Change at Manchester United

by Paul Hinks

Manchester United’s current turmoil provides a platform to explore how leadership dilemmas are influencing events at the world famous football club

THIS DEVELOPING STORY IS BEING UPDATED REGULARLY.  ADDITIONS TO BE FOUND AT THE END OF THE ORIGINAL POST

On the 10th Sept 2014 the BBC reported Manchester United’s annual revenues They had risen by 19% to £433.2m -but they also reported an 84% drop in Man Utd’s profits.

Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward directed attention towards a new shirt deal with Adidas. When a club of Manchester United’s stature is discussing shirt deals instead of trophies there’s implicit recognition that it has fallen below its own high standards of achievement.

Change vs Inertia

Sir Alex was manager of Manchester United between 1986 and 2013 – his teams became synonymous with success, dominating footballing headlines for all the right reasons. Trophies symbolized the success; fans and pundits alike enjoyed watching an entertaining style of football which also delivered results – to the envy of rival fans, this was the ‘Manchester United way’.

Manchester United’s culture, discourse and identity

Reference the ‘Manchester United way’ and it has a different meaning to different people – perhaps a benchmark for free-flowing attack minded football, or a fan’s recollections of an important victory against a fierce rival; perhaps somebody referencing the successful development of Man Utd’s youth into world class talent?
A great attribute of sport – and football in particular – is that it provokes opinion and debate effortlessly. For a club of Manchester United’s stature, any deviation from their own high standards of success amplifies the process of inquiry.

Alpha Males and Autocratic Leadership

The appointment of David Moyes as Manager is increasingly reflected upon as a transition period which didn’t go to plan. The swift and recent appointment of Louis van Gaal as Manchester United’s manager [19th May 2014] takes the club in a different direction again. In some ways Louis van Gaal’s leadership style has parallels with Ferguson’s: strong values; clear standards; absolute authority. In Ferguson’s time those who crossed him, or fell short of Manchester United’s standards, quickly found themselves playing for another club. Louis van Gaal maintains a similar reputation.

The ‘Make or Buy’ dilemma

In his short tenure, Louis van Gall his has spent in the region of £150m bringing in new players. He’s also started the process of shaping his team, which includes the controversial sale of highly rated home grown player Danny Wellbeck to Arsenal for £16m. Are we witnessing the start of a new ‘Manchester United way’ – one where success is bought rather than developed in-house?

The Guardian provided additional commentary on the situation:

Ryan Giggs has denied Manchester United’s recent transfer policy represents a betrayal of Old Trafford traditions, although Nicky Butt, the club’s reserve team manager, admitted promoting homegrown talent must take a back seat under Louis van Gaal.
United have spent £215m on new players over the past 12 months and off loaded the academy graduates Danny Welbeck to Arsenal and Tom Cleverley to Aston Villa on the day Colombia international Radamel Falcao arrived on loan from Monaco .

That turnover prompted Mike Phelan, United’s former assistant manager, to accuse the club of losing their identity, while Eric Harrison, the ex-youth team manager who brought through the famed “Class of 92”, said United were losing “their soul” as a consequence.
There’s a certain paradox and tension between retaining tried and tested methods versus embracing new and different ways of working.

Like any organisation, Manchester United has various metrics to measure its success – trophies remain the currency that most fans prefer to use – but perhaps here is one of the biggest misnomers of football – football is increasingly commercially focused. Sure the fans crave the bragging rights that go with winning, but there are other stakeholders to consider too.


‘Something Special’

Sir Alex had an enviable reputation for developing the potential in players, nurturing youth into world-class talent; examples include: Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Gary and Phil Neville and Nicky Butt – there are others too. Perhaps aged 63, Louis van Gaal perceives time is not on his side? Perhaps his experience helps him recognize the urgency in returning Manchester United back to be serious challengers for honours? If he doesn’t succeed quickly, perhaps another candidate will be afforded the opportunity?

Manchester United’s various stakeholders – its fans, directors, owners, sponsors – and indeed its closest rivals all expect Manchester Utd to be serious contenders for honours. Few other clubs have history and expectation to deliver success – Louis van Gaal is shaping the future of club which many regard as ‘something special’. How he delivers will be watched with great interest.

UPDATES START HERE

July 14th 2014 

The Adidas shirt deal is worth £750 million over ten years.

September 14th 2014

Manchester United beat Queen’s Park Rangers 4-0 Van Gaal’s team with its costly Galacticos win in style at Old Trafford. Move from 17th to 9th in league table.

September 15th 2014

Disenchanted Ronaldo wants move back to Manchester United.

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