Who owns Old Trafford?

August 1, 2013

Who owns the iconic Old Trafford football stadium, home to Manchester United Football Club? A council decision raises complex legal issues

Manchester United Supporters Trust have been granted rights at Old Trafford stadium if the club is ever sold, through a ruling of the local council. This ruling classes the ground as an Asset Of Community Value. Unsurprisingly, the current owners of the club anticipate legal implications in the ruling. For example, would a decision to change the club’s name to strengthen its financial position be affected? Would the value in a future sale be influenced?

To the non-legal eye

To the non-legal eye, it all looks rather peculiar. The Trust talks of representing ‘the fans’. I can see the symbolic weight in this. But wait a minute. A few months ago, figures were published claiming a measurable proportion of the World’s population could be classed as Manchester United fans. It could be argued that The Supporters Trust represents millions of fans world wide, or maybe only its signed-up members.

No trivial issue

This is no trivial issue. In the UK at the moment, The Trades Union movement is currently embroiled in a debate regarding the rights they have over the Labour Party, though the individual subscriptions of its members, its block votes representing those member at Labour Party conferences, and its influence over the political policies of The Labour Party. Much politicking is taking place over the rights of individual members (some who are not Labour supporters) to opt out of the political levy included in the existing arrangements.

Which brings us back to Manchester United, its fans, and its legal owners.

Squatters rights and just cause

Another lens through which to examine the story: Various cases have been tested in court throughout the years over squatters rights and tenants rights. Common law principles are often evoked. The cases can become highly fraught, as the parties of weaker power resort to increasingly illegal methods outside the courtrooms, acting in what the individuals under threat believe to be on behalf of a just cause.

Which makes for good newspaper stories. Sometimes victory goes to the just, although more often to the powerful.


“Pat Riley and Sir Alex Ferguson couldn’t make it, but we are fortunate to have with us tonight instead…”

July 24, 2011

It is every speaker’s nightmare. To be introduced to a disappointed audience as a substitute for an advertised celebrity. Worse, to step in for two advertised celebrities…

It had been a piece of accidental viral advertising. The plan had been to advertise a low-key event for Miami business people to learn about the Manchester Business School’s new programs there. To make the event more interesting, it had been suggested that the presentation should look at local hero Pat Riley, legendary coach of the Basketball team Miami Heat.

My counter-suggestion was that I would be better able to talk about Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United, a leader about whom I knew rather more. Eventually a creative compromise was reached, and the topic would be announced around the leader styles of both of the two great sporting figures.

Enquiries flood in

Somehow, the media picked up on the event as publicizing Manchester United’s summer tour to America rather than Manchester Business School’s tour of Miami. The MBS Miami center office started getting enquiries which turned into a flood.

Great marketing?

Maybe. Although an audience of disappointed basketball and soccer fans was not quite what the organizers were hoping for.

Here comes the substitute, to boos from the crowd

You couldn’t say that I saw what had happened as my great opportunity to come off the substitute’s bench and win over the crowd. It sounded too close to an earlier event I had been involved in. I can still picture the scene. It is of an after-dinner audience expecting to listen to Richard Branson’s thoughts about leadership. The chairman broke the news of a change of speaker:
“Ladies and gentlemen, Richard Branson could not be here this evening. But I’m sure you agree that we are fortunate instead to be able to listen to (consults notes) to our speaker (couldn’t find my name) who has agreed to step in at this late moment…” The audience did not seem to agree with the chairman. They looked palpably unenthused with the proposed substitute for Sir Richard. It was looking as if the chairman and myself were rated public enemies Nos 1 and 2.

I would like to say I won over that audience some years ago with a brilliant display of knowledge, wit and charm. But some merciful defense mechanism has blotted much of what happened from my memory banks. I can only recall the final flutter of applause, perhaps because I delivered on one promise, to be brief.

Time to fess up

Meanwhile back in Miami, the organizers had been frantically battling to deal with expectations, without wiping out the audience entirely. Maybe, I thought gloomily, I could fess up and tell the story about the time I stepped in for Richard Branson…

And remember what Pat Riley said: “You have no choices about how you lose, but you do have a choice about how you come back and prepare to win again.”

What happened next?

Maybe, just maybe, I will report what happened next in a future post.


Glazers to sell MUFC via Hong Kong floatation?

June 13, 2011

Red Knights of MUFC

More rumours that the Glazers are considering selling Manchester United Football Club. Hardly surprising news. But still a lot of smoke and mirrors around.

