When we look at successful people, we often imagine a long road of hard work. Grit and determination may be one way to get there, but there is also something to be said for working smarter rather than harder. For those at the top of their field, like Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, the path is neither one nor the other – it’s both. By the time of his retirement in 2013, Sir Alex had managed 1,500 games at Manchester United and earned the club 49 trophies and 2,045 points in the Premier League.
As arguably the best British football coach in history, Ferguson’s trademark management style is one that many can apply (and have applied) to their own career aspirations. Taking a look at Ferguson’s tenets of success and those of today’s top poker players, a striking resemblance can be seen. Moreover, these are valuable life lessons that both pros and amateurs in all sports – if not all walks of life – will appreciate. Moreover, according to estimates by the Mirror, he managed to take his annual salary from £60,000 in 1986 to £5 million in 2013, through a combination of talent and hard work.
Look to Long-Term Success
One of the pivotal realizations that led Ferguson to such a long and storied success at Manchester United was his idea to always focus on the big picture rather than be mired in how the team fared on an individual season. With this in mind, he started building from the bottom up, focusing his attention not on the stars of today but rather the potential stars of tomorrow and creating what would be the solid foundation that stood the test of time over nearly three decades.
“From the moment I got to Manchester United, I thought of only one thing: building a football club. I wanted to build right from the bottom. That was in order to create fluency and a continuity of supply to the first team. With this approach, the players all grow up together, producing a bond that, in turn, creates a spirit.”
By focusing on the goal of not just winning today but years later as well, Ferguson stayed far in advance of other managers in the Premier League who were concentrating on building a single-season team that might have a shot at the title. It seems only fitting that Ferguson zeroed in on players he considered to be “bad losers” – those that hated to lose a match. That concept of concentrating on the future also holds true in poker, where the skills needed to succeed are compounded as a player moves up to compete at higher stakes. One such “bad loser” that has turned into a champion is Jason Mercier.
As a high school athlete, Jason Mercier was highly competitive, and may have had a future as a basketball player if not for one thing – poker. With a desire to win even though he was only playing in friendly games, Mercier started studying the game deeply and building that mathematical foundation that informs any good player’s strategy. Quickly, he became aware that he could beat his friends with ease and turned his attention to the big money circuit of live tournaments across the globe. With this proper preparation, success would be around in the corner.
In the years of 2008-2009, the name on everyone’s lips in the poker industry was Jason Mercier. Winning event after event, the young pro amassed nearly $4 million in winnings. The key to this accomplishment went back to his time as a teenager studying mathematical poker books to perfect his strategy. The foundation was set with the proper skills and it was only a matter of time before Mercier found the results he had trained himself for.
Analyze and Adjust
If creating a strong organizational foundation was the first step to greatness for Ferguson, then the next step is obviously measuring that success. While other managers were looking to players that were already stars, Ferguson used his analytic mind to decipher the actual value of players, which depended on many factors, not just current playing ability. His calculations included where a player was in their career, their current market value (for transfers), and where they would be in the future.
“We identified three levels of players: those 30 and older, those roughly 23 to 30, and the younger ones coming in. The idea was that the younger players were developing and would meet the standards that the older ones had set. Although I was always trying to disprove it, I believe that the cycle of a successful team lasts maybe four years, and then some change is needed. So we tried to visualize the team three or four years ahead and make decisions accordingly.”
What Ferguson correctly identified was that even with a sound foundation, a football manager must be able to remain objective and find room for improvement at every step of the way. Although they were few and far between, he did find times when spending a large amount of money on an established player was the right move, such as the 2012 purchase of Robin van Persie for the whopping sum of $35 million. Like most of the 104 players Sir Alex bought while at Manchester United, Van Persie was proven to be an essential member of the squad and money well spent.
The poker player that most embodies this stage of development is the legendary Daniel Negreanu. Involved in poker from a young age, Negreanu quickly realized how important it is to adjust to the game all the time. In an era when Fixed Limit Hold’em was the main poker variant being played, Negreanu looked to other formats (specifically the mixed games where many different formats are included) to find a bigger edge on his opponents. If you’re not familiar with poker variants, let’s explain that while all poker games involve some kind of forced wager, to which players check, bet or fold their hand, the actual way to reach your final hand and combine cards changes according to the variant. While Negreanu’s Fixed Limit Hold’em skill is among the best in the world, he figured out that he stood to win more when playing mixed games against opponents where there was a much larger skill differential.
In a similar vein, Negreanu was one of the first professional players to move away from No Limit Hold’em. At the highest stakes, there are very few bad players, which means that being a long-term successful player is a dicey proposition. Negreanu may not be outmatched, but took a route that was much more profitable and has cemented his name on the all-time list of poker winners. Instead of duking it out with other highly-respected professionals, Negreanu went for the glory of tournament poker, an idea that was laughed at by many other cash games specialists. In the end, though, this turned out to be the right move as Negreanu managed to develop a successful tournament strategy when others were simply trying to turn cash game tactics into a profitable tournament plan. In addition to winning many events and amassing a fortune in profits, Negreanu was also able to acquire a high-profile sponsorship with online poker giant PokerStars.
Lead by Example
Perhaps the most important part of Ferguson’s management style has less to do with what he does than with who he is. His strong ideals and commitment to success were evident to every player involved with Manchester United, from teenagers just being scouted to older players at the tail end of their career. This unwillingness to compromise on his standards is a trait that inspired many to give much more effort when playing than they would have at other clubs.
During his tenure at Manchester United, there were often tough decisions to be made, such as cutting or selling a player that had spent many years at the club, but the fact that the players understood what Ferguson was doing made those hard times tolerable. They knew that his high standards required him to focus on the success of the team, regardless if that meant sending players away with whom he had personal relationships. By just being who he was and staying true to his principles, Ferguson inspired not only many players, but also a legion of die-hard Manchester United fans.
“I always take great pride in seeing younger players develop. The job of a manager, like that of a teacher, is to inspire people to be better. Give them better technical skills, make them winners, make them better people, and they can go anywhere in life. When you give young people a chance, you not only create a longer life span for the team, you also create loyalty.”
It was undoubtedly such brilliant insight and eagerness to take risks that made Manchester United so successful under Sir Alex Ferguson’s command and landed them both titles and significant sponsorships, such as the seven-year contract with General Motors in 2012, which is still standing and the reason why the Red Devils sport a Chevrolet logo.
In poker, there is no player that inspired more trying to follow in his footsteps than Chris Moneymaker. As an amateur player in the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event (who qualified online via a much smaller event), Moneymaker was a long shot, albeit with a name destined for greatness. His win at that tournament helped to spur what is known as the Moneymaker Effect, bringing literally millions of new players to the game of poker. Moneymaker’s story of turning a small online tournament into a million dollar win fueled the dreams of many of these new players as they took to the tables and started working on developing an effective strategy. The poker pro wrote an autobiography in 2005, simply titled “Moneymaker,” which became popular with fans of the game worldwide. Big names like Jason Sommerville and Jonathan Duhamel are just a few examples of those that have used Moneymaker’s success to inspire their own.
Moneymaker’s lightning-in-a-bottle act has turned into much more than a one-off win. He still plays many tournaments a year and has become a true ambassador for poker, always ready to meet with fans and share his knowledge and experiences. As such, he continues to inspire new players every day and his impression on the poker world will be felt forever.
When looking for a source of personal inspiration, Sir Alex Ferguson and the poker players mentioned here can all serve as strong role models. In each case, their individual attributes have served them well as they have created a legacy of success. With a solid foundation and an ability to adjust to changes, they have inspired millions of fans and followers that only add to their glory.