is an efficient support staff with physios and masseuse, doctors, nutritionists, pediatricians etc. The 76,000 capacity Old Trafford ground has been completely revamped since his arrival.

Jose Mourinho, being a manager at a club for a few years, doesn’t have the leisure of changing the infrastructure at his will; rather he inherits the infrastructure of the club. He has been lucky to work at clubs with large funding at his disposal. Nevertheless, he is attributed to bring success wherever he goes and he makes the best use of the infrastructure given to him.

Infrastructure in India: Despite the robust levels of growth of India’s economy in the last decade, the national levels of poverty and inequality are among the highest in the international ambit, and the country remains below the world average across a number of socioeconomic indicators. India has been a football crazy nation, but a serious exigency of infrastructure & the necessary support from the concerned authorities has proved to be a major palisade in the path of the development of the sport. Good infrastructure directly impacts the quality of preparation and development of professional teams and potential players. Already FIFA has perceived the void that prevails as far as framework in India is concerned and therefore, rightly included an element dedicated to that in its ‘Win in India with India’ project. Good stadiums are the need of the hour for attracting crowd. A country with an area of 3,287,263 square kilometers has only one FIFA approved stadium- Salt lake Stadium, Kolkata. Clubs will soon have to have their own stadium because of the club licensing criteria being enforced by the AIFF.

Role of Indian Managers: A manager’s role is to enhance the flow of information throughout an information system and to promote adaptability necessary for a changeable environment. AIFF has stated net income of Rs 54,53,35,000 for the fiscal year 2013-14 from sale of broadcasting and marketing rights, sponsorships, government grant and different other sources which have to be utilized for the best of the sport.


Both Sir Alex and Mourinho have relied on fresh, young talent to ensure success. Due to his longevity, Sir Alex has had more opportunities to develop youth- especially his famed “Fergie’s Fledglings” including David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary and Phil Neville.  The things that strike him in a player are pace, balance, good technical skill, a good character to help live up to the demands of today and a desire to win. So what is his system of youth development?

  • 9-12 years: Spotting talent
  • 15-16 years: Growth and retention of skills
  • 16-19 years: Physical progress, attitude, how their technique develops.
    (Academy System: give scholarships from 16-19 years after which there isa decision made to award a contract.)
  • 20-21 years: Overall assessment of a player to be fit for first-team football.

At the same time SAF gets a nice balance to the team by a combination of youth and experience which works both ways: experienced players work harder to keep up and younger players gain by experience

Jose Mourinho, on the other hand doesn’t have a track record for producing home-grown players, rather he buys players in their youth and moulds them to great players. While managing at Internazionale, he started the 19+4 format, where a team consisted of 19 world-class players and 4 from the youth system and academies. He can be attributed with developing many young players like Carlos Alberto, Petr Czech, Joe Cole, Ashley Cole, Mikel, Arjen Robben etc.

Youth Development in India: Cited as one of the major loopholes that is hindering the process of India becoming a football nation. Over the last decade Spanish and German youth development programs have seen the national side benefit from their sound planning wherein the development of a potential player starts from the age of 7.Youth development is of prime most importance as there is no lack of talent in our country. Due to the size of our country most of the talent is hidden in remote areas which need to be explored.

WIFA and Manchester United have partnered to set up football academy for players between 8 to 17 years old. Only a limited number of youth development programs are operational in the country including MohunBagan AC, Kolkata; Tata Football Academy, Jamshedpur; JCT, Punjab; Sesa, Goa, Pune FC, Pune; Dempo, Goa.

There is also a need to host major football Cup competition so that people can throng their money and develop an interest for the game. Hosting more of youth soccer leagues in India is essential. Presently only the I-League U20 is organized for the under 20years teams.

Role of Managers: Managers have to provide proper scouting in order to find youth talent and provide them with proper training. Authorities must take measures like introduction of football scholarship for good football players to several colleges and schools, organizing various club level competitions as well as inter-school and intra- school competitions and keeping a handsome reward and honoring star players, marketing and branding the game so that more young people feel motivated to play the game, send the young players in their teens to foreign trips for exposure and giving them chance to play in first-team from a young age.


It is widely said that Manchester United is Sir Alex Ferguson and vice-versa. He is said to have the club’s values deeply ingrained in him. He is the person who is largely responsible for reinventing Manchester United from a rotting entity to a multi-billion brand. Both he and Jose Mourinho are great at marketing their sport. While Sir Alex has seen the strategy to segmentthe commercial partners – looking for different sponsors in different countries in different markets leading to deals with around 33 global sponsors, Jose Mourinho, a football celebrity who endorses several products himself, is a genius in how to market his team well. He has a presence around him which ensures that the teams where he coaches are always given media attention. He is outspoken and this leads to a love-hate relationship with the media. A master in polarizing opinions, he builds an aura of invincibility around his teams which brings in increased media interest and sponsors. His unorthodox methods guard him from limiting thoughts and are vital to his success.

