For last couple of weeks football (aka soccer) news cycle belonged to Manchester City. During the week, city made headlines for all the wrong reasons when Football leaks exposed alleged behaviour by City hierarchy to balance the books. Then on Sunday (11 November) team outclassed Manchester United on pitch in Manchester Derby.
As a Manchester United fan, I was disappointed with result. United were not good enough. But what bothered me more was news of how well City have put together structure and hierarchy in place that can help long term success. The difference between both clubs is massive. City has been bankrolled by a billionaire owner who has spent close £1.5 Billion so far. Contrast that to Manchester United owners Glazer family who are taking money away from club (which one could argue can be used to strengthen squad).
Manchester United are currently in shadow of their noisy neighbours. This has happened before. In 1970s and 1980s they were under shadow of Liverpool. Then in November 1986 club appointed Alex Ferguson as their new manager. The Scot was managing Aberdeen where he temporarily ended Rangers and Celtic’s domination of Scottish football. His appointment as Manchester United boss changed landscape of British football. During his 26 year stint at the club, Manchester United won every possible trophy and ended up becoming richest football (soccer) team in world.
Sir Alex played massive part in modernizing Manchester United football club. Team’s on pitch success drove commercial success. One of the great example of commercial success was seen in summer of 2006. American insurance giant AIG agreed to pay little over £50 Million over 4 years to be global sponsors. This deal raised lot of eyebrows. AIG’s rationale behind paying the money was Manchester United’s appeal in Asia especially India and China. It gave AIG perfect platform to expand their business.
Today Manchester City have an ideal structure in place. CEO looks after overall club. There is a Director of Football who looks after Football side of the house. Head Coach / First Team coach is responsible for day to day running of first team. During Sir Alex years, Manchester United had dream team in place. Fergie gave stability on football side. He was involved and was aware of all aspects of player signings, contract extensions and academy players among other things. In boardroom stability was provided by Martin Edwards first, then followed by Peter Kenyon and David Gill. This stability all round ensured continuous success. In summer of 2013, both David Gill and Sir Alex retired. This has resulted in massive void. Ed Woodward was promoted to replace David Gill and David Moyes replaced Sir Alex. Both these transitions happening together resulted in chaos.
Apart from continuity across the board, Manchester United during Sir Alex era had an extra thing that drove growth. The club was full of leaders. Boardroom leaders gave massive stability. Sir Alex provided necessary leadership on football side. On football pitch, club had amazing set of players who resonated Manager’s philosophy. Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, Rio Ferdinand, Vidic, Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs were Fergie’s trusted Lieutenants.
This is stark contrast to today’s Manchester United. To begin with, Ed Woodward is not football man. He is finance guy who has been thrown into thick of things. After Sir Alex’s retirement United have appointed 3 full time managers. David Moyes lasted for 8 months, LvG for 2 seasons and now José is in his 3rd season. On the pitch, I am afraid there are not enough leaders.
These short managerial stints have ensured, squad is in really bad shape. Manchester United’s 18 man team that faced Manchester City had 5 players signed by José – Lindelolf, Matic, Lukaku, Sanchez and Fred. There were 7 LvG signings – Romero, Shaw, Herrera, Rashford, Martial, Lingard and Darmian (Rashford and Lingard are from academy who made breakthrough during LvG era). Team featured 2 Moyes era signings Mata and Fellaini. And there were 4 players from Fergie era – De Gea, Young, Smalling and Jones.
During Sir Alex era, his presence of 26 years ensured there was continuity on footballing side of the house. In today’s era, no manger is going to last in Old Trafford hot seat for that long. There are other ways to achieve continuity i.e. via Director of Football. United are badly missing a Director of Football. In today’s football world this role is extremely important. DoF acts as a bridge between First Team / Head coach and boardroom. It essentially takes some workload of both CEO and Head Coach and allows them to concentrate on other aspects of their respective job. Almost all English teams are now following this continental approach now. With modern continental structure of Director of Football and First Team coach, last 3 managers for both Chelsea and Manchester City. To put this in perspective, in Manchester United’s 140 year old history only 3 Managers Ernest Mangnall, Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex has won the league title! Once some of these leadership voids are addressed, Manchester United should be back in business challenging their noisy neighbours…