Pogba’s fantasy signing ends

August 11, 2016

Paul Pogba.jpg

One of the most cited stories of the football pre-season is about Paul Pogba’s move from Juventus to Manchester United.  Journalists have been able to fan interest. Or maybe fan interest has been able to encourage journalists

For several months, for football fans, the signing (or non-signing) of Pogba has been the story (or non-story) of the day.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

The legal answer is the Glazer family following a controversial takeover in 2005.  However, Manchester United Supporters Trust [MUST]  have been granted rights at Old Trafford stadium if the club is ever sold, through a ruling of the local council.

An Asset of Community Value

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.


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.