Former Manchester United stars Robin van Persie and Nani have revealed the continuing influence of Alex Ferguson on their careers ahead of Fenerbahce’s Europa League last-16 clash with Braga.
Van Persie won the Premier League during his one season under legendary boss Ferguson, who retired in 2013, while Nani picked up four domestic crowns and a Champions League title as part of a bumper haul over seven years at Old Trafford.
Both Van Persie and Nani secured moves to Istanbul last July and the Dutchman says Ferguson’s strict approach to coaching fostered a winning mentality that lives on in the players he managed.
“I played with him for one year but it was a very special year: we won the league!” he said in a UEFA Facebook Q&A. “The road to that title was very special. I could tell he’s a really special manager.
“One little example: When we were 15 points ahead, it was in February or March – we lost against [Manchester] City. We could have gone 18 points clear but still we were in a very good position.
“He was very hard on us, very angry. He made everyone aware that everybody had to give their all.
“The training was very hard that week, he was almost punishing us. We were 15 points ahead! But that showed me he was a really good manager.”
And Nani hopes Ferguson’s teachings can play a part in seeing Fener into the Europa League quarter-finals.
“Working with Sir Alex Ferguson for many years is something I’ll never forget,” he added. “For me, he was the best manager I worked with. It was important for me – I learned so much from him: on the training ground, during the games, like the examples Robin gave. This is so special.
“It makes you learn so much about football, about how to win, how to be more professional, how to have stronger mentality.
“Even today, talking about him is like an inspiration and motivation. I’m so happy to be part of his story. I just have to say thanks for it all – he is somebody I’ll remember all my life.”
Nani forms part of a strong Portuguese contingent at Fener, who are the last remaining Turkish representatives in European competition this season, with Raul Meireles, Bruno Alves and coach Vitor Pereira also hailing from their opponents’ homeland.
Fener – top of the Super Lig – reached this stage with a 3-1 aggregate victory over Lokomotiv Moscow in the last round, while Braga – fourth in the Portuguese top flight – edged Sion 4-3.
The sides have never met in European competition but Braga have won each of their previous three matches in Turkey without conceding, while Fener have won four and lost four of their eight encounters with Portuguese opposition.