The most recent rumours suggest that the owners of Manchester United Football Club are being urged to float the club in Hong Kong as it will bring better returns than when floated in London. Perhaps my financial bodyguards will help me on this one.

According to City am

Bankers are said to have told the Glazers that the Premier League champions could be valued at as much as £1.7bn if listed in Asia, where the team have carefully built up a large following. That is thought to be substantially higher than the price that a similar move in London could attract, and would offer the American property tycoons the chance to double their money, having bought the club for £790m in 2005.

The article goes on to quote the Manchester United Supporters Trust as having reservations about the sale being made in Hong Kong. City am also suggest that any bid will interest The Red Knights, the consortium of wealthy United fans led by Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs.

Metaphors to leak with

Opposition to The Glazers led to the formation of MUST opposing the high debts within the owners’ financial model. Qatar Holding, the investment arm of the Gulf kingdom, have also been linked to bidding for the club. More cynical voices have suggested that leaked stories are too often exercises in kite-flying, testing the waters, or whatever metpahor you prefer for information revealed by interested parties for their own ends.

To go more deeply

Check out the stories in LWD on MUFC, The Red Knights, MUST, and The Glazers in earlier LWD postings.


Leadership Lessons from Rooney’s Football Rant

April 5, 2011

Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney is disciplined by the Football Association for mouthing obscenities into a TV camera during a vital Premiership game. Are there leadership lessons to be learned?

Wayne Rooney is arguably the most talented English footballer playing at present. He has had a turbulent time since last summer, beginning with poor displays at the World Cup, followed by injuries, private life problems, a dispute over his contract at Manchester United. All this has been accompanied by acts of violence on the field. His play last year was outstanding ,even by his own high standards.

Last week, [April 2nd 2011] his season became simultaneously better and worse. MUFC appeared to be losing a chance to win the Championship. The team had gone two goals down to West Ham. The players were signalling their frustration at their own defensive errors which had produced two penalties and two goals. Sir Alex Ferguson, MU’s brilliant and truculent manager, was f serving a touchline ban. At half-time, his on-field changes were quickly shown to be tactically shrewd. Later, it emerged he had been in calm, not fiery (“hair dryer”) mode. Some might say he showed creative leadership, withdrawing a key attacker, Ryan Giggs, to defence, to beef up the attack with substitutes.

There followed an astonishing surge of energy led by Rooney, who scored three goals in fifteen minutes. Rooney kept outwardly calm for the first two goals. Then on scoring the third appeared to lose all composure, and carried out an uncontrolled celebration with his teammates before mouthing obscenities to a TV camera.

A remarkable level of public outrage was expressed in the media, mostly calling for Rooney to be punished as severely as possible. Popular outrage was expressed sometimes in terms which were agrgy, bitter, and ranking with Rooney’s in fury and obscene content. The FA announced [Monday April 4th] that Rooney would be fined and serve a two-match ban.

Leadership Lessons

There are leadership lessons to be gleaned from the incident and its consequences.

Lesson No 1: An incident takes on significance if sense can be made of it in symbolic terms.

The sense-making permits various leaders to seek to influence by identifying a scapegoat as symbolic object of hate and anger. Journalists and football pundits made sense of the action as a continuation of Rooney’s unacceptably violent and crude public behaviour. His immense wealth, his public escapades, his under-privileged background and lack of formal education were also introduced as part of the story. The overall story was accompanied by fury and obscenities which matched Rooney’s, but without the display of football genius.

Lesson No 2: A great football manager is able to influence some events and not others. Sir Alex influenced the team, and arguably its actions at half-time.

Famously, an earlier incident with another football genius led Eric Cantona to be banned after a kung-fu style kick on an opposing fan mouthing abuse at him during a match. There is, as a leadership guru puts it a circle of influence which is smaller than a circle of concern

Lesson No 3: The Football Association has not revealed great leadership skills

Its style tends to be highly reactive: to see the need for strong leadership after a high-publicity incident. Each incident is treated apparently in isolation and the outcome some punishment deemed appropriate but without communication of the wider strategy involved.

Lesson No 4: The media contributes to the process through which perceptions about leaders are co-created.

It is the process which results in the Leaders We Deserve. Commentators increasingly have a style which matches the emotional mood of ‘ordinary’ football fans. This differs from the voices of a decade or so ago which on the BBC tended to be calmer and more authoritative (for better or worse).

