Red Glory. Manchester United and Me, by Martin Edwards

February 7, 2018

Red Glory. Manchester United and Me, by Martin Edwards

Book Review

I learned about this autobiographic story late last year  through an event organised through Simply Books of Bramhall. For personal reasons, I went along to meet the author. It had been nearly thirty years since we had last met. We had both attended a dinner at Manchester Business School. The main guest of the evening was Harold Wilson, the former Prime Minister who was a life-long Huddersfield Town supporter. We both vaguely remembered the event.
In Red Glory, Martin Edwards writes as a former chairman of Manchester United Football Club over the golden period of the club’s sporting success. As Peter Schmeichel put it in his foreword to the book, it was the period when United ‘became the biggest and best club on the planet’.
The book covers ground much of which will be familiar to MUFC fans, as legendary in this footballing city. I already knew how Matt Busby escaped death in the Munich air disaster to go on and rebuild the broken team. But nuggets in the book are new. I did not know, for example, that Sir Matt was later granted rights to what became the famed Superstore at Old Trafford. Edward estimates Busby’s assets from these arrangements amounted to a hundred million pounds market value by 1998.

One anecdote describes the negotiation between the young Chairman of Manchester United and the chairman of Leeds United. The style was firm, but not blustering. Schmeichel confirms it matches Edwards’ typical approach to dealing with negotiations.  I like it as a counter illustration to the mythology of deal-making according to Donald Trump.

Without doubt, the book will appeal to fans and historians of Manchester United Football Club. I have no hesitation in recommending it to students of football for insights into how a seriously competent leader thanks and acts, written in such a readable fashion.

Acknowledgement: To Simply Books, for organising the book-signing event, and providing the image. [Your Editor is the somewhat shorter figure on the left.]


One more time: How not to sack a manager

May 24, 2016

Louis van Gaal

Louis van Gaal is sacked as manager of Manchester United. At least, that is what a thousand media reports said soon after his team won the FA cup this weekend Read the rest of this entry »


Change at Manchester United

September 14, 2014

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.


After Sir Alex: Van Gaal leads out Manchester United for his first game as manager

July 24, 2014

Louis van Gaal
The match [July 23rd, 2014] is a ‘meaningless’ friendly in Los Angeles. Or is it so meaningless?

Louis van Gaal arrives as manager at Manchester United Football Club after managing Holland in the recent World Cup in Brazil. He joins a club suffering a severe dip in performance following the departure of the iconic Sir Alex Ferguson, who is widely credited with the record-breaking successes of the club in recent decades.

Van Gaal’s reputation as a leading manager has been established in a string of successes at the top European clubs. After Sir Alex, his own selected successor and fellow Scot, David Moyes, lasted less than the season, as results declined disastrously.

In the recent World Cup, Van Gaal reinforced his reputation as a tough but creative manager of the Netherlands’ [Holland’s] national side. For example, he came up with an incredible and pre-planned decision to substitute his first choice-goal keeper in extra time to bring on one better able to win the imminent penalty shoot-out.

First impressions at MUFC

Within days of Holland’s departures from the World Cup, their new manager arrives at Manchester United. There followed a few days of intense image management, reinforcing his image as a dominating personality who expects to get his own way on as many matters as possible.

MUFC fans largely approved of this, [call-in messages at the club’s TV station MUTV] as it was a style for which Alex Ferguson was recognized and feared.

The pre-season tour

Within a week, the squad had left for the pre-season tour of North America, van Gaal grumbling about excessive traveling which was a disruption to pre-season preparations. He said such arrangements would not happen again on his watch.

Reconstruction of the club

On van Gaal’s arrival, funds withheld from Moyes were released by the owners and board to strengthen the team. New players were acquired seen as the quality needed to address weaknesses in defense and midfield.

The LA Galaxy game

The first pre-season game was against LA Galaxy, a club with prior connections with MUFC, through the recently-retired David Beckham. The match was switched to the Pasadena Rose-bowl to accommodate the interest it attracted. A near-capacity 86,000 fans watched the game.

