How Seb Coe got Sir Alex Ferguson to agree to coach Team GB’s London 2012 football team

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Seb Coe convinced Sir Alex Ferguson to coach Team GB’s male football team at the London 2012 Olympics, only for those plans to be thwarted  (Manchester United via Getty Images)
Seb Coe convinced Sir Alex Ferguson to coach Team GB’s male football team at the London 2012 Olympics, only for those plans to be thwarted (Manchester United via Getty Images)

10 years have passed since Seb Coe was the architect of London 2012 and he has whittled down his regrets to just two.

One involves the coup of coming close to getting Sir Alex Ferguson to coach Team GB’s male footballers, which the then Manchester United boss had agreed to do.

“We were having a bit of fragility around our Celtic cousins,” recalls Coe. “It suddenly occurred to me that the one unifying influence in all that would be having a not necessarily English coach.”

So, he rang Sir Bobby Charlton, who promised to have a word with Ferguson about the offer and get him to call back. For weeks, there was silence until his phone rang while supermarket shopping with his children.

“I was in a Tesco’s on Friday night filling baskets full of food for my kids,” he said. “I got a call, it said ‘Seb, it’s Alex here’. I threw a load of cash at one of my daughters to keep filling the trolley.”

Coe explained his theory to Ferguson, who had not been told the initial reason for the call by Charlton and thought Coe was ringing up for free tickets to Old Trafford. Ferguson’s first response was “I don’t know”.

Coe said: “Then there was a gap and then he went ‘oh Jesus, I’m already picking the team in my head’. So, I said ‘just think about it’.”

When they met later that year at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year Awards, the United boss told him it was a yes, only for the British Olympic Association (BOA) to intercede and say “it wasn’t for me to choose the England football coach”. The team ended up with Stuart Pearce as their coach, while Coe and Ferguson still joke about what might have been.

Coe is fiercely proud of the Games that London managed to host back in 2012, the regeneration of the area in east London, as well as the capital showing off its history, multi-culturalism and heritage.

However, the Ferguson anecdote aside, he has a more serious regret. “What am I disappointed about?” he asked. “That school sport became a political football. We should have done more off the back of the Games.

Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford celebrate their incredible success on ‘Super Saturday’ (Getty Images)
Mo Farah and Greg Rutherford celebrate their incredible success on ‘Super Saturday’ (Getty Images)

“But they were a Games made in Britain by people in Britain. That’s the thing I look back with most nostalgia about, that so many people came together from communities that maybe didn’t think they had much in common with each other. The greatest Games ever – I’m not ashamed to say that. I think they were on pretty much every metric.”

As a former 800metre runner, unsurprisingly his sporting highlight still remains David Rudisha leading from start to finish to win gold over two laps of the track in world-record pace. Sat next to another middle-distance great in Kip Keino for the race, Keino revealed how Rudisha had told him his plans to shatter the world record and warning against his fellow Kenyans trying to match his pace.

“If you get to an Olympic final, you don’t give a s**t if it takes six minutes to get across the line, you want to win it,” said Coe. “To execute it without pacemakers. For me, it was the best single performance of the Games in any sport.”

Coe has been in Eugene for the past week-and-a-half overseeing the World Athletics Championships as president of World Athletics.

And with Britain having come home with seven medals, he believes there is reason to be positive a decade on from the likes of Super Saturday when the athletics team celebrated triple athletics gold on one evening courtesy of Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis-Hill and Greg Rutherford inside the Olympic Stadium.

“There’s some really optimistic things that have happened,” said Coe. “The women have been the torchbearers. I do genuinely think they’re on the right path. London 2012 was about inspiring a fresh generation of Olympians…and the legacy across so many other sports is profound.”

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