Mark Hughes is credited with introducing the ‘hairdryer’ into the football lexicon.
The Welsh striker had flowing locks during his Manchester United days, locks presumably blown forcefully backwards whenever his manager Sir Alex Ferguson unleashed one of those ferocious, close-range blasts of opinion that passed into legend.
Pretty much every major character in the drama of Sir Alex’s 26 years at Old Trafford – and a good number of minor ones too – has a story to tell about the time they either received or witnessed the ‘hairdryer’ treatment after falling below the expected standard.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s ‘hairdryer’ blasts at under-performing players became the stuff of legend
Ferguson himself claims he only plugged in the ‘hairdryer’ about ‘half a dozen times in 27 years’ and yet fresh stories of his scarlet-faced, phlegm-hurling, object-kicking rage continue to emerge.
Patrice Evra has made the latest addition to the ‘hairdryer’ opus, recalling the time Ferguson marched his players back off the team bus to sign autographs for fans they’d just ignored during a pre-season tour.
Evra told United’s official podcast: ‘Before we came on the bus, we were really tired, I’ll be honest with you, and there was a queue of fans.
‘The players were like, ‘when no one signs, no one has to sign’. So we went straight to the bus, every one, and I look out the window and I see Sir Alex Ferguson signing each autograph.
Patrice Evra has recalled the time during a Manchester United pre-season tour that the whole team got the ‘hairdryer treatment’ from manager Sir Alex Ferguson
‘I swear he must have signed for like 45 minutes. He was signing for everyone. I say, ‘guys, when the boss comes on the bus, we are done!’
‘He came on the bus and he have us the hairdryer. ‘What the hell do you think you are? Those people are paying your salary. Those people are coming to watch you.
‘Now get the f**k down there and sign!’ And we had to sign for each fan. But that’s the mentality.’
The ‘hairdryer’ term has become used so often to describe Ferguson’s rants, it has come to lose some of its meaning. Presumably there were different strengths depending on his levels of anger and perhaps players have embellished their stories a little.
But it certainly makes for some excellent stories and, following Evra’s revelation, we bring you some of the best ones.
Even the biggest stars weren’t immune from a piece of Sir Alex’s mind if they’d played badly
‘Eric… you can’t go round doing things like that son’
It’s one of the most infamous moments in football history. The night Eric Cantona kung-fu kicked a Crystal Palace fan after getting sent off at Selhurst Park.
The Frenchman was banned from football for eight months but, according to this account from former United winger Lee Sharpe, Fergie was more concerned about the two points his team had dropped in a 1-1 draw.
‘The manager comes in and he’s absolutely fuming. The door smashes off the back of its hinges. The jacket is off, he’s got the short sleeves rolled up; steam coming out of his ears and frothing at the mouth.
According to Lee Sharpe, Cantona got off lightly following his infamous kung-fu kick in 1995
‘There’s benches in the middle of the room with shirts and balls to be signed. Cups of tea and plates of sandwiches. They’re sent f**king flying everywhere.
‘We’re getting scalded and getting egg sandwiches down the back of our necks. We look at each other, thinking, f**king hell, Cantona is getting It here.
‘And then he starts, the manager. ‘F**king Pallister, you can’t head anything, you can’t tackle. Incey, where the f**k have you been?
‘Sharpey, my grandmother runs f**king faster than you! You’re all a f**king disgrace. 9 o’clock tomorrow morning, I’m going to run your f**king balls off in training.’
‘And Eric… [in a softer tone] you can’t go round doing things like that son…’
Ferguson knew that the enigmatic Frenchman wouldn’t necessarily react well to a tirade
Cristiano the cry-baby
United had moved heaven and earth to sign Cristiano Ronaldo as a 17-year-old, knowing he had the potential to be one of the best players in the world.
But even the most precocious of talents were spared Ferguson’s stinging criticism, with the young Portuguese reduced to tears on one occasion, much to the amusement of his team-mates.
In his book Cristiano Ronaldo: The Biography, journalist and broadcaster Guillem Balague writes: ‘In the dressing room, Ferguson could not contain himself: ‘Who do you think you are? Trying to play by yourself? You’ll never be a player if you do this!
‘Ronaldo began to cry. The other players left him be. ‘He needed to learn,’ said Rio Ferdinand.
Ferguson reduced a young Ronaldo to tears after criticising him for hogging the ball too much
‘That was a message from the team, not just from Ferguson: everyone thought he needed to learn.
‘After the telling off and a few tears, the Portuguese’s reaction was the same as always: keep working in training to improve.
‘Predictably, the group responded by winding him up. ‘He’s crying in the changing room again! Cry-baby, cry-baby!’
The manager wasn’t afraid of some tough love when it came to the talented Portuguese star
Rooney’s oddly specific ‘hairdryer’ comparison
Wayne Rooney’s 13 years at United were hugely successful and the striker became a club legend. Not that this made him immune from a piece of Sir Alex’s mind.
Rooney described what it’s like to feel the ‘hairdryer’ in his 2012 autobiography My Decade, and helpfully included the specific make and model to get the point across.