Lesson No 5: The selected ‘solutions’ to Rooney’s behaviour suggest a crude map of leadership dynamics

The FA style seems based on a set of beliefs about power and influence, and in particular about the way to discipline out undesired behaviours. . It ignores historical evidence that Sticks and carrots have limited motivational impact. Whipping an enraged dog may stop a dog fight. Fear of another whipping is not enough to stop the dog fighting again.

That is not to say that Rooney should not be punished. It is to say that without wider events becoming part of the sense we make of the incident, not a lot will change into the future as a result of leadership actions.

A leadership dilemma

The dilemma for Manchester United is that the self-motivated fury and energy of Rooney contributes both to his greatest football achievements and (perhaps) also to his reactions to a world in which he plays such an edgy and visible part.

Acknowledgement:

You can see the Rooney Rant on Hoohaa Sports


First Tunisia, then Egypt now Manchester United

February 12, 2011

The instability in The Middle East spreads to Manchester where the United regime is under attack. Protestors have surrounded Old Trafford. There are rumours that the Red Army is poised to seize control with backing from revolutionary Qatari forces

The whole of Greater Manchester is in the grip of a revolution aimed at toppling the deeply unpopular Glazer regime at Manchester United. Crowds have been gathering around Old Trafford overnight. Police reinforcements are believed to be on the way from Chorlton Cum Hardy’s equestrian riot squads.

Green, gold, red and blue

Some of the protestors are waving green and gold scarves. Others are dressed in United’s traditional red. There are also groups of troublesome neighbours dressed in blue and believed to be part of the Tevez brotherhood, led by the treacherous Carlos Teves, a former United warrior.

The red army may take control

The most sensational rumour is that the revolution has been backed by wealthy Qataris who plan to install a new regime. It is unclear how the day will unfold. The Red Army is believed to have thrown their weight behind the destabilising faction. President David Gill denies the rumours and says he intends to stay in charge.

Stop press

Rival red ands blue factions seem intent on doing battle before sundown. A 500 strong faction marches in Levenshulme together with resistance leader Gerald Kaufman (Bathist regime).


Has Manchester United failed the duck test?

April 12, 2010

Manchester United Football Club stands accused by supporters and many commentators of facing financial problems which are damaging its business model and its on-field performance. Increasing evidence suggests they may be right

It is rarely easy to establish with confidence whether a corporate strategy has gone completely wrong. It is left to investors to weigh up the probabilities and back their hunch with their money. However black and white things seem, there are always shades of grey to be factored into the decision-making.

A paler shade of grey?

There has been little evidence of shades-of-grey thinking at Manchester United recently. In the last few weeks there have been plenty of disappointments on the field of play. These had been taken as yet more evidence of the failure of the business model followed by the American owners since its debt-financed takeover of the club.

The popularist movement from the club’s fan base has been reinforced by the financial interests of the so-called Red Knights. The fans have been pretty convinced from the outset that the new owners were bad news. The Red Knights, however much they claim to be working in the best interests of the club’s traditions, have the single-mindedness of any consortium seeking an acquisition The outsider may have to fall back on interpreting what might be called weak signals out to the market place, and applying the Duck test.

The Duck Test

The Duck Test serves as shorthand for basing a conclusion on accumulating, if circumstantial, evidence. “If it walks like a duck, squawks like a duck, flies like a duck …probability is – it is a duck”.

This week faced with serious injury crises in his squad, and lack of back-up strikers, Manager Sir Alex Ferguson defended the decision (‘non-decision’) to show interest in a world-class striker for next season on the grounds that prices are over-inflated.

Sir Alex is generally convincing, or at least plausible, in his public statements. This time it all just sounded too much like observing a duck walking, squawking and flying.


Manchester United: Something strange about the Red Knights?

March 28, 2010

The Red Knights announce they are not planning an imminent takeover of Manchester United football club. There is something strange about the announcement and about the Red Knights

Many takeovers take place under conditions of secrecy. There are considerable advantages in such clandestine behaviour. It retains any opportunistic benefits in the potential deal over other investment groups, for example. It avoids unwelcome attention from the target organization towards the threat.

This is what puzzles me over the actions of the so-called Red Knights. Their strategy seems based on gaining as much publicity as possible for their intentions to take over the debts and ownership of the football club. This transparency is not necessarily wrong. Yet, the more typical-goings on in a takeover are suited to insider trading which has sometimes gone on during a financial corporate bid.

The Red Knights are not an established takeover organization. They appear to be an entrepreneurial and virtual set-up whose individual members present themselves as having widespread knowhow and contacts in big players in the financial markets.

