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Sir Alex: “Retirement is for young people.”

Simon Binns turns up to a wine-tasting event at Man Utd and ends up getting an audience with the boss

Written by . Published on September 20th 2010.

Sir Alex: “Retirement is for young people.”

The football bit
Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson appeared to scotch any ideas of impending retirement at a sponsorship event last week, saying that it was for “young people.”

Sir Alex also told an audience at Old Trafford that beating Bayern Munich to win the Champions’ League in Barcelona was still his best moment in football, and that the game had changed so much since he joined the club, he now had “more staff than Marks & Spencer.”

United was holding a press conference to mark a three-year sponsorship deal with Chilean wine company Concha Y Toro last week, which attracted journalists from as far as Zambia, Ghana, Hong Kong, Brazil and New Zealand.

And, of course, Manchester Confidential.

“Retirement is for young people, not older people,” he said when asked for the 4 millionth time about retirement. “I like to work hard all the time. I don’t need rests. If you retire and you’re young, you can choose to do something else. If you’re older and you retire, that’s sort of it.

“I think I came to the right club at the right time. I needed a challenge. I know I’m lucky, so why change things? I know that if I’m not successful, I’ll lose my job. So I have to keep winning things, and that means plenty of hard work.

“I don’t like losing, and neither do my teams. Touch wood, I’ve had good health.

“Barcelona is still my greatest moment. It all happened in a split second, but what happened wasn’t an accident – I think we’d scored nine times in the last minute that season. So we deserved it.”

One African journalist asked Sir Alex which team he considered to be his best over the past 24 years.

“That’s a tough one,” he said. “The game has changed – it’s got faster, sports science is more of a factor. They’ve all been different but that Giggs lad has been in most of them (glancing to the Welsh winger on his left). He’s ok.“The issue with young players is not whether they are good enough – they all have the ability. It’s whether they have the temperament to play in front of 70,000 people.”

I asked Sir Alex how he balances the twin roles of the manager of a football team and ambassador to a multi-national brand. The press conference itself was a perfect example of how the manager and his players are expected to come straight off the training pitch and into a corporate event to shake hands with new commercial partners.

“The game has changed a lot, on and off the pitch, since I joined the club in 1986,” he said. “There was no freedom of contract. The press intensity was not as severe, agents weren’t as prominent. I had eight staff when I started here. Now I’ve got more staff than Marks & Spencer.

“I’ve had to integrate and work with the changes on the football side and it’s the same on the commercial side. In 1986, we had Umbro and Sharp Electronics and that was pretty much it. More sponsors are coming into the game now and it’s my job to be an ambassador and work with them.”

Sir Alex, speaking a couple of days before the 3-2 victory over Liverpool this weekend, also sounded a warning to the rest of the division and the clubs hoping to steal a march on the established heads in the Premiership.

“I think the team we’ve got now is stronger than the one we had last season. We never have great starts, but I think we have the best ability in the league. When May comes around, we’ll be there.”

The wine bit
United’s commercial director Richard Arnold said the club had compiled a list of every wine brand in the world – Concha Y Toro is the fourth largest - and drew up a dossier on each.

“We spent six months looking at wine companies around the world,” he said. “We looked at every one of them. We were looking for vision and ambition, and it didn’t hurt that they have a devil in their logo too but we wanted active partners. It helps that their product is good too.

“Central and South America is relatively unexplored for United commercially, even though we have 30 million fans there. It’s surprising that this is our first sponsorship deal.

“There are a million fans in Chile and when we went to Guadalajara recently, there were 12 hour queues to meet Javier Hernandez.

“I can’t remember a more enjoyable set of negotiations,” he joked.

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