Understanding Barry Ferguson

Barry Ferguson is currently performing a role at Blackpool that is the equivalent of a manager, just without the formalities being tidied up. It’s likely that should he want the job on a permanent basis then the job may be his. Ferguson has made no secret of the fact he wants to enter management when his playing career is finished and now might be the time.

All the way back in 2006 Ferguson released an autobiography, ‘Blue – The Life and Times of Barry Ferguson’, and within it he revealed a few glimpses of what he might bring to management. The book itself has a few themes; from his love for Rangers, being a man of passion over reason, taking defeats hard, injuries and drinking alcohol. Given that the book was written over seven years ago, it’s likely that he has developed in some way since then, so it’s wise to take some of his quotes with a pinch of salt, but still they offer a real insight in to the man inside the shirt.

Personality

What really comes across in the book is how much passion Ferguson has for his job, this much was always evident on the pitch, conducting operations with a gesture or a bark or two (or three). He is quick to lose his temper, although rarely (maybe occasionally) seen in his time in tangerine, the school boy Ferguson was one to cause a ruction or two due to having a,

‘Fiery temper that would see me clash time and again with my teachers at high school, throwing chairs in the classroom, losing the plot and flying off the handle when there was no need to’.

and..

‘I just couldn’t seem to stop myself from talking, and I’d be banished to the corridor’.

This might be both a strength and a weakness as he moves in to management. It was interesting to hear that he sought the view of his assistant (Malky Thomson) before holding his first post match interview. He’s maybe mindful of his potential to let his mouth get him in to trouble and kudos for recognising this.

Approach to coaching and management

The first quote that stands out, did so because it chimed with a viewpoint held by Ian Holloway and suggests that his approach to recruitment and youth development won’t always be dictated by the traditional British ‘Big Unit’ approach,

‘My lack of stature became a real issue, and I saw so many other good players ignored because of their height’.

He also talks fondly of the mentoring approach at Rangers and shows real enthusiasm for getting closer to helping younger players develop themselves,

‘I can see real reward in guiding a kid that wants it badly – the way I did – and seeing him make it’.

One striking aspect of the book is the commitment he shows to drinking as a means of bonding, he feels strongly that it’s something that has a positive contribution to team building,

‘If I was a manager , my team would have their bevvy sessions together not just with my blessing but under my orders. I’d bloody tell them to go. It bonds people’.

Away from the very brawny, full on, committed, physical approach to training, he does believe that analysis benefited him in his playing career so it’s likely that he’ll be a strong advocate of that as a coaching and improvement tool (although that may have just been manager specific),

‘Dick (Advocaat) was able to help me so much because his video analysis was perfect’.

He also looked across Glasgow to the approach that Martin O’Neill took during his period at Celtic with Ferguson openly stating that,

‘The signings (Martin) O’Neill made back then were either British or with a British mentality, and I looked at what he did and thought that was the way I would go if I was a boss’.

He also seems to have picked up vital bits of information that will benefit him and Walter Smith will be a clear influence on his managerial style,

‘I sometimes think that I would like to be a coach when I finish playing, and I study Walter. I have learned so much from his methods. For examples, I think that you can overdo the information – Berti (Vogts) did. There are times when players just shut off; in my opinion, you really only have 20 minutes to get the message over’.

What is also clear and has been since taking charge of affairs at Blackpool is that he has been very clear about his plans, he wasted no time in bringing in support staff that he’d earmarked. In the book he was already thinking along those lines back in 2006. About who he’d have as his backroom staff should he become a manager…..

‘I’ve had a good think about the latter and I already know whom I would have next to me. My old Ibrox reserves mentor John McGregor’.

It’s yet to be clear if he will be true to his word, however, since the writing of the book he will have met many more potential candidates, so he may have moved on from that thought.

Approach to training

Ferguson is no advocate on a non-contact approach in training, formed during the tenure of Paul Le Guen at Rangers. Ferguson and Le Guen have ‘history’ (none of that will be discussed here), but it’s suffice to say that he didn’t like the training under that regime

‘Desire and hunger are the way forward, not no contact in training, as it was under the previous manager’ (Paul Le Guen)

Ferguson’s approach to training in general will be a full on committed approach each day, a battle for everyone to try and win. He clearly feels strongly about contact in training and he linked this commitment to his own experience as a youngster.

‘I was brought up to go in with two feet during five-a-sides when I lost my place in the youth team to make sure I won it back!’

Ferguson’s own career saw him lock horns with team mates on the training ground and end up fighting, this is no new thing and happens regularly at most clubs, Ferguson’s position on them is interesting though,

‘Training-ground scraps make good headlines, but they are a necessary evil’.

That works along the lines of ‘better out than in’ and if it helps to clear the air then it’s one way of dealing with issues, whether it will be a reliable rule of thumb for his management career is something he’ll find our sooner or later.

Work ethic

Ferguson’s approach to his job has been formed by his upbringing and also by the tough and competitive environment he found himself at as a youngster at Rangers. Surrounded by passionate, tough, hard working professionals the kind of advice he was hit with was summed up by a wily old pro like John Brown,

‘Head up. Be a Rangers man. Work hard. Your chance will come’.

This kind of advice probably isn’t too far away from what the manager Barry Ferguson would be passing on to his players. What he will need to do is to build a club identity at a club such as Blackpool. Being a Rangers man at Rangers clearly had definition for him growing up, he will need to set down the standards that define what it means to be a Blackpool man or what it means to play for Barry Ferguson. That may well be a decent starting point for his managerial career.

Ferguson also wonders if players have it too easy, one thing that shouldn’t be an issue at Blackpool where players aren’t exposed to the kind of comforts you might find at other clubs,

‘And yes, I do wonder when I am in our £14 million training facility if they are getting it all too easy and whether they have the same hunger and desire I had to make it’.

Weakness

As mentioned earlier, he is a passionate man and should he not balance that out with enough reason, then that could be a serious weakness, however, his book would suggest a more fundamental weakness.

‘I find it difficult to trust people straight away, but I like to think that once I get to know someone that is worth knowing, they’ll find me a loyal friend’.

Again, given the time elapsed since writing it’s likely that he may have learned to start from a position of trust rather than one of building it up over time. If not, then this may well hold him back in management. Once he gets a new player he must trust them implicitly, otherwise they may embark on a very long winded trust building process that could be detrimental to them both.

Suitability for Blackpool

One quote really sums up his suitability for the role at Blackpool. Upon talking about going for a fry up in a cafe after training he remarked,

‘That was the mentality then, and as much as it’s nice to have the perks of a state of the art training centre, I loved that common touch’.

Well at Blackpool the common touch is pretty much an unwritten club motto, there are few perks and Ferguson will be well used to it. A place like Blackpool might be the ideal place for him to start his development in to a manager.

Moving On

Again, this book is old, Ferguson has under gone two career moves since, he has been through some further triumphs and heartaches, as well as public issues around the Scotland squad. It’s therefore fair to say that this is only a snapshot of the man. The man who may take over at Blackpool may well be different, in fact his column in Scotland’s Daily Record gives a more up to date view on the man as he is now and that may be where the next feature focuses, should he get the job permanently. If that is the case then he certainly has enough football experience to stand him in good stead for what lies ahead and there’s not many tougher first jobs out there than Blackpool. Small squad, modest budget, average to poor training facilities. That will surely test him to the fullest should he get the job.

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