‘There’s nothing worse than getting the ‘hairdryer’ from Sir Alex,’ he wrote. ‘When it happens, the manager stands in the middle of the room and loses it at me. He gets right up in my face and shouts.
‘It feels like I’ve put my head in front of a Babyliss Turbo Power 2200. It’s horrible.
‘I don’t like getting shouted at by anyone. It’s hard for me to take, so sometimes I shout back. I tell him he’s wrong and I’m right.’
Rooney was on the receiving end of the ‘hairdryer’ treatment from Ferguson several times
Brave move from Rooney, who continued: ‘It spurs some of the lads on, but it crushes others.’
The former England captain recalled a specific example after United had lost a Champions League match to Celtic in 2006 in which Louis Saha missed a sitter and a late penalty.
Rooney wrote: ‘It was the worst ‘hairdryer’ I’ve seen. He’s in Louis’ face, shouting and screaming. But Louis isn’t the only one getting an earful.
‘The manager knows I’ve been negotiating a new deal with the club and he saves some for me, ‘Players wanting more money from the club and new deals – you don’t deserve anything after that performance!’
Louis Saha is consoled by Gary Neville after his miss against Celtic… but Ferguson wasn’t so forgiving in the dressing room afterwards
Putting the boot into Becks
Without doubt the most infamous Ferguson ‘hairdryer’ was the one directed at David Beckham following United’s FA Cup exit to Arsenal in 2003.
It was the one that saw a stray boot kicked by the manager in Beckham’s direction that struck him above the eye and marked the point of no return in their relationship, with Becks sold to Real Madrid a few months later.
Ferguson recalled what happened in his autobiography, admitting that tempers flared initially because Beckham’s work rate had dropped amid ‘rumours of a flirtation between Real Madrid and David’s camp.’
Beckham was left with a conspicuous cut above his eye after Ferguson kicked a boot at him
The manager wrote: ‘He was about 12 feet from me. Between us lay a row of boots. David swore. I moved towards him, and as I approached I kicked a boot.
‘It hit him right above the eye. Of course he rose to have a go at me and the players stopped him. ‘Sit down,’ I said. ‘You’ve let your team down. You can argue as much as you like.’
‘The next day the story was in the press. In public an Alice band highlighted the damage inflicted by the boot. It was in those days that I told the board David had to go.’
Pique’s hungry rabbit
It’s one thing having Ferguson as your manager, but imagine him being your landlord too.
That was the bizarre situation a young Gerard Pique found himself in after moving from Barcelona to United as a teenager, taking up residence in a Manchester flat owned by Fergie.
Unfortunately, in search of some company in a strange company, Pique made the fateful decision to buy a pet rabbit.
Ferguson wasn’t best pleased when Gerard Pique’s pet rabbit chewed the furniture in the apartment he had rented to the defender
He recalled to Matchday – Inside FC Barcelona: ‘I rented the apartment from the manager, from Sir Alex. And I bough a rabbit. It destroyed the place. The rabbit chewed all the chairs.
‘And after I’d gone, he called me one day, really annoyed. ‘This one’s really tight. A typical bloody Catalan. Money coming out of his ears but…
‘Damn it, I was all on my own. No family or friends. I thought, a dog is too big, I’ll buy a rabbit. But christ, the rabbit didn’t pay any attention.’
A Ruud awakening
United had just lost 3-1 to bitter rivals Manchester City in a 2002 derby match at Maine Road so it probably wasn’t the best idea to swap shirts at the final whistle.
Unfortunately that’s exactly what Dutch striker Ruud van Nistelrooy did, provoking the wrath of his manager.
Gary Neville recalled on the Quickly Kevin, Will He Score podcast: ‘After that game, Ruud van Nistelrooy had swapped shirts with a city player. The City player had come up to him and swapped shirts.
Ferguson wasn’t amused when Van Nistelrooy when he swapped shirts after a loss to Man City
‘He said, ‘You do not give away one of those shirts. They’re my shirts. They’re this club’s shirts, they’re not your shirts.
‘You’re just waring them temporarily. That’s not your possession to give away. He stopped us swapping shirts in domestic games.’
Rio learns who’s boss
Like Rooney, Rio Ferdinand believes the quickest way to pacify his manager was to argue back. But presumably the ‘hairdryer’ had a few higher settings.
The defender recalled a time after United lost 2-1 to Benfica in 2005 and finished bottom of their Champions League group as a result.
Ferdinand told the BBC: ‘We played Benfica away in Europe and got beat. We didn’t play well and he was shouting at me.
Ferdinand reflects on United’s 2005 loss to Benfica… and it got worse in the changing room
‘I thought that I was one of our best players on the day. And I was thinking, ‘What are you shouting at me for?’ So I started going back at him and shouting back.
‘The problem, which I learned quickly, is that the more you shout at him, the more he shouts back and the louder he gets, the more aggressive he gets, and the closer he gets to you.’
