There is obvious cause for concern at Manchester United this season. Rant Cast has taken to summing up United’s long-term prospects as the “Liverpoolisation” of the club. The obvious gist is that United, having enjoyed two decades of supreme dominance over English football, have come to the end of a cycle and that, for the time being at least, the glory days have gone. I’m writing this article as a Liverpool fan that has witnessed the club’s dramatic decline from the top – and whilst in the short-term United have obvious problems, there are completely different circumstances that will prevent the club from going down Liverpool’s path. Read More
There will come a day when Sir Alex Ferguson’s name is associated not with Manchester United’s dug-out, but the North Stand at Old Trafford. It may not be in the coming summer, nor perhaps until the 70-year-old Scot is carried from the Theatre of Dreams in a box, but a change, as Sam Cooke once promised, is gonna come.
United’s stability under Ferguson, driven by the Scot’s obsessive-compulsive requirement for total control, is an outlier in football, where the average tenure of a Premier League manager is just 24 months. Moreover, the trend is increasingly away from the dictatorial model practiced in Manchester.
Yet, overseas owners at Chelsea and Liverpool will be looking enviously at Old Trafford as a model for storied and stable success as those clubs reach out to the market for new managers this summer.
But one day soon David Gill and the Glazer family will go through the same process now underway at Anfield and Stamford Bridge, of recruiting not only Ferguson’s successor, but the quality of manager demanded by a club of United’s stature. Yet, true to United’s cloak and dagger modus operandi it is highly unlikely that the club will hold any formal search, selection and interview the process for the role.
Indeed, football is one of the few industries remaining where senior executives are appointed, frequently on multi-million pound contracts, and then given even larger capex budgets, without any hint of due diligence. In other industries people would, quite literally, go to prison for the crass neglect of fiduciary duty.
Contrast this approach with the typical Fortune 500, or other large corporation, where an executive can expect to beat off potentially hundreds of candidates through a four or five round interview process, technical exercises and psychometric, intelligence, mathematics, language and logic testing. Often this process involves both interviews by the corporation’s board, executive management and outside consultants.
Even known candidates, whose track record is not in doubt, can still expect a due diligence process if only to ensure cultural fit at the highest levels of management.
Yet, football is an industry that is “different” Rant was told by one experienced journalist today; a sector where fickle fans, apparently, will not accept that there should be a process for finding the best candidate, leaving owners to appoint on a wing and a prayer. It is, of course, rank nonsense that helps explain the criminal failure rate of football management appointments.
No surprise, then, with the mocking tone of media coverage of Liverpool’s search and selection process for Kenny Dalglish’s successor at Anfield. Fenway Sports Group, led by Boston Red Sox’ owner John W Henry, has drawn up a long-list of candidates, including André Villas-Boas, Pep Guardiola, Didier Deschamps, Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martínez whom, prudently, they would like to interview for the post.
Burned by Dalglish, an employee who spent more than £100 million on new players, but whose track record includes just two trophies in the past 20 years, FSG has set about deepening the due diligence process this time around. It is surely a sensible move.
To put Dalglish’s failure in context, while the Scot’s wages were around £4 million per annum, his spending was more than 50 per cent of Liverpool’s annual revenues. This is akin to newly IPO’d Facebook offering a new employee $2 billion to spend on whatever they want, and then Mark Zuckerberg complaining that HR hadn’t interviewed anybody else for the role.
Similarly at Aston Villa, who informally interviewed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on Friday, Randy Lerner is seeking to cast the net wide to find not only the best candidate, but the man who will fit with the ethos and philosophy of the owner, staff and players. Solskjaer is not the only candidate, with Lerner undertaking a process, not simply appointing the latest hot thing.
Yet, there is still shock in the British media that FSG should want to break with football’s traditional method of appointing managers on a nod and a wink. Managers – ‘the most important employee at a football club’ – Rant was told, do not like to be interviewed because it undermines their current position. The heart bleeds that football clubs are, apparently, simply unable to recruit in the normal fashion, behind closed doors, and with a sensible level of due diligence.
Meanwhile, in the capital Roman Abramovich will likely continue the model that has served Chelsea poorly since Jose Mourinho’s departure. On each occasion Abramovich has anointed the new man seemingly on a whim – either through personal friendship, or in the case of the aforementioned Villas-Boas, because the Portuguese was the latest ‘hot thing’ on the market. The last mistake cost the Russian oligarch nearly £30 million, and his team a place in next year’s Champions League.
Which is all the more worrying when United comes round to replacing Ferguson. After all, while we know much about Mourinho, Solskjaer, and even David Moyes on a superficial basis, United’s senior executives will have little insight on a personal level. Not so much the blind leading the blind into a new era, as the partially sighted hoping that the light ahead is the end of the tunnel, and not a train wreck waiting to happen.
It’s precisely why FSG, despite the monumental mishandling of Liverpool’s transfer, communications and marketing strategy over the past 12 months, is now doing the right thing. Football industry be dammed, it’s better to get the right man, despite the negative headlines, than appoint another ill-fitting candidate on little-to-no information.
And while United fans may snigger at Swansea manager Rodgers turning down, on Friday, an interview with Liverpool, it may be best to remember that old Cooke refrain: change is gonna come. The question is, how will United manage its way through?
