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Head to Head: Leonardo v Ferguson

Champions League duals are oft remembered for the tactical and psychological battle between rival managers. Think Mourinho V Benitez, Mourinho Ancelotti or basically any other big game ‘the special one’ has managed in.

In the Champions League, Manchester United’s Sir Alex Ferguson takes on Leonardo Nascimento de Araújo, or simply Leonardo, in the last sixteen. Ferguson of course has about 24 years of experience managing one of the world’s biggest clubs, but as a player Leonardo’s experience is second to none, winning titles in Italy, Brazil and Japan, as well as the World Cup in 1994. With this in mind, lets pit the cultured Brazilian and grumpy Scott together and see who comes out in a battle of managerial wits.


Strangely enough, Alex Ferguson and Leonardo are few managers in the Champions League that play an open, attacking brand of football. In a world of tactical games of chess (as often described on ITV and Sky Sports), both managers brand of football is more conducive to a good football match than Rafael Benitez or Jose Mourinho for example. You’d only have to look at the first tie between United and AC Milan at the San Siro in February this year to see that.


Ferguson has always appeared to prefer a 4-4-2 formation, although with Carlos Queiroz as his assistant manager, Ferguson became partial to a 4-3-3 formation, with Ronaldo, Rooney, Tevez, Saha and Berbatov among others rotating the attacking positions in recent years.

In the past, Ferguson’s tactics in Europe have at times been questioned, with Ferguson himself in an interview with David Frost, admitting his one regret at United is not winning more Champions League titles.


At AC Milan, Leonardo has impressed, despite the Italian media suggesting the Brazilian should soon be given his P45 by Adriano Galliani after a poor start. AC Milan is still perceived to be an ageing team that is in need of an overhaul, and yet to his credit, Leonardo has turned the team around. AC Milan secured impressive wins over Real Madrid, Roma and Juventus in Serie A this season, and his side are now just four points off Internazionale at the top of the table.

Leonardo has found his feet in Serie A with the application of a 4-2-1-3 tactic, which has also been labeled also “4-2-fantasy” by Galliani. The tactic is very daring for Serie A, and is structured around attacking talent such as Ronaldinho, Pirlo, Seedorf and Pato et al. The strategy is risky, especially for Serie A, but the passing, possession football, full of overlapping defenders and movement off the ball, has compensated for Milan’s lack of pace and contributed to Milan’s resurgence. Kudos to Leonardo then.



What can you say about the great man? Sir Alex Ferguson has won it all in Scotland, and in England several times over, whilst in Europe, Ferguson has won the Champions League and European Cup Winners Cup, as well World and Intercontinental titles. In fact, when Ferguson began managing his first club in 1974 (East Stirlingshire), Leonardo was just 6 years old.

Despite all that Ferguson has won with United however, one of Ferguson’s finer moments came whilst at Aberdeen, where he shattered the Celtic-Rangers “Old Firm” monopoly, winning three championships, four Scottish Cups and the European Cup Winners’ Cup in six years.


Leonardo has only been in management months, not years, and so cannot hope to compete with Ferguson for experience. However, after retiring as a player, Leonardo continued his career at AC Milan as a scout/agent for the club in Brazil, and showed his ability to land top talent after convincing both Kaka and Alexandre Pato to join the club. Not bad.

Before taking over from Carlo Ancelotti, Leonardo was technical director at Milan in 2008, and so he was slowly groomed behind the scenes for management. However, in 2006, Leonardo received a football education BBC style, covering the World Cup in Germany for Match of the Day with Alan Hansen and Gary Lineker. Ferguson refuses to talk to the BBC after a certain Panorama program, and so Leonardo has a distinct advantage over Fergie. Hansen will no doubt have left Leonardo with pearls such as ‘you’ll never win anything with kids’ and what constitutes ‘awful defending’.

Playing Career


As a player Ferguson’s career peaked whilst playing for Glasgow Rangers. Ferguson scored 25 goals in 41 appearances, but his career at the club ended after a 4-0 defeat to Celtic in the Scottish Cup Final. Ferguson was accused of poor marking from a corner, and ended up spending just two seasons as the club between 1967-69.

Fergusons two major honours as a player came in what is now the Scottish First Division, formerly the Scottish Second Division, winning the titles in 1962/63 with St. Johnstone, and 1969/70 with Falkirk.


Leonardo’s career is slightly more distinguished. He won Brazilian Série A and cup titles with Flamengo and São Paulo in Brazil, the J. League Division 1 in Japan with the Kashima Antlers, an Italian Serie A title and Italian Cup with AC Milan, and an assortment of World and Intercontinental cup tournaments at club level. However, with Brazil, Copa America and Confederation Cup victories followed the biggest prize of them all for Leonardo-the World Cup in 1994.

The result…

Leonardo and Ferguson could not be further away in terms of playing and managerial experience, with Ferguson’s illustrious managerial career matching Leonardo’s equally glittering playing career. However, both managers employ attacking formations, playing open and expansive football. Who knows, in twenty years Leonardo might be just as decorated as his Scottish rival. However, the Brazilian has a long way to go yet….

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