‘You ain’t no Maradona or Pele’
Paul Ince was no stranger to argument with the boss during his six years at Old Trafford with Ferguson keen to ensure there was just the one ‘Guvnor’ at Old Trafford.
Ince recalled this 1993 tale to talkSPORT: ‘We played Norwich away at Carrow Road and this was a time when they were going for the title at the same time as us.
‘I think we were winning 3-0 or 3-1 and we got to the 92nd minute and I’ve got the ball in the middle of the park, I looked up and didn’t see anything, so I went on a mazy run, beat one, a little step over and beat two but then lost the next one.
‘They went back down the pitch and nearly scored. The whistle goes at the end of the game and we are patting people on the back and giving high fives and saying, ‘what a great result, lads.’
Paul Ince discovered there would only be one ‘Guvnor’ following a clash with Ferguson
‘Ferguson comes in [to the changing room] and goes absolutely ballistic at me saying ‘who do you think you are? You ain’t no Maradona or Pele.’
‘I said: ‘Gaffer, what are you on about?’
Fergie on his ‘hairdryer’
Ferguson spoke about his ‘hairdryer’ methods and the reasons for it in a BBC documentary.
He said: ‘I always wanted to get it off my chest, get it out of my system and kick on from there. What I said to them remained in the dressing room.
‘I could be really angry or volatile but it was over and the players knew that and never brought it up again. They never bore a grudge.’
‘I didn’t like it [the ‘hairdryer’ tag] at the time, I was a bit annoyed. But now, you have to appreciate the comedy part.
‘Sometimes I would lose my temper when we won. The real reason for losing my temper was expectation. I could never visualise us losing a game.
‘By the time I’d picked my team, done the tactics and had my team talk, I was confident we would win the game. But you don’t win every game, that’s a fact. But when they dropped below expectations, that annoyed me most.’
‘He said: ‘You’ve lost the ball in the 92nd minute and they could have scored.’
‘I said: ‘But they didn’t gaffer and we won 3-1.’
‘He starts coming up to me in my face and I’m thinking I’m not having this. So I stand up, we are face to face, and he is shouting and as he is shouting I’ve got spit going in my eye.
‘I’m trying to talk back to him but every time I open my mouth the spit goes in so I thought I would keep my mouth shut.
‘[Assistant manager] Brian Kidd stepped in between the two of us and we didn’t speak for five days.
‘We played head tennis on the Thursday and he was the referee. It gets to 9-9, [Steve Bruce] heads the ball up in the air and I do an overhead kick, it hits the line to win the game.
‘Sir Alex goes: ‘Out.’
‘Because we weren’t speaking at the time I could not say anything. I looked at him, he said ‘out, game over, they won.’
‘As I walked away he said: ‘There’s only one Guvnor around here, Incey, and it ain’t you.’
The pre-trophy lift tirade
Look at the pictures of United lifting the Premier League trophy in 2007 and it’s smiles all round.
Little would you know that moments earlier, Ferguson had been laying into his players for letting their standards drop in a dead rubber 1-0 defeat to West Ham.
Smiles all round as United lift the Premier League trophy in 2007… but that wasn’t the case a few minutes earlier when Ferguson scolded his players for losing to West Ham
Rooney wrote in his autobiography: ‘Most sides would be celebrating in the dressing room, getting ready for the champagne and the photos.
‘Not us. We’re staring at the floor like school kids, the manager giving us the ‘hairdryer’.
‘After the rollicking, it takes a while before everyone cheers up enough to put their Premier League winning smiles back on.’
The first hairdryer?
It didn’t take long for the United players to catch a glimpse of Ferguson’s fierce temper after he took over as manager in November 1986.
His fourth match in charge was a miserable 1-0 defeat at Wimbledon, a result that left struggling United 17th in the First Division.
Ferguson in the dug-out during his first match in charge of Manchester United in 1986
‘Sir Alex absolutely tore into the boys, I’d never seen anything like this before,’ recalled Bryan Robson, a substitute that day at Selhurst Park, to The Athletic.
‘In fact, I’d never seen another manager, before or since, rage like that. It was pretty formidable.
‘I mean, he gets right up into the individual’s face. It could be a general blast or personal, but usually it was personal – really up close and really personal, one on one.’
‘We all know he can’t kick it’
Ferguson regularly fielded youthful and inexperienced or second string sides in the League Cup but a shortage of regular game time was no immunity from the ‘hairdryer’.
Goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak – and his defenders – discovered this during a 2009 third round win over Wolves.
His team-mate that evening Ritchie de Laet told The Athletic: ‘I have seen the hairdryer. We played Wolves in the cup. We had Tomasz Kuszczak in goal and he wasn’t a very good kicker of the ball.
Tomasz Kuszczak, signed by United in 2006, was hammered by Fergie for his kicking ability
‘In the first half he had a few back passes and he shanked them out of play. At half-time, he [Fergie] came in furious and pointed to the defence.
‘If you, you, you or you give him one more back pass… He can’t kick it. We all know he can’t kick it. Sorry Tomasz but we all know you can’t kick it.’
‘Tomasz was just sat there like, ‘I know, it’s fine.’