The dismissal of David Moyes as Manager of Manchester United in April 2014 was both expected and unexpected.
It was expected
It was expected when media reports [April 21st 2014] announced his imminent departure, days after a Premier League defeat of his team, confirming there would be no European Cup matches next season.
Campaigns for his removal were gaining pace from disgruntled fans through the media. By mid-afternoon, a perfect storm was brewing on Twitter. A few scraps of information were repeatedly retweeted. ‘Moyes sacked. Moyes is about to be sacked. Moyes will be sacked soon/at the weekend/at the of the season.’
It was unexpected
It was unexpected because despite the poor record of the team, Moyes had been appointed as the choice of the departing Manager, the iconic and hugely successful Sir Alex Ferguson. He was understood to have been chosen for the long-term. In an emotional farewell speech to a packed stadium at Old Trafford, Sir Alex urged fans to get behind the newly-chosen one. His own last season had been a triumph of psychology over the aging legs of his team which finished Premier League champions.
Neither expected nor unexpected considerations took account of the preoccupations of the owners of the club, the American entrepreneurs, the Glazers. Their financial model has been widely recognized as involving finance of a creative kind to reduce their entrepreneurial risks When results disappointed, Moyes would have been seen as adding to the riskiness of their investment. Ten months into his long-term contract, he was toast.
‘It were well done quickly ‘
The club confirmed through Twitter the following morning that Moyes had been dismissed. It turned out he had been told the news very early that morning.
The timing was said to have been chosen to meet the requirements of information released to investors on the NY Stock markets.
The hunt for red assassins
I was surprised at the extent of the coverage of the story locally and globally. The early print editions of the British media had given it high visibility on the sports pages, writing as if his immediate dismissal was certain before the official announcement.
The early morning news bulletins followed suit, clearing the way for interviews with assorted pundits and players. When the news broke, the hunt for the assassins began. MacBeth morphed into Julius Caesar.
The poisoned chalice
Someone contacted me suggesting I should write about the poisoned chalice that David Moyes had received. Or hospital pass, I replied, remembering a tweet I received on the topic. Incidentally, the poisoned chalice is mentioned in the soliloquy by MacBeth which begins ‘if it were done when tis done….’
Another colleague wondered whether Moyes had indicated through his body language that he was not convinced that he was up to the job? Maybe, although there is something of a catch 22 around that line of questioning. Any authentic leader would recognize the foolishly high expectations of the fans on match day and as the game was being played. Anyone with super confident body language would likely be deluded or faking it.
The routinization of charisma
I go back to the pronouncement of Sir Alex regarding the appointment of his successor. In leadership terms, the former leader was deploying his emotional credit banked with the fans. It is known as an attempt to achieve the routinization of charisma. Sir Alex had acquired enormous credibility for his near miraculous powers of leadership. Much was attributed to the mystique of his charismatic personality. In practice, dilemmas arise, not least as the fans/followers reflect more rationally over the credibility of the replacement.
This analysis does not investigate the motives behind the appointment of David Moyes. Nor does it reflect on his tactical judgements of team selection and on-field substitutions. I leave the former to speculation by media pundits, and the latter to the larger number of pundits also known as football fans. What does seem to make sense is that the leadership issues at Manchester Unite can hardly be reduced to a simple error of judgement either in the selection of David Moyes, or in his dismissal.
To Susan Moger, Paul Haslam, Paul Hinks, Keven Holton, Ewan Leith, who were among colleagues who encouraged me put some ideas down for discussion on this fascinating leadership issue. To Wikipedia for the poster image of MacBeth.
Watch this space for further updates
April 25, 2014
Edward Spalton says:
Probably the best comment on this episode was by Richard North of eureferendum.com. that UKIP should try to recruit Moyes because he got United out of Europe in ten months.