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Great Scot! Why Scottish coaches rule

By Greg Duke
  • Alex Ferguson on the brink of winning his third Champions League winners' medal
  • Ferguson one of many Scottish managers to have succeeded in England and Europe
  • Scottish managers have won 18 of the last 26 English league championships

(CNN) -- This weekend, Manchester United's Alex Ferguson will attempt to become the first manager in history to win three Champions League titles when his side face Barcelona at Wembley.

The achievement, which would match the late Bob Paisley's European Cup feat with Liverpool in the 1970s, is not only a testimony to Ferguson's run of success since taking over at Old Trafford in 1986, but also continues the remarkable legacy that Scottish managers continue to have on football as a whole.

From Ferguson to Matt Busby, Kenny Dalglish to Bill Shankly, George Graham to Jock Stein, the impact that Scottish managers have had through the years is so great that it has changed the course of history for some major football institutions.

Earlier this month, Ferguson, the son of a Glasgow shipbuilder, guided United to a record 19th English league title, with all but two of those successes coming under the guidance of either Ferguson or Busby -- whose five league titles would surely have been many more but for the 1958 Munich air crash which decimated his "Busby Babes" squad.

Liverpool's period of dominance in English and European football began when Shankly -- who was born and raised in a tiny Ayrshire mining village -- took over in 1959, helping the club to three league titles, a feat matched by compatriot and current Anfield incumbent Dalglish.

Arsenal had spent 18 years in the football wilderness before Graham, the youngest of seven children brought up by his mother after his father died when he was still a baby, took over and led the club to two titles in three seasons in 1989 and 1991.

Scottish people, by nature are hard worker -- they are grafters, are open minded, and looking to better themselves
--Jim Fleeting

And the legendary Stein, another to be brought up in a coal mining community, led Celtic to become the first ever British winners of the European Cup in 1967, with Busby guiding United to victory the very next year.

The trend for successful Scottish managers has now spanned seven decades and Jim Fleeting, the Director of Football Development at the Scottish Football Association (SFA), told CNN that he believed the continued success of his compatriots was no coincidence.

"Scottish people, by nature are hard workers -- they are grafters, are open minded, and traditionally looking to better themselves," said Fleeting.

"It is a Scottish trait, but particularly from the Glasgow area. Many of these successful managers come from that part of Scotland. It is a very working class and hard working region of the country," he continued.

"I don't know why so many successful managers come from Scotland, but the traditional values and ideals that are instilled into people definitely help.

"It is significant that not as many managers come from the more middle class Edinburgh area, where, traditionally, the financial industry would get most of its workforce from."

The figures back up Fleeting's claim. Out of the last 26 seasons, 18 English titles have been won by Scottish managers, compared to just two by Englishmen, a remarkable statistic.

And when the English Premier League season finished on Sunday, seven managers from the Glasgow area were sitting in the dug-out, with Paul Lambert arriving next season following Norwich's promotion to the top tier.

Former Scottish international Mark McGhee, who was a member of Ferguson's successful Aberdeen side, prior to his move to United, before later becoming a Premier League manager in his own right at Leicester, endorsed Fleeting's view.

What Ferguson does is manage to get players to believe that he feels things personally. So, if you play badly, you are letting him down as a person.
--Mark McGhee

"I think the people of Glasgow are different and unique compared to the rest of Scotland," McGhee, himself a native Glaswegian, told CNN.

"Despite the success of these managers they are not pretentious or big time and maintain a sense of reality and humility, which I believe is a huge factor to getting the best out of players.

"What Ferguson does in particular is manage to get players to believe that he feels things personally. So, if you play badly, you are letting him down as a person, as well as the team, and his players really bought into that ethic," added McGhee.

Another major factor in the development of Scottish coaches and managers has been the rise in prominence of the Scottish national training center in Largs, on the Ayrshire coast.

The SFA run a number of UEFA coaching courses at the academy and many top Scottish managers, past and present, have passed through its doors at one time or another, as well as many other leading coaches worldwide including Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho and Andre Villas Boas of Porto.

"I don't think the academy has been the primary reason for the success of Scottish coaches and I don't think we can take credit for their achievements," said Fleeting.

"But we have had Stein and Ferguson, as well as many other top coaches, giving seminars here, and that knowledge and expertise must rub off.

"Young coaches come here and they know they must sacrifice having their summer off, learning from experienced tutors and mentors," he added.

"At the end of the day, a coaching diploma is no guarantee of success but it is a confirmation of professional competence, and hopefully the techniques learned at Largs have helped them along the way."

McGhee was another coach who spent time at the Largs training center, and he too believes the skills he learned there went some way to his success as a coach.

"The mentors on the courses encouraged us to learn different skills, to think outside the box," said McGhee.

"We were forever being challenged to think of new ideas with the principle being that the skills we were being taught was only the beginning of our coaching journey.

"In my case, I found it a ground-breaking and modern way of learning. We had coaches from all over the world on our course and the SFA seem to be some years ahead of their English counterparts in the development of coaches."

And the biggest example of McGhee's view is Ferguson himself. Come Saturday night, one of the greatest coaches football has ever seen could be out on his own as the number one of all time.