Need of proper marketing in India: Samir Thapar dissolved JCT due to the lack of television coverage of the I-League. This was a result of penurious marketing by AIFF. Curtailment of popularity for the domestic league in India has been a major contributing factor to it. India with one billion people cannot get its stadiums even half full for its domestic league. Poor branding and marketing has hit the I-League and football in this country. One of the important points that debar star players from entering into football is that there is no financial rewards for football in India with the winners of I-League awarded INR 50 lakhs while the winning purse for the Indian Team is INR 35,000 per match. Adding to this is the low ticket sales in all the parts of the country and hence the team hardly gets revenue on ticket sales. Even if some of amount of money is earned from the ticket sales that goes to the Local Organizing committee as they are the organizers.64.28% of clubs competing in I-League during the 2013-14 season are from Goa and West Bengal. The remaining are from Maharashtra and Meghalaya. This reveals the urgency of marketing of the sport in India with such a huge fan following of European League.

Role of Managers: A manager has to develop positive association with media to help advance the club’s contour. Also, there is a need to rope-in sponsors to the game and for that the managers need to sell their vision for their teams and convince the would-be sponsors with a thorough plan for the future.

Method of improving Marketing:-

  • Improving TV coverage so that a percentage of the TV revenue can go down to the clubs. AIFF needs to find a broadcaster as soon as possible for broadcasting football events and talks are going between AIFF and various sports channel.
  • Korea after hosting the World Cup has developed a football culture as the crowd come out in support of their local heroes. Hence, the whole point comes to building good infrastructure, branding and marketing. For this our clubs need to deliver their product to the masses.
  • There is urgent need for a quick change in the vision of Indian clubs. Clubs should market their products globally by both offline and online promotions. Football is very popular in north-east. So Indian clubs need to organize tours there and try to cash in on the enormous market potential that North- East is offering.


Sir Alex Ferguson is perceived mostly like an Aristocrat and only a few of his assistant coaches have gone on to become world-class managers but with limited success. They include Brian Kidd, Carlos Quieroz, and Steve McClaren. On the other hand, Jose Mourinho has had three coaches under him who are now currently coaching Premier League Sides: Brendan Rodgers (Liverpool), Andres Villas Boas (Tottenham) and Steve Clarke (West Brom) arguably three most exciting managers in the Premier League. However, it is interesting to note that the three managers have their own managing styles which differs a vast deal from Mourinho’s. This has been the legacy of Mourinho- to leave such a lasting impression and initiating other managers which aids football in the long run.

Lack of good coaches in India: Due to the lack of good coaches in India, basics are not properly taught at the grassroots to the youngsters, which makes it difficult for them to play good football and that’s why coach education is very important. “The biggest problems in Indian football today are the (lack of) academies, the education of coaches along with the strength, nourishment, and the pace on the ball,” Armando Colaco, the Dempo manager told Reuters. Though various steps have been taken by Indian govt. some are:-

Coach Development Programme: The Coach development is one of the major objectives of the Scheme of Assistance for the Creation of Urban Sports Infrastructure, of Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Government of India. Under this programme, the selected coaches would be employed with the States/UTs and would be re-trained through a one month Refresher Course. For qualifying this course, a coach must have passed Diploma in Sports Coaching, from any institution, authorized by the Govt. of India. Also financial assistance of Rs.50, 000/- per coach, for this training programme by the Govt. of India.

Refresher Course in Sports coaching: This course has been taken by government to update the knowledge of in-service coaches’ of various sportsdisciplines, and also to make them aware of the latest developments in the field of sports coaching. The State/UT will depute one coach per discipline, per centre. In a year, total number of coaches that is to be deputed should not be more than 20 in the case of states and 10 in the case of UTs.

The government will provide for facilities like faculty, sports infrastructure, boarding and lodging, sports kits, medical facilities, study material and certification for prospective coaches.

The Indian managers need to train their coaches and assistant managers for eventually taking up bigger roles in management. The coach development program can only produce coaches, but in order for them to become world-class, they need experience with the best sides, under the best managers in the country. In addition to leaving a legacy of great football players, the managers should also look to leave a lasting legacy of fellow managers.


