There are only a select number of sports teams, whose influence and recognition go beyond the sports that they inhabit. They become institutions. We’re talking about the New York Yankees, the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Dallas Cowboys. In the world of football, we have 3 in Real Madrid, F.C Barcelona, and Manchester United.
Similarly, we have certain sports personalities that transcend those limits as well. Manchester United had one in Sir Alex Chapman Ferguson. You only have to search his name on the video streaming website, Youtube, to come across a host of lectures that he’s been asked to participate in at the finest Ivy League institutions. He is a textbook on the art of management itself.
He’s modest in suggesting that he’s merely a ‘football man’ in many of his appearances but he makes it a point to remind the young people in the room that he’s qualified to provide his opinions and there’s no hesitation when he says this. There are other great football managers that might find themselves out of place in such prestigious institutions and that is what separated Ferguson from his contemporaries and those that are managing football clubs today.
One of the stories of this decade has been the decline of the empire that he built at Old Trafford since his retirement in the summer of 2013. It’s interesting to note that the 3 sports teams were mentioned earlier have had no success to speak of in their respective sports in this decade but the Red Devils’ Spanish contemporaries continue to achieve sustained success. The Lakers won their last NBA Championship in 2010, so we could perhaps include that as an achievement from this decade but the same cannot be said of the other two.
These institutions have legions of fans around the world that separate them from other sports teams but that can be a double-edged sword. When standards drop, they’re subject to twice the scrutiny of their peers from their own fans, rival fans, and the media. In the 6 years since the Glaswegian left the side, much of that scrutiny has fallen upon the club’s Chief Executive Officer and Vice-chairman, Ed Woodward.
Woodward has become one of the most infamous figures in club football over the last six and a half years. He has been credited with the overseeing of the takeover by the Glazer family and been one of the brains behind Manchester United’s extremely successful commercial operations department. There is no doubt that the former accountant and investment banker is a fantastic operator and has been very successful with respect to that. However, there is a feeling that he has a larger say in the football operations by simply being the one responsible for taking the biggest decisions of them all; the hiring and sacking of managers.
The United faithful see him as an irredeemable figure at the moment but there isn’t anything to suggest that there will be a change with respect to his position in the structural hierarchy at Manchester United, hence, the Red Devils have to find a solution while simultaneously having him at the helm. To Manchester United’s credit, they are probably one of the few clubs in the world that can continue to be a successful outfit despite the many impediments that have come to the fore since Ferguson’s departure.
Woodward’s biggest failing has been that he has given the managers far too much power on a false pretense. It doesn’t help that the managers he has appointed have all got very different ideas about running the club from their predecessors.
He needs to use the McKinsey 7S Framework as a model to make certain that this isn’t repeated. For those unfamiliar with this management model, the 7 Ss are structure, strategy, systems, skills, style, staff, and shared values.
The Ss can be divided into ‘hard’ elements and ‘soft’ elements. The hard elements are strategy, structure, and systems. The hard elements have to be fixed for the foreseeable future. The skills, staff, and style make up for the soft elements that act as variables that shouldn’t affect the larger strategy, structure, and system. Binding the 6 are the shared values between the two that are at the heart of the framework.
United’s problem has been that more often than not, there haven’t been any shared values between the two most powerful people in the football operations and the soft elements have affected the hard elements since Ferguson’s departure. The soft elements include the managers, who despite their title haven’t been the hard figures that Ferguson was. They’ve been made to believe that they were the hard figures but taken up soft roles and this is because they haven’t shared the same values as those that United have traditionally had nor have they seen eye to eye with Ed Woodward.
That leads to the question of whether Woodward is qualified for such a position but the truth of the matter is that for United to become successful, they have to find a way to be successful with Woodward at the helm until larger changes take place. Other players that make up the soft roles like players have been given far too much power but that is a larger footballing issue.
There was a time where it was believed that film directors and football managers were the only true authoritarian figures in any industry but the reality for both industries have changed. Managers today are mostly head coaches and film studios have more power than ever before, which is why you’ll be screening Marin Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’ on your Home theatre system instead of the cinema.
That leads us to the current scenario at the club and while Ole Gunnar Solskjær might be the least qualified manager to have been at the hot seat, he seems to be the first manager who has decided to focus on the hard elements of Manchester United. The problem that he faces is that he is also in charge of overhauling the softer elements simultaneously and many don’t believe that he’s capable of that job.
With Mauricio Pochettino out of a job, Solskjær’s job is more time-sensitive than it has been since he got appointed as the permanent boss. Pochettino was seen as the firm favorite to take over at Old Trafford if not for Solskjaer’s miraculous run in as caretaker manager. What United can take encouragement is from the fact that Solskjær in his small sample size seems to share many of the values that Pochettino seemed to value, hence, Solskjær has already done half the job if the Argentinian is to eventually take over from him.
This has been evident in the signings United have made. The Argentinian during his time at Southampton got the best out of his British contingent, improved younger players and implemented a high-energy pressing system. Ole Gunnar Solskjær has echoed many of the same sentiments and even had his players execute that to some degree, however, there is a fragile confidence amongst most sections in the media about the work he’s done.
United and Woodward, for obvious reasons, shouldn’t feel entitled to believe that a manager who is likely to have so many suitors will take the United job but for Pochettino’s own sake, he too will have a sense of entitlement about himself after the job he’s done at Tottenham Hotspur. He will feel that a super club is naturally going to be his next habitat and there aren’t many options at the moment besides Manchester United.
Pochetinno and Solskjær aren’t the only candidates obviously. There are a whole host of managers who share similar values but there are question marks as to Woodward’s ability to identify who they are. Ed Woodward needs to use the McKinsey model with all the knowledge that he has in business operations to evaluate Manchester United internally and with his competitors.
Recent evidence suggests that 6 years of a broken model may have made him and others in the structural hierarchy realize some of their shortcomings when reflecting on their roles in such a model but another structural mistake will no longer make him an irredeemable figure. It will make him an untenable one.
Written by Suwaid Fazal
El Arte Del Futbol is an official content creator for OneFootball. Find more Original Features, Player Profiles and Tactical Analysis’ on www.elartedf.com. If you are reading this on our website, we’d like to thank you for your continuous support! Follow us on twitter to stay updated with all the latest content.