Manchester United: Something strange about the Red Knights?

March 28, 2010

The Red Knights announce they are not planning an imminent takeover of Manchester United football club. There is something strange about the announcement and about the Red Knights

Many takeovers take place under conditions of secrecy. There are considerable advantages in such clandestine behaviour. It retains any opportunistic benefits in the potential deal over other investment groups, for example. It avoids unwelcome attention from the target organization towards the threat.

This is what puzzles me over the actions of the so-called Red Knights. Their strategy seems based on gaining as much publicity as possible for their intentions to take over the debts and ownership of the football club. This transparency is not necessarily wrong. Yet, the more typical-goings on in a takeover are suited to insider trading which has sometimes gone on during a financial corporate bid.

The Red Knights are not an established takeover organization. They appear to be an entrepreneurial and virtual set-up whose individual members present themselves as having widespread knowhow and contacts in big players in the financial markets.

A story has developed around the Knights. The BBC version seems the capture the publically-available information:

A group informally known as the Red Knights is plotting to oust the Glazers with a billion-pound takeover bid and they have recruited the Japanese investment bank Nomura to help them put together a deal.

Who is behind the consortium?

The group, who first met in March, is made up of City bankers and lawyers. Among them are Jim O’Neill, a former HSBC investment bank chief executive and chief economist at Goldman Sachs; Seymour Pierce stockbroker Keith Harris; Paul Marshall, a partner at the hedge fund Marshall Wace; Richard Hytner of advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi and lawyer Mark Rawlinson, a partner in Freshfields’ corporate practice, who advised United during the Glazer takeover negotiations.

Does the group have the fans’ interests at heart?

Self-professed United fan Harris, the man brokering the potential takeover, claims the group want “to do something for the good of Manchester United and the good of football.”

On Red Knights and the Age of Chivalry

The Red Knights, whoever they are, have won the commitment of the Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST). In turn, MUST has created a wellspring of trust as an organization dedicated to the interests of the ’true’ fans of Manchester United. I find their motives relatively clear-cut, and suspect that they may well have influenced the decision at the club to freeze prices of season tickets next year. On the other hand, the fans are one important aspect of the club’s business environment, but not the only interest. There may be genuine differences of opinion, for example, on how revenues are managed, what proportion towards expensive new players, for example, how much to extract from those loyal fans.

Furthermore, I am suspicious of self-proclaimed heroes rushing to the aid of damsels in distress. As Monty Python has helped us realise, the age of chivalry has passed. I just hope the legacy of the legend of the Red Knights will be more than another layer of irony in renditions of an Old Trafford favourite “Always Look On the Bright Side of Life” [… de dum, de dum, de dum…]

Manchester United: Where the power lies

March 2, 2010

The American owners of MUFC are facing tough financial times. If you use media coverage as a guide, fan power at Manchester United is high. A new challenge comes from the Red Knights financial consortium. But where does the power lie which will influence the future of the club?

It has been a good month for the fans’ pressure group at Manchester United. The media campaign is a model of how to win attention for a cause. In a recent post LWD suggested the fans were winning the battle for symbolic leadership.

A protest movement has grown in strength in recent months. Banners are displayed at home games and sometimes removed by officials. And one particularly creative idea has taken off. The protesters have appropriated the green and gold colours of the original team. Supporters wearing the shirts have stopped the financing of the club’s mega-store merchandising. But even this gesture illustrates a dilemma for the protesters. Do they attempt to weaken the club they love, to bring down its owners whom they detest?

Where the Power Lies

In eadership textbooks, power is treated uneasily, running through all the accepted leadership eras, rather than fitting nicely into one of them. Definitions of leadership prefer the term influence rather than power. Dilemmas of Leadership suggests that careful reading of leadership texts is required to reveal the ‘concealed dilemmas of power, control …coercion and conflict resolution’ (p244).

Management of change texts also struggle with the concept of power, leaving students confused about the link s between leadership, influence and power. One well-regarded text on organizational change does manage to confine it to a single chapter, suggests that the various definitions ‘have one thing in common – having power means being able to influence someone else’s behaviour (Senior & Fleming, 3rd edn, 2006: 197).

The Battle for Power at MUFC

A new financial grouping, The self-styled Red Knights, is seeking to gain power in a way which aligns with the MUST pressure group. It is likely that the two groups have been in contact, and will continue to be so in the near future.

United are owned by the Glazer family, but the club’s high level of debt – now at £716.5m – has prompted much unease. Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill, who was acting in a personal capacity, lawyer Mark Rawlinson and financier Keith Harris were at the meeting. A spokesman for the Glazers told BBC Sport: “United is not for sale.” However, United’s owners are now facing a two-pronged attack over their control of the club with the Manchester United Supporters’ Trust (Must) running a vocal campaign to bring about a change of ownership. Must has recruited 53,520 members and recently started working with Blue State Digital, a communications agency that worked on Barack Obama’s successful US Presidential election campaign.

