CARSON, Calif. – Sir Alex Ferguson's decision to step down as Manchester United manager, after 27 years and 38 trophies, caught Jovan Kirovski's attention. And for good reason.
The LA Galaxy's technical director spent four years under Ferguson's tutelage, during a period in which his teammates in Man. United's youth academy included David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers, and carries with him the lessons imparted by the Scottish legend.
“What an amazing, amazing manager, to be at a place like that for so long,” Kirovski told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “I remember when I was a kid, he knew every player from the youth academy all the way to the first team. He was so helpful for my parents. He was amazing. Not only a teacher, but a father figure to all those kids who grew up in the system. ... [He was] throughout the whole club. He ran everything. That was amazing.”
Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena and captain Robbie Keane, who’ve also spent time with the revered manager, joined Kirovski in praise of Ferguson, who this week announced he was retiring at season's end, although he will remain with Manchester United as a director and ambassador.
“Arguably the best manager of all time. A legendary career,” said Arena, who during his tenure as US national team coach visited Ferguson and watched his training sessions. “I actually sent him a note – I don't know if he'll get it, but I congratulated him on his career, his retirement, everything he's done, and offered him the opportunity to visit LA anytime he wanted.”
Keane, who played against Manchester United many times during nearly 15 years in England, said it was a “privilege” to know Ferguson.
“He's just one of the greats, probably the greatest manager that's ever been in English football, if not the world,” Keane said. “It's going to be a big loss to the game. In Manchester, everybody will miss him. I'm sure in the Premiership it's the same thing because there's respect from every coach and every player around the world.”
Kirovski, who retired after the 2011 season and served as one of Arena's assistant coaches last year, was 16 in 1992 when he moved to England from San Diego's suburbs. He says the values Ferguson preached – humility and hard work – guided him through a 20-year playing career and, now, into club management.
“Just the basics of being humble, good character, working hard, not letting your head get too big,” said Kirovski, who played in Germany, Portugal and with two other English clubs after leaving Manchester United and before moving to Major League Soccer in 2004. “And there was nothing bigger than the club, and that was one of the biggest things. I mean nothing. No one was bigger than the club, and that's one of the biggest things I learned, and it's true.”
Ferguson had a passion for youth development, and academy players would see him every day. He was universally respected – and feared.
“We would sit in the room. When he walked in, we would put our heads down and look at the ground,” Kirovski said. “Because nobody would want to look up at him, just in case you weren't cleanly shaved, [because] he would go nuts. Our fear was huge. They said later on he mellowed out a little bit, but ooh. Fear? Yeah.”
Kirovski says Ferguson's values are critical to his work as Galaxy technical director as well.
“Of course, I go down to the character issues, being humble, and those are one of the first things I want to accomplish [as Galaxy TD],” he said. “If you're not a good kid, good character, you're not humble, you're not going to make it. You're not going to work hard. That's the first step. Obviously, [you need] talent, and it means a lot, but I think those are important qualities as well.”