By popular request: what happened to David Moyes?

MacBeth wikipediaThe 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 that UKIP should try to recruit Moyes because he got United out of Europe in ten months.

5 Responses to By popular request: what happened to David Moyes?

  1. Edward Spalton says:

    Probably the best comment on this episode was by Richard North of – that UKIP should try to recruit Moyes because he got United out of Europe in ten months.

  2. John Pal says:

    From reports in the press the Moyes (training) regime was similar to that at his previous club Everton. Is there a danger in new managers adopting what has worked for them before – that is a cookie-cutter approach?

    There can be dangers with this as we can see when Ron Johnson, credited with the Apple store operation, who moved to J C Penney with disastrous consequences as he attempted to apply single pricing (as at Apple) and ditched the promotion- and voucher-led strategy. Similarly John Browett (ex-Tesco and Dixons) replaced Johnson and focused on efficiencies as per his background. The result? He cut staffing and then too was removed from Apple. Browett has since turned around Monsoon.

    Managers don’t become bad overnight; but if there was a case for working out the DNA of an organisation before setting out a ‘First 100 Days’ plan then we can see it played out very clearly in football. The trouble is football clubs don’t or won’t give managers that time.

    Irrespective of this, one thing is for sure. There are two kinds of football manager: sacked ones and those about to be sacked.

  3. Kenneth Rabone says:

    “Brutus, there is something I would like you to have a stab at”

  4. Thanks for these comments. Think Edward and Kenneth have similar dry sense of humour. I’ve noted John’s examples for future use. Best.

  5. Paul Hinks says:

    Sir Alex’s own retirement and the appointment of Moyes is the key change under review – but there were other changes too. David Gill (ex-CEO of Man Utd) also left his post at the same time as Sir Alex – there’s also the removal of Ferguson’s back room staff to consider too. So much significant change in such a short period of time yields much higher risk.

    Moyes clearly had his own style, and has his own men – perhaps all this change is akin to ripping up Utd’s blueprints of success. The knowledge and experience gained by Sir Alex over his career can be measured in different ways, but the transfer of this knowledge and experience was always going to be a difficult task. Removing SAF’s trusted backroom staff was another way of eroding the methods and practices that had proved successful under Ferguson.

    I suppose for Sir Alex there’s was also the dilemma of how best to offer support and guidance; too much support could be seen as ‘interfering’ and hindering the progress of the new leader of the club.

    Maybe Moyes aggravated the situation further by adopting a more negative and cautious style of football than that of Ferguson. The press have widely reported resistance from some players to these new tactics. ‘The way things have been done around here’ is often associated with culture; I see significance in Ryan Giggs’ statement in today’s news conference that he will return to playing ‘the Manchester United way’.

    ‘How’ Giggs et al achieves this goal will be watched with interest.

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