UTD Unscripted Rene Meulensteen on working as a coach under Sir Alex Ferguson

That’s how simple it was. On three flip charts, that was my entire job outline. Sir Alex trusted my imagination and creativity, he liked the positive energy I had, so he gave me the ingredients that I needed to use when devising training sessions. That was great. It was made so simple for me. 

It was all about putting a purpose to what we do, so that the players understand why they were doing what they were doing. You had to challenge those world-class players. It could be anything – a finishing session, a conditioning game, anything – but the job was to challenge them and, within that challenge, give them ownership because that’s what you wanted them to do in matches. Sessions were always about purpose and challenge, and they always revolved around quality and intensity. They were interlinked. If you do those four, most likely the players enjoy it. The key for those players, no matter that they were well-paid, top professionals, the core of them playing football was because they loved playing football and as a coach you need to capture that love for football. That keeps them engaged. You want them to feel something. When that happens, you feel the energy and quality coming out on the training pitch.

The biggest compliment that I had over my six years – and I did all sorts of sessions where I worked with one player, two players, 30 players, it doesn’t matter – was that never, ever did one player come off the pitch and say to me: “That was s***, that. I didn’t enjoy that.” Never. And if it had been, they’d definitely have told me. Those players didn’t hold back. 

The most important part, of course, was how those sessions translated into events in games. When I was sitting next to Sir Alex watching the game, and I knew what we’d worked on, I’d be asking myself: are we pressing from the front, nice and compact, good in transition, breaking the lines quickly enough? When the final whistle went, usually after a win, the boss always stood up and said: “well done”, and that was enough. He said to me once that those are the two most important words in coaching. Coming from him, they carried weight. “Well done,” was enough.

That’s all you needed, because it was relentless. Champions League Wednesday, Premier League Saturday, League Cup Tuesday… that hard drive never stopped spinning because it was always thinking ahead and that’s why you need good staff, good people around you so you can get their take or their feelings on a situation. Sometimes we had the odd bad result, but we never dwelled on it. We didn’t get carried away with the highs and never got too down with the setbacks.

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