David Healy is a highly respected coach with no less than Alex Ferguson, the legendary manager of Manchester United. David’s time in charge at Man Utd has seen him lead them to three trophies and much more success on the field as well off it. Can he take what he learned from his mentor to continue pushing for that next level?
David Healy, Sir Alex Ferguson’s most successful coaching protege from Manchester United is ready for the next step in his career. After winning a Premier League title and Champions League with the Red Devils, Healy is now looking to take over as manager at Ligue 1 side St Etienne.
David Healy, 42, is closing in on a second championship with Linfield in Northern Ireland. courtesy of ESPN/Mark Ogden
Sir Alex Ferguson’s players have followed him into management 36 times during his 27 years at Manchester United, and none have won more league championships than David Healy.
The Linfield manager is the answer to the quiz question that will have most United fans searching for “Who is the most successful Fergie player in management?” on their smartphones. Even Healy is taken aback by his current situation.
“I’m a little startled by that, to be honest, when you think of all the great names that have played for Sir Alex and gone into management,” Healy told ESPN.
“I wasn’t exactly a household name at United. Even though I only played three games for the first team, I lived and breathed United for seven years from the age of 14, and my football beliefs were all established during my time there, being recognized as the manager’s most successful player in management is quite an honor.”
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When United was at its best under Ferguson, it seemed inevitable that players like Steve Bruce, Bryan Robson, and Roy Keane would follow in Ferguson’s footsteps and become great coaches. Mark Hughes, Paul Ince, Ryan Giggs, and even Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were all in the same boat. While all of the aforementioned players — and many others — have progressed from playing to coaching under Ferguson at Old Trafford, only Laurent Blanc, who spent two years at United near the end of his career, can claim to have won as many league titles as Healy has since taking charge of Northern Irish champions Linfield in 2015. With three championships at Celtic, Gordon Strachan is barely behind both of them.
Blanc, who was fired by Qatari club Al Rayyan last month, won four Ligue 1 titles between 2009 and 2016, one with Bordeaux and three with Paris Saint-Germain. However, with Linfield leading the Northern Irish Premiership ahead of the six-team title playoffs, Healy is on track to win a fifth title this season, putting him ahead of Blanc as the most successful Ferguson protégé in terms of league titles.
Despite the fact that Healy’s coaching style was formed by his playing experience under managers like as Walter Smith, David Moyes, Roy Hodgson, and Roy Keane, Healy claims Ferguson’s impact is palpable.
“Walter Smith, like Sir Alex, had an aura, a presence,” Healy added, “while David Moyes was wonderful for me at Preston.” “And I enjoyed playing for Roy Keane because I admired his integrity and refused to deal with nonsense.” I still believe he has the potential to be a top executive.
“However, although you must be your own man as a manager and pursue your own convictions, there are three characteristics Sir Alex instilled in me: excellent time-keeping, hard effort, and honesty.” I demand the same level of performance from my Linfield players as Sir Alex did from all of us at United.
“Sir Alex set the tone by being the first to enter and the last to depart the training area, and I follow suit, arriving at 8 a.m. and remaining until late afternoon. He also knew everyone, including all of the players at all levels, the coaches, and the young children’s families. On Tuesday and Thursday nights, I like seeing our Academy students and visiting with their parents.
“Sir Alex always addressed my father as Clifford, not Mr. Healy — that attention to detail, those family values, have stayed with me all these years.”
Mark Ogden recalls being on the receiving end of Sir Alex Ferguson’s “hairdryer treatment.”
To succeed and win the respect of the people in Belfast, managing Northern Ireland’s most successful team — Linfield and Scottish champions Rangers share a world record of 55 domestic trophies — takes more than a past relationship to Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United. There’s a need for success akin to the expectations that have dogged United since Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, and it was a significant weight when Healy took over seven years ago.
Prior to Healy, Linfield had not won anything in three years. In 2014, David Jeffrey stepped down as manager after winning a club-record 31 trophies in 17 years, and his replacement, Warren Feeney, resigned after just 17 months in command, leaving Healy to pick up the pieces in his first managerial role.
“I won my first game as coach, but we lost four games the following month, and every week, I was picking up the newspaper and breaking another record,” Healy remarked. “Linfield hadn’t lost three league games in a row since the 1950s, but we lost four in a row for the first time since the 1920s.”
“So you begin to think, ‘Am I cut out for management?’” I’m sure the fans and board thought so, and there were plenty of people who said, “I told you so,” since it was my first job and it was too huge for me. But I took it as a catapult and began to make adjustments on and off the field, putting in countless hours to ensure my success.
“I was looking for young, eager players who would tell me to worry about someone else if they said they wanted to play after being out for two months due to injury. That is where we are at the moment. We’ve won three league championships in a row, had successful European campaigns that have brought in significant money for the club, and now everyone wants to defeat us, wants us to fail. You exploit that to develop a siege mentality and savor the times when, like Sir Alex Ferguson’s United, you win with a last-minute goal thanks to your players’ hard ethic and tenacity.”
Healy didn’t play many games for Man United under Ferguson, but the famous boss taught him a lot, which he has used as a coach. Getty Images/Matthew Ashton/EMPICS
Ferguson praised Healy for his work at Linfield on a visit to Belfast three years ago, and the former United boss personally praised Healy for his efforts. “I’m not sure whether he was prepped,” Healy added, “but Sir Alex stated I was doing pretty well and doing a wonderful job.”
Despite the fact that Linfield has become a winning machine under Healy, he acknowledges that managing in Northern Ireland can be tiring. He was a standout player for Northern Ireland over a 13-year career that saw him score a national record 36 goals in 95 games. His single goal in a 1-0 triumph over England in Belfast in 2005, followed by a hat trick against Spain a year later, cemented his position among Northern Ireland’s all-time greats to the point where there is no way out.
“In 2017, I appealed a six-match touchline suspension, and the hearing was conducted in the David Healy Suite at Windsor Park,” recalled Healy, who was ejected from the dugout three times in one season and sanctioned as a result.
“You couldn’t make it up if you tried. And I was unsuccessful in my appeal!”
Healy has no aspirations of being on United’s shortlist for the club’s sixth permanent manager since Ferguson, despite his trophy-laden resume, but his objectives go beyond continuing Linfield’s success. Ferguson made his major move to England when he left Aberdeen for United in 1986 at the age of 44, and after more than 400 senior games in English football, Healy, 42, says he wants to challenge himself at a higher level.
Healy said, “I don’t want to remain at Linfield forever, and the club knows that.” “I value everything I’ve learned in my six-and-a-half years here, from team building to dealing with directors who question why you’re doing this and why you’re doing that when things get a little sticky in terms of outcomes.” It has given me a new perspective on managing.
“My contract is up in two years, but you don’t usually see your contracts expire since everyone has a shelf life. What I won’t do is leave Linfield on a bad note; I want to depart when we’ve achieved our goals. But I want to put myself to the test, whether it’s in England, Scotland, Spain, or America, and I’ll know when the time comes.”
If Healy and Linfield can win four championships in a row this season, that moment may come sooner rather than later.