There was something all too inevitable about Fabio Capello’s departure from the England job this week. Reportedly angered by the Football Association’s unilateral decision to remove John Terry as national team captain, Capello resigned at just after 3pm Wednesday afternoon. Such is the mood of distrust between the parties that the FA made little attempt to change the Italian’s mind. Capello’s is a fit of pique that costs the Italian around £2 million in lost wages, but more importantly generates questions about the former national team manager’s conduct.
Just as Kenny Dalglish has garnered critical media coverage for his staunch support of Luis Suárez over the past three months, in the face of widespread condemnation of the Uruguayan’s conduct, so too will questions be asked of Capello. After all, there are significant parallels between the two men, each of whom has singularly failed to understand the national mood surrounding racism in the country’s favourite sport.
The Italian’s resignation followed an hour-long meeting with FA Chairman David Bernstein at the body’s Wembley headquarters. It was a meeting in which the former AC Milan manager expressed his frustration at Terry’s removal, against the manager’s wishes, as England team captain.
After all, argues Capello, Terry has not been proven guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand. Not by an independent panel, as was Suárez when he abused Manchester United captain Patrice Evra, and certainly not by the courts. That verdict may come in July after the magistrates court in charge postponed Terry’s originally schedule hearing.
Capello’s is a simple mantra: Terry is innocent until proven guilty. Simplistic, might be a more accurate description. Capello’s is a message that is widely understood, and may have garnered more widespread support among the football community had the Terry affair not threatened to engulf England’s Euro 2012 campaign. The unrelenting controversy and media scrutiny that a tournament involving England brings would only be heightened by Terry’s name on the leadership ticket.
The risk to the FA, of course, was that every managerial decision, every question to the team’s captain, and every result during the tournament would be placed in the context of Terry’s potential guilt. It was a risk too far for a conservative organisation. No spin will airbrush history if Terry is found guilty of racially abusing Rio Ferdinand’s younger brother.
In the context, and for once with right on its side, the governing body reacted quickly, and without apology, to sack Terry. Indeed, the FA’s decision was taken without consultation, undermining Capello’s authority in the process, and prompting the Italian manager to burn his bridges during an interview with Italian TV station RAI on Tuesday.
What more could the FA have done, except critics add, remove Terry from the squad altogether. Inept though the governing body is normally guaranteed to be, the FA had almost no choice but to demote the Chelsea defender. Many argue that the FA should never have allowed this halfway house to exist at all.
The new manager, whether it is the much discussed Harry Redknapp or another man, may well find it impossible to take the Chelsea man to Poland and Ukraine at all. Yet, Capello has received widespread support from fellow managers, including United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. The collective managers’ union can never countenance team decisions being taken by a higher authority, without admitting to an overwhelming sense of impotence.
“There’s nothing wrong with having an opinion,” said Ferguson shortly prior to Capello’s departure.
“It’s a difficult situation for both sides. When you are the manager of a team and have a captain that is an important part of that team then you don’t want to lose him, so I can understand there’s a lot of discussion and controversy about it. There will have to be a coming together of the FA hierarchy and Fabio Capello because he’s the team manager, he has the importance of that position. Without question the most important person at a football club is the manager.”
In that prediction Ferguson was right, and Sir Alex’ support for fellow managers is long-standing. But it is also a poor barometer of the bind that the FA found itself. While the manager may be the “most important” man at any club, Capello’s position was certainly no more valuable than the bigger picture. This is, after all, an association that has promised a tough stance on racism. Terry, as the body’s leader on the pitch, quickly became anathema once the courts had put back its decision until after Euro 2012.
Capello’s is another case in a sordid campaign for managers when it comes to dealing with issues of race.
The Suárez and Terry incidents in the autumn have brought far too myopic a response from those involved. Dalglish’s agenda was different to Capello’s, of course, but each came from a position not of responsibility, but self interest.
The Liverpool manager strongly voiced Suárez’ innocence long after an independent regulatory commission ruled, in microscopic detail, on the affair. Capello has fallen on his sword for a man who may yet been proven guilty of a deeply inhumane act.
Yet, both Dalglish and the now former England manager have misjudged the country’s mood; misunderstood that while short-termism can be a catalyst for deflecting attention, ‘doing the right thing’ is the only permissible route when it comes to question of race. Dalglish’s stance set race relations back a generation at Liverpool. Capello has fallen on his sword because of his poor command of the substantial implications of the Terry case.
It is as if denial of the issue has taken over; an old school misunderstanding of the societal changes that have taken place while Capello and Dalglish were cossetted away in the surreal world of professional football.
The bandwagon will move on of course, but the England job, dubbed a “poison chalice” by Ferguson, will remain an impossibly difficult challenge. It is one that Ferguson must be grateful the FA will not try, for a third time, to foist upon him.
Dear Liverpudlian friends,
After reading this article you may be tempted to post a long conspiratorial diatribe, blaming the FA for “making an example of Luis Suárez.” You may wish to protest the striker’s innocence or, indeed, you may think about couching your post in quasi-legal language, of which you have no genuine expertise. You’re almost certainly desperate to blame Patrice Evra for it all. STOP! This has been heard before, and the small number of you that did not include racist or foul language were afforded space on this Manchester United blog. There is, however, a proper home for you. It’s called RAWK and you’ll be more than welcome there.
Yours, the editor.