The American team, half-way through its season, was expected to be match fit. This did not make much difference in the first half. United, playing a new attacking formation, were lively and effective, scoring three unanswered goals.

The new manager had made it clear he would be assessing all players before completing his summer transfers. At half-time, as agreed for the fixture, large numbers of changes were made in each team. The United squad players brought on were more successful than their Galaxy counterparts,and scored a further four goals unanswered.

Final score: Los Angeles Galaxy 0 Manchester United 7. The Van Gaal managerial regime could hardly have started better.

Leadership reflections

The new manager has a direct – some would say brutal – style which seems designs to overwhelm all opposing views. His history of success with his teams has been accompanied with confrontations with players and with influential figures in clubs he worked in. He wins respect and makes enemies. The style can be found in many business and sporting leaders. In his encounters with the press, the style does have resemblance to that of Sir Alex Ferguson who could be famously (or infamously) combative.

There is something vaguely Machiavellian in the public persona which may be designed to rule through fear rather than being judged weak.


End of an era as Sir Alex Ferguson retires as Manager of Manchester United

May 8, 2013

Sir Alex FergusonSir Alex Ferguson retires in a relatively smooth fashion. Nevertheless, his departure means an inevitable period of transition for the global club he helped to build. Front-runners are emerging as a successor

The announcement today [May 8th 2013] should not have been surprising. Sir Alex announced his retirement once before, some years ago, and the shock waves around the news prompted a recantation.

Age shall not weary them

I do not need to check his age. He was born of December 31st 1941, making him a few days younger than myself. Our careers took us on very different paths, although over the last two decades I have found myself regularly writing and talking about his leadership style and achievements.

The most bizarre of those efforts was at an event in Miami where I had been asked to compare his achievements with those of Pat Riley, the iconic coach of the Miami Heat basketball team.

What they do teach at Harvard Business School

Much later, Harvard business School invited Sir Alex to talk about his leadership style. My envy was only slightly lessened by the comforting thought that at Manchester, business students had been studying a case through the textbook Dilemmas of Leadership [Edition 1 only : maybe a revised case is possible for Edition 3, if I don’t retire before it comes out].

The Ferguson touch

The story of his exceptional career and robust style is becoming well-known. [Use the right-hand vertical side bar to find the tags to the various LWD posts written since 2006].

A period of mourning

On hearing the news, someone with inside knowledge of the club told me “It’s a period of mourning. I’ve followed them since I was a child. I love the club. For young people, he’s the only manager they remember.” She listed a range of well-known names as possible future managers, including an insider.

The 3Ms

Speculation on succession throws up three early front-runners, David Moyes of Everton, Jose Mourinho of Real Madrid, and Roberto Martinez of Wigan Athletic. One a Scot, one Portuguese, and one Spanish. I would not want to place a bet although I expect there to be a name already close to being announced.

Footnote

Another list of front runners from The Independent

Later, the three names were linked as follows. Moyes replaced Ferguson; Mourinho went to Chelsea, and Martinez replaced Moyes at Everton.


Global reach: Does Manchester United Football Club have five hundred million ‘followers’?

February 18, 2013

MUFC red devilTudor Rickards

A market research firm claims that Manchester United Football Club is followed by approximately one of every ten people in the world. This figure has prompted much suspicion.

The claim was made by Kantar Sport, and is featured within promotional material by the football club which also has claims to have the greatest following world-wide.

The story was reported by the BBC [February 18th 2012]

Even the most ardent opponent of Manchester United would acknowledge that the club has fans right around the world. But the statement that the club has a global following of 659 million adults – out of a total five billion adults in the world – is still quite staggering.

The work was carried out earlier, and had already appeared on MUFC’s official website which stated:

The largest global football follower survey ever conducted has today [29th May 2012] named Manchester United the world’s most popular club, with 659 million followers worldwide.

The survey was carried out by leading market research agency, Kantar, and gathered 54,000 respondents from 39 countries. The club that Forbes recently named the most valuable in world sport was identified as the favourite team of 659 million followers around the world. Kantar found that football remains the world’s most popular sport, with 1.6 billion followers globally, reinforcing the results of a recent FIFA survey which produced a similar figure.
Richard Arnold, the club’s Commercial Director, commented on the long-term strategy that has made Manchester United the number one club in the world’s number one sport.