A story has developed around the Knights. The BBC version seems the capture the publically-available information:

A group informally known as the Red Knights is plotting to oust the Glazers with a billion-pound takeover bid and they have recruited the Japanese investment bank Nomura to help them put together a deal.

Who is behind the consortium?

The group, who first met in March, is made up of City bankers and lawyers. Among them are Jim O’Neill, a former HSBC investment bank chief executive and chief economist at Goldman Sachs; Seymour Pierce stockbroker Keith Harris; Paul Marshall, a partner at the hedge fund Marshall Wace; Richard Hytner of advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi and lawyer Mark Rawlinson, a partner in Freshfields’ corporate practice, who advised United during the Glazer takeover negotiations.

Does the group have the fans’ interests at heart?

Self-professed United fan Harris, the man brokering the potential takeover, claims the group want “to do something for the good of Manchester United and the good of football.”

On Red Knights and the Age of Chivalry

The Red Knights, whoever they are, have won the commitment of the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST). In turn, MUST has created a wellspring of trust as an organization dedicated to the interests of the ’true’ fans of Manchester United. I find their motives relatively clear-cut, and suspect that they may well have influenced the decision at the club to freeze prices of season tickets next year. On the other hand, the fans are one important aspect of the club’s business environment, but not the only interest. There may be genuine differences of opinion, for example, on how revenues are managed, what proportion towards expensive new players, for example, how much to extract from those loyal fans.

Furthermore, I am suspicious of self-proclaimed heroes rushing to the aid of damsels in distress. As Monty Python has helped us realise, the age of chivalry has passed. I just hope the legacy of the legend of the Red Knights will be more than another layer of irony in renditions of an Old Trafford favourite “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life” [… de dum, de dum, de dum…]


Manchester United: Where the power lies

March 2, 2010

The American owners of MUFC are facing tough financial times. If you use media coverage as a guide, fan power at Manchester United is high. A new challenge comes from the Red Knights financial consortium. But where does the power lie which will influence the future of the club?

It has been a good month for the fans’ pressure group at Manchester United. The media campaign is a model of how to win attention for a cause. In a recent post LWD suggested the fans were winning the battle for symbolic leadership.

A protest movement has grown in strength in recent months. Banners are displayed at home games and sometimes removed by officials. And one particularly creative idea has taken off. The protesters have appropriated the green and gold colours of the original team. Supporters wearing the shirts have stopped the financing of the club’s mega-store merchandising. But even this gesture illustrates a dilemma for the protesters. Do they attempt to weaken the club they love, to bring down its owners whom they detest?

Where the Power Lies

In eadership textbooks, power is treated uneasily, running through all the accepted leadership eras, rather than fitting nicely into one of them. Definitions of leadership prefer the term influence rather than power. Dilemmas of Leadership suggests that careful reading of leadership texts is required to reveal the ‘concealed dilemmas of power, control …coercion and conflict resolution’ (p244).

Management of change texts also struggle with the concept of power, leaving students confused about the link s between leadership, influence and power. One well-regarded text on organizational change does manage to confine it to a single chapter, suggests that the various definitions ‘have one thing in common – having power means being able to influence someone else’s behaviour (Senior & Fleming, 3rd edn, 2006: 197).

The Battle for Power at MUFC

A new financial grouping, The self-styled Red Knights, is seeking to gain power in a way which aligns with the MUST pressure group. It is likely that the two groups have been in contact, and will continue to be so in the near future.

United are owned by the Glazer family, but the club’s high level of debt – now at £716.5m – has prompted much unease. Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill, who was acting in a personal capacity, lawyer Mark Rawlinson and financier Keith Harris were at the meeting. A spokesman for the Glazers told BBC Sport: “United is not for sale.” However, United’s owners are now facing a two-pronged attack over their control of the club with the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (Must) running a vocal campaign to bring about a change of ownership. Must has recruited 53,520 members and recently started working with Blue State Digital, a communications agency that worked on Barack Obama’s successful US Presidential election campaign.

Pressure on the Glazers and its Red Football Joint Venture has increased as the level of debts has been revealed, secured against the football club. Financial status of the club also seems on the slide against global rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona. However, the headlines lose some significance when a drop to third in the ‘rich list’, a financial league table is seen as largely due to a decline in the exchange rate of the pound sterling.

“We continue to assert that the game’s top clubs are well placed to meet the challenges presented by the difficult economic environment,” said Deloitte’s Dan Jones, who compiled the [rich-list] report. “Their large and loyal supporter bases, ability to drive broadcast audiences, and continuing attraction to corporate partners, provide a strong base to underpin revenues.”

