Dubai: Fear, respect and the ability to win approval. Sir Alex Ferguson may have retired from Manchester United, but his successor and compatriot David Moyes will be striving to bring the same qualities to bear at Old Trafford as his fellow Scot.
A tough, working-class upbringing twinned with strong, left-wing socialist beliefs make Scottish football managers a protective yet intimidating breed.
However schizophrenic that seems, most players react positively to it. In every major domestic competition in England, the manager with the most titles of all time is usually a Scotsman.
Britain’s first two European Cup-winning coaches, Jock Stein of Celtic in 1967 and Sir Matt Busby of Manchester United a year later, along with Liverpool’s 1960s and 70s legend Bill Shankly, have typecast Scotland’s football as honest and hard-working and also not to be messed with.
Their fearless passion and determination stems from the need to escape the coal mines and the shipyards, and their rebel hearts come from their trade unionist empathies and their disdain for the establishment.
No one can create a dressing-room vibe of ‘them versus us’, while differentiating between player and coach quite as effectively as a Scotsman.
But with their industrial roots in decline and modern players less receptive to aggression, is the old-school Scottish football manager on the verge of extinction? Or is Moyes the chip off the old block that can maintain authority in a game increasingly ruled more by players and their agents than the managers themselves?
“Scottish coaches know when to put an arm around someone and when to boot them up the backside,” said former Scotland and Celtic defender Derek Whyte, who now coaches at Dubai’s Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence.
“It’s changing slightly now because players are more pampered, but the morals of dealing with people are the same.
“There’s a fantastic work ethic and the majority of coaches — especially Ferguson, Shankly, Stein and Busby — came from the coal mines or the shipyards, and that instilled in them the sense that you have to work hard to achieve anything.
“There are always going to be guys coming through with the desire to be managers and, with the background of where they are from, the desire to get out. Obviously the coal mines and the shipyards have almost all gone, but I still think that feeling will always be there.”
Al Ahli’s director of football Roy Aitken played under Jock Stein at both Celtic and Scotland. He also represented Scotland under Ferguson after Stein’s death following the 1986 World Cup qualifier with Wales.
He said: “Stein was a very strong character and he ruled with an iron fist. At that time he was in total control, and as a young player [you felt] there was an aura around him because he had been so successful.
“But Stein was in an era where the club ruled because there was no such thing as a transfer request. If you weren’t playing, you were up in the stands waiting for your position and that was wrong.
“Now it seems to have gone totally the other way where the players and the agents rule situations. I don’t think that’s right either. It has to be somewhere in the middle.”
Aitken added Ferguson had a similar stranglehold at Aberdeen, a grip he carried into Manchester United, where he successfully moved with the times to handle modern players.
“In my day, we grew up and wanted to play for the team you supported, then you wanted to be successful, and then you knew you would be paid reasonably well,” said Aitken.
“Now, it’s gone in reverse. The first thing the modern player thinks of is ‘how much am I going to get paid?’ then ‘hopefully we’ll win things’ and lastly ‘what team is it?’. But Ferguson was able to deal with that, because he treated the young players well and they kept that respect.”
Aitken puts great emphasis on strong coaching programmes and a passion for the game. He also believes firmly in technical and psychological knowledge, and the ability to recognise a player’s strengths and weaknesses.
Hearts on their sleeves
He added: “Scots call a spade a spade and wear their hearts on their sleeves, but that’s not the only reason they are successful, because there are a million punters out there who are the same. A working-class background may lead to a good work ethic and determination, but that doesn’t automatically make you a top coach.
“The bottom line is you’ve got to build a team and get the best out of that group. The better players you have and the more you can get out of them, the more you will win.
“Ultimately successful managers get the best out of an individual, but they also recognise the individuals they can get the best out of. A weaker character will fall by the wayside.
“That’s what Moyes will be doing now: Looking for that certain type of player to deliver the goods in front of 80,000 people. But it also takes a certain type of coach to handle that pressure and that’s probably where the Scottish guys have that focus and determination.”
Of Moyes’ credentials, Aitken added: “I don’t think you want to say Moyes is going to succeed Fergie. But will he be successful in his own right? I think he’s got the ability to be that.
“People say he hasn’t won a trophy but how do you measure success? Would you rather be a Wigan and win the FA Cup and get relegated, or an Everton that finishes in the top six consistently?
“Moyes has proved over the years that he can maintain a club in that section besides teams that are far outspending them. And in the modern game finances dictate.”
Whyte said: “Like Ferguson, Moyes will have already adapted to deal with the modern player. He’s admitted he’s mellowed. But he shouldn’t lose the old characteristics. It should be a mixture of both. The game has changed and the players are much more pampered now and he has to know how to handle that. But when he wants something out of them, I’m sure he’ll use the Scottish aggression when necessary.”
Sir Alex Ferguson 48 trophies between 1974 and 2013
Jock Stein: 28 trophies, 1960-1985
Sir Matt Busby: 13 trophies, 1945-1971
Bill Shankly: 11 trophies, 1949-1974
David Moyes: 1 trophy, 1998-
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