The BBC was more skeptical:

Even the most ardent opponent of Manchester United would acknowledge that the club has fans right around the world. But the statement that the club has a global following of 659 million adults – out of a total five billion adults in the world – is still quite staggering.

When an advertising agency makes statistical claims, it is a good idea to carry out a few simple tests to understand the degree of marketing speak behind the statement.

Schrank’s analysis

The advertising guru Jeffrey Shrank has compiled a list of the methods behind advertising claims in The Language of Advertising Speak. The Schrank article ‘does what it says on the can’ to borrow another advertising claim. Schrank lists ten ways in which advertising claims seek to imply more than the words claim.

The Manchester United Claim

In the case of Manchester United, this will be the owners, The Glazer family. It is worth asking: What part might the ‘one person in ten’ claim play in the strategic thinking of the owners of the club?

Note to students of leadership:

Can you apply the processes of map reading, testing and making to understanding more about the claim? What do you make of the statistical methods applied by Kantor? [intelligent assessment if you are not experienced with stats] How would you advise a competitive club on the significance of the claim for their own strategic considerations?


Derby drama at Manchester: In search of leadership lessons

December 9, 2012

Football violenceBy LWD armchair reporter Tudor Rickards

An unedited report of the game between Manchester City against Manchester United at the Etiad Stadium, December 9th 2012

Warning to readers: This report will not make much sense to readers who are not football followers. I have tried to indicate CY [City] or MU [Manchester United] to provide a little more information

I noted before the game that Kompany [CY Captain] is going around encouraging players one by one. Good. The game starts with a lot of ugly hacking, more by Utd than City. Rooney MU gets yellow and is in danger of red card. City press hard. Evans MU fouled and injured, but Kompany CY is first to limp off. Rooney scores with weak shot. 1-0 Was Hart CY goalkeeper out of position? Game more even now. Half chances. Then another breakaway, Rooney scores more convincingly this time. 2-0 United

Is it a plan by MU to defend deep and then break? Evans MU limps off. Free kick saved by Goalkeeper de Gea MU . Utd attack. Then another city corner and pressure. Game a bit shapeless. Foul count continues. Now a bit more fouling. Pinball stuff. No obvious calming influence . Scrappy to HT . [This on-line stuff is harder to do than I imagined. Maybe I could try Chess?]

Is leadership mainly from coaches Ferguson MU and Mancini MC? On the field , I realize now, there are few chances for verbal signals by any captain. This game is a wild tactical one, although perhaps the teams have a prearranged plan which may or not be stuck too.

Game increases in intensity. More defensive injuries. Evans MU eventually limps off as Ferdinand MU is also crocked , but stays on.

Cleverley blasts well over the bar for fourth time or so (but playing well otherwise in centre). Sense that neither team will string passes together without making a mistake. 55 min of stop-go rather than non-stop stuff

City scores by Yaya Toure. 1-2 MU. Pinball in the end. Stadium comes alive. Game comes alive. Close calls for a penalty for each side. Much more interesting now. More close calls. Rooney MU gets yellow card. Yaya Toure CY also, and injures himself in process [75 min. } Continues to be end to end. super sub Dzeko CY comes on. And Phil Jones for MU. City score. 2-2.

Even more hectic. Welbeck MU on for Cleverley. More hectic stuff Another foul this time by CY. Van Persie MU scores from free kick. 2 mins to go. 3-2 United.

Extra time [4 min]. Injury to Rio Ferdinand MU by object thrown by a fan. Much blood from above his eye. Game ends. MU players too weary to rejoice [or showing a bit of wisdom?]

Leadership conclusion. I didn’t see much opportunity for leadership from on-field captains. Is the leadership role relatively weak or too subtle for me to see as an armchair follower of the game?

Post-mortem

For an excellent analyis of ‘the volcanic rivalry’ between CY and MU see the Telegraph’s account. Now that’s what I call a balanced view.