Legendary Leadership: International Students Explore Sir Alex Ferguson's Legacy at Old Trafford

Dr Nathalie Benesova reflects on a recent trip to Old Trafford, home of Manchester United, with Leeds International Summer School.

It is that time of year again – the Leeds International Summer School took place at the University throughout the month of July. I delivered a Management in Organisations module to students from Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Italy, Korea, Singapore, and the US. It was great to be back in the classroom post-covid, but what was particularly exciting was the possibility to travel and explore how management theories work in the real world on field trips.

This year, we visited Old Trafford to learn about the history of Manchester United and its brand, and most importantly the management and leadership style of Sir Alex Ferguson. Leadership is a popular theory, and the question of whether a manager equals a leader and vice versa has been at the forefront of discussions for a long time. It is not that difficult to find exceptional leaders or exceptional managers. However, finding someone who can do both exceptionally is not easy. Sir Alex Ferguson is believed to be one of those people who can do both consistently for a long period of time. His impact on the Manchester United football club is indeed undeniable.

The students did a case study on Alex Ferguson in the classroom and were able to identify his unique style of leadership and also analysed the impact he had on the culture and success of Manchester United. Being able to see how this materialised in the club and its facilities takes things to a completely different level.

LISS sit in the press booth of Old Trafford.

The summer school team organised a tour and a business talk of the stadium, including the club museum tour. The experience was once in a lifetime for all the students and staff – whether they were football fans or not. The stadium tour was truly captivating, and it was not difficult to imagine what the atmosphere must be like on a match day with 75,000 spectators. We visited the changing rooms where strategy is discussed pre and mid-match, addressed the business side of the club – including the role of the new manager and the transition after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, and even visited the press conference room where we learned about the strict rules journalists have to follow.

The tour of the museum was a fantastic opportunity for students to see all the trophies won by Manchester United and the impact a great manager and effective leader can have, which was very inspiring. For me, as an educator, it was amazing to see how we can turn the real world into one big classroom and how engaged students were when they could almost touch theory – I only say ‘almost’ because the dedicated museum staff wouldn’t let us take any of the trophies, but other than that, it was a fantastic day – thank you Manchester United and Leeds International Summer School for organising this for us!

LISS students stand in the Man UTD dressing room at old trafford for a group photo

Find out more about Leeds International Summer School.