Prospects?

The Red Knights have a battle plan, finance, and links to committed and well-organised supporters. On the other hand, the club is not such a basket-case financially for there to be a quick and cheap victory. Even a £billion victory which would not guarantee that the fans will achieve the power needed for them to have a say in ticket pricing policy, for example.


Alex is not perfect but is a perfect example of situated leadership

June 3, 2008

Sir Alex Ferguson announces his planned retirement as manager of Manchester United. He represents, “warts and all”, a perfect example of situated leadership

In a now famous incident a few years ago, when approaching his 65th birthday, Alex Ferguson announced his intentions to retire. There was a sense of panic and loss, and a considerable period of upheaval followed at the club.

It was a perfect example of the manner in which a leader can provide a deep sense of security. Strictly speaking, it might be seen more as the evidence for a deep sense of loss and anxiety at a leader’s passing.

Today [Tuesday 3rd May 2008] Sky Sports broadcast an end-of-season interview at which Sir Alex announces his second going. It would have been a notable exclusive for Sky Sport even if it had not contained the news of his retirement.

As it was, the broadcast itself made news. Glen Moore in The Independent reported in advance:

Two more years. That is how long the rest of the Premier League title contenders, and putative Manchester United managers, will have to wait until Sir Alex Ferguson drives away from Old Trafford for good.

In the wake of United’s Champions League victory last month Ferguson, now 66, had indicated he would not work past his 70th year, which was interpreted as meaning he would retire in three seasons’ time. Tonight, in an interview with Sir David Frost, he fixes his retirement date as summer 2010.

The interview is a must-see for millions of football fans. It is worth a look for leaders and wannabe leaders as well.

A future post will take a more reflective look on the interview and at the leadership lessons to be gained from Sir Alex and his leadership story.


New Year’s Day at Old Trafford

January 3, 2008

phil-odonnell.jpgsir-matt-busby.jpgtheatre-of-dreams.jpg

The year ended on a sour note for Manchester United, who lost their last game of 2007, and their lead in the Premiership. The league champions opened their New Year campaign against struggling Birmingham. A substantial win was anticipated. But all did not go according to plan…

It had been a sad end to the year. There had been an unexpected loss to West Ham United. There had been adverse headlines also about a bawdy off-piste party organized and attended by the players. One first-team starlet was arrested and charged with rape. A furious Ferguson had imposed a ban of silence over the affair, and serious fines on all the players involved.

Commentators and fans were suggesting that Sir Alex was losing his touch as a manager, in failing to appreciate the team’s urgent need for a world-class striker. Ferguson insisted otherwise. As mostly happened over his illustrious career, he had been able to prove his critics wrong, and the team steadily climbed the table, and re-established itself as favourites to regain the title.

As the season developed, normal goal-scoring was resumed. Meanwhile, leadership problems at Chelsea and Liverpool were contributing to the declining chances of two of the four most likely winners of the league. Only Arsenal was seen as a serious threat. Arsene Wenger had assembled another team of brilliant ball-players, whose progress was only likely to be halted by the inexperience of its young stars.

So the New Year dawned

January 1st 2008. A season-ticket holder faced up to one of life’s existential dilemmas and had abandoned the path well-travelled to Old Trafford, in favour of domestic doings fixing a newly-acquired home walking distance to the ground. Through such decisions pseuds like myself gain access to the Theatre of Dreams.

The Game

The game was low key. The players were low key. The crowd was low key. The manager growled afterwards that the atmosphere was like a funeral. His mood was hardly helped by the sentence he was serving, a ban from the touchline for an outburst against some hapless official after an earlier game.

For the record, like every match in the land, this one started with a minute of remembrance of Motherwell’s Phil O’Donnell who had collapsed and died in a match the previous Saturday.

It was New Year’s Day at Old Trafford

It was New Year’s Day at Old Trafford
when Birmingham came to town.
The Onions were draped around Burghers.
And Sir Matt looked down

Down upon chestnut clad horses
drawn from a dark Chorlton shed
protected from fetlocks to dreadlocks.
And Sir Matt stared ahead

Ahead to the day’s performance
A storm in a desert cup
when the faithful outnumber the Godless.
And Sir Matt looked up

Up to the Lego land scaffold.
where privileged people had gone
to cling with Prawns to coat tails.
And Sir Matt looked on

On as the multitude gathered
And remembered a son who had died.
Then we watched as the players stumbled.
And Sir Matt cried.


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