Pressure on the Glazers and its Red Football Joint Venture has increased as the level of debts has been revealed, secured against the football club. Financial status of the club also seems on the slide against global rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona. However, the headlines lose some significance when a drop to third in the ‘rich list’, a financial league table is seen as largely due to a decline in the exchange rate of the pound sterling.

“We continue to assert that the game’s top clubs are well placed to meet the challenges presented by the difficult economic environment,” said Deloitte’s Dan Jones, who compiled the [rich-list] report. “Their large and loyal supporter bases, ability to drive broadcast audiences, and continuing attraction to corporate partners, provide a strong base to underpin revenues.”


The Red Knights have a battle plan, finance, and links to committed and well-organised supporters. On the other hand, the club is not such a basket-case financially for there to be a quick and cheap victory. Even a £billion victory which would not guarantee that the fans will achieve the power needed for them to have a say in ticket pricing policy, for example.

Alex is not perfect but is a perfect example of situated leadership

June 3, 2008

Sir Alex Ferguson announces his planned retirement as manager of Manchester United. He represents, “warts and all”, a perfect example of situated leadership

In a now famous incident a few years ago, when approaching his 65th birthday, Alex Ferguson announced his intentions to retire. There was a sense of panic and loss, and a considerable period of upheaval followed at the club.

It was a perfect example of the manner in which a leader can provide a deep sense of security. Strictly speaking, it might be seen more as the evidence for a deep sense of loss and anxiety at a leader’s passing.

Today [Tuesday 3rd May 2008] Sky Sports broadcast an end-of-season interview at which Sir Alex announces his second going. It would have been a notable exclusive for Sky Sport even if it had not contained the news of his retirement.

As it was, the broadcast itself made news. Glen Moore in The Independent reported in advance:

Two more years. That is how long the rest of the Premier League title contenders, and putative Manchester United managers, will have to wait until Sir Alex Ferguson drives away from Old Trafford for good.

In the wake of United’s Champions League victory last month Ferguson, now 66, had indicated he would not work past his 70th year, which was interpreted as meaning he would retire in three seasons’ time. Tonight, in an interview with Sir David Frost, he fixes his retirement date as summer 2010.

The interview is a must-see for millions of football fans. It is worth a look for leaders and wannabe leaders as well.

A future post will take a more reflective look on the interview and at the leadership lessons to be gained from Sir Alex and his leadership story.

New Year’s Day at Old Trafford

January 3, 2008


The year ended on a sour note for Manchester United, who lost their last game of 2007, and their lead in the Premiership. The league champions opened their New Year campaign against struggling Birmingham. A substantial win was anticipated. But all did not go according to plan…

It had been a sad end to the year. There had been an unexpected loss to West Ham United. There had been adverse headlines also about a bawdy off-piste party organized and attended by the players. One first-team starlet was arrested and charged with rape. A furious Ferguson had imposed a ban of silence over the affair, and serious fines on all the players involved.

Commentators and fans were suggesting that Sir Alex was losing his touch as a manager, in failing to appreciate the team’s urgent need for a world-class striker. Ferguson insisted otherwise. As mostly happened over his illustrious career, he had been able to prove his critics wrong, and the team steadily climbed the table, and re-established itself as favourites to regain the title.

As the season developed, normal goal-scoring was resumed. Meanwhile, leadership problems at Chelsea and Liverpool were contributing to the declining chances of two of the four most likely winners of the league. Only Arsenal was seen as a serious threat. Arsene Wenger had assembled another team of brilliant ball-players, whose progress was only likely to be halted by the inexperience of its young stars.

So the New Year dawned

January 1st 2008. A season-ticket holder faced up to one of life’s existential dilemmas and had abandoned the path well-travelled to Old Trafford, in favour of domestic doings fixing a newly-acquired home walking distance to the ground. Through such decisions pseuds like myself gain access to the Theatre of Dreams.

The Game

The game was low key. The players were low key. The crowd was low key. The manager growled afterwards that the atmosphere was like a funeral. His mood was hardly helped by the sentence he was serving, a ban from the touchline for an outburst against some hapless official after an earlier game.

For the record, like every match in the land, this one started with a minute of remembrance of Motherwell’s Phil O’Donnell who had collapsed and died in a match the previous Saturday.

It was New Year’s Day at Old Trafford

It was New Year’s Day at Old Trafford
when Birmingham came to town.
The Onions were draped around Burghers.
And Sir Matt looked down

Down upon chestnut clad horses
drawn from a dark Chorlton shed
protected from fetlocks to dreadlocks.
And Sir Matt stared ahead

Ahead to the day’s performance
A storm in a desert cup
when the faithful outnumber the Godless.
And Sir Matt looked up

Up to the Lego land scaffold.
where privileged people had gone
to cling with Prawns to coat tails.
And Sir Matt looked on

On as the multitude gathered
And remembered a son who had died.
Then we watched as the players stumbled.
And Sir Matt cried.