Both Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho are well known for intolerance towards indiscipline. Both of them expect the players to understand that nobody is bigger than the club and no indecent behavior in public is tolerated. While, the managers themselves might not practice what they preach when it comes to arguing with match officials, they have been effective in keeping players in line. Some examples include the highly publicized shoe-throwing incident on David Beckham by SAF and José Mourinho leaving Iker Casillas on the bench due to indiscipline. Sir Alex is a dominant figure, especially famous for his ‘hairdryer treatment’, every player’s nightmare which automatically keeps them in line. His players are hard working, passionate about the sport and give their all when they walk on to the pitch, the main reason for which is the hard graft they are used to under Ferguson. Jose Mourinho too expects his players to toe the line and keep their selfish nature in check and put out the best possible image of the club.

Lack of Professionalism in India: Consider this: A player from the I-League didn’t play in a match for his club. The coach made it up or was informed about the sickness of the player. Few days later the player was found in the far city signing for a new club. This shows lack of professionalism and loyalty on the part of the players. Bhaichung Bhutia and Ramirez Barreto, two of India’s sporting idols, have built their careers on discipline.For them, football was their life, with no pretensions for the glitz and glamour often associated with celebrity footballers.They gave their best for every match and before that on training where they were known for their punctuality.

Role of Indian Managers: The manager’s role is to check healthy and stimulating environment is maintained around the players, appropriate funds are available to the players at time, constant motivation and dedication is needed to be enriched in the players. Fair play applies to everyone involved in sport i.e. players, officials, coaches, team managers, parents and spectators. The manager is responsible for encouraging and promoting fair play among the players. There needs to be strict implementation of rules and guidelines in practice as well as real matches.


One of the biggest achievements of Sir Alex has to be in the way he handled United after the takeover by the Glazer family in 2005. The £525m debts loaded on to the club to pay for the family’s takeover, consisting majorly of loans, cost United £176m in interest alone. While the supporters vehemently opposed the new owners, Sir Alex never once criticized the Glazers, instead showing resourcefulness by achieving success despite the comparatively low budget. Instead of spending lavishly on star players, he looked for value-for-money and brought in players with comparatively lesser transfer fee. Of course, any player touched by Ferguson saw his value doubled overnight. On their part, the Glazers have showed full support for Ferguson. Also, in his early days as United Manager, despite, not producing immediate results, he had the backing of the owners that time and though it took him long, but the confidence shown to him by the managers was of vital importance in his career.

Jose Mourinho on the other hand has been fortunate to have ample funds at his disposal to buy the best players in the market especially under the ownership of Roman Abramovich and Florentino Perez at Real Madrid. He left Chelsea due to a fall-out with Abramovich and this was followed by a time of instability at Chelsea which saw many managers come in for short durations but nobody could bring in the continued success like Mourinho. Now at his second term as Chelsea boss, he will be held under the constraints due to Financial Fair Play rules and will have to lead on a stricter budget. Under such ‘severe’ financial restraints he has assessed the situation and informed the fans that they can realistically hope for a title only in his second term. Meanwhile, he is looking towards the Chelsea youth system to compensate for the lesser budget.

Both SAF and Jose Mourinho show that a good understanding between the owners and the manager is of utmost importance for success and neither should interfere with the other’s role. In Mourinho’s words:

“If Roman Abramovich helped me out in training we would be bottom of the league and if I had to work in his world of big business, we would be bankrupt!’

The Scenario in India: The situation in India is such that the top positions in sports associations are held by politicians with no understanding of the sport. They look for their own welfare with no active interest in the betterment of the sport. With such indifferent top brass, it falls upon the managers to bridge the gap between the owners and the day to day running of the game. It is observed that when a team is not performing well, the managers lay the blame on the owners for not providing adequate support in terms of infrastructure or funding. They can take lessons from Sir Alex that resourcefulness is the need of the hour and the real test lies in bringing success despite the various shortcomings. For their best interests, the managers need to develop close working relationship with the proprietors so as to discuss the needs of the club. At the same time, the owners should refrain from interfering with the manager. The manager should get full power on how to run the club/ team and the owners should only be concerned with providing the best facilities for the team.         


Some of the major management strategies used by Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho were discussed. Some of the key
reasons for success of football in any country and the role of managers like Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho was discussed. Also the Indian scenario and the role of managers was also examined. Some possible solutions by comparing it with Management strategies of Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho were discussed and how they can be implemented in the Indian scenario.

By: Ayush Anand, Namrata Yadav, Nikhil Agrawal and Riddhima Ahluwalia



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