When the Past Defines the Future: Success at Old Trafford.

I am leaving sports law aside today to consider the latest developments at Manchester United. The developments are thick and fast and concern not only the sporting future of the club, but also the governance of it, which appears to be under intense scrutiny from one of the most important sections of such corporate mechanism: the fans. The developments, inevitably, would touch upon contractual, commercial and corporate relationships and as such, they may determine the sporting future of the club.

Those supporting Manchester United cannot but feel extremely concerned with the developments on and off the pitch. It is obvious that such developments are affecting the sporting performance of the team and this is evident from the continuous failure of the team to win games. It is not always clear what goes on behind closed doors and Manchester United are always prudent to keep internal affairs behind such doors. The performance on the pitch, however, indicates several issues that create a big antithesis with what the sporting hierarchy are trying to suggest. It is beyond dispute that the team are under-performing and this sporting inability of the team to perform to the required standards, created an environment of discontent, disbelief and lack of confidence. Worse still, the team came into the game against Chelsea yesterday (28 December), with an unacceptable level of uncertainty as to the future of the manager. Questions as to whether the players play for the manager or whether the manager will resign are irrelevant and do not offer a clear understanding of the real issues.

What we all want and need to understand is what the actual plan is. Inevitably there will be a clash between the principles of profit maximisation and win maximisation, but as things stand, neither could be achieved without a clear methodology of an equally and clearly defined plan. Manchester United are going through a process of transition and patience is required, particularly from the fans. There is an unquestionable syndesis between the club and its unconditional success, which creates, at the same time, a remarkable expectation for quick results. Eighteen months ago, the board had to make a decision, as to whether it would serve the long traditions of patience, loyalty to the manager and opportunities for the youth, as opposed to quick and short-lived success. The former principles prevailed and the appointment of the current manager confirmed the board's willingness for the creation of a managerial framework, which would guarantee successful results in the long term. Other candidates were, therefore, rejected as it transpired that their philosophy did not suit the Old Trafford traditional principles. But here is the big question: if the plan requires patience and the creation of a philosophy based on the club's traditions, then why did the board appoint a manager with an expiry date?
The current manager has undoubtedly created stability and offered several opportunities to young players from home and abroad. This is a relatively young team, with talented players, who can carry the heavy requirements of success at Old Trafford. This, undoubtedly, must be credited to the current manager. On the other hand, there is evidence of lack of passion, confidence and trust. We do not need to hear public statements to the effect of loyalty, commitment and determination, for we can witness the actions of those on and off the pitch. Although there was an improvement yesterday against Chelsea, the performance on the pitch so far, considering at the same time, the expenditure and the experience of those responsible for the sporting aspect of the team, does not justify the results against the quality of the opponents. The current manager requires 'another month' for things 'will change' by then. But why should a heavily decorated manager, like the current one, need to produce statements to this effect? Why would the manager need to constantly remind us that he has the support of the board and why would a manager in control, storm out of press conferences or state to the press that he may or may not resign? These actions and statements (or lack of) destroy the desired stability and create uncertainty for the future.
Eventually, there is a heavy onus that rests with the board, which, at the moment, appears to be in a position of doubt. The game against Chelsea yesterday was a special game as Manchester United arrived at a bridge. Crossing this bridge with the same captain or a different one, is a matter which goes beyond sporting considerations and may determine the future of this successful club. Policy and corporate considerations may over-shadow sporting traditions. The glorious past of the club guides the majority of those responsible for the future. But the future is now uncertain, unless a united decision making could be effected immediately, so all issues pertinent to the matter could be dealt with appropriately.
Uncertainty as to the managerial position, or a divided board with a scepticism as to the appropriate personnel, will create uncertainty in the market too. High calibre players would only join a club when there is a clearly defined framework and plan for success. Their agents would advise their clients accordingly. Manchester United cannot be reduced to an entity which spends hundred of hours of negotiation trying to persuade football stars as to the reasons of them joining the club. The stature of the club does not allow a negotiating position of weakness, nor does it allow a position where the club could be manipulated by outsiders for the benefit of a bigger financial gain elsewhere. Prudent corporate governance requires strong decision making, which requires risk-taking and prudent expenditure. If the fans are to be treated as customers, it is with great regret that the customers are not satisfied with the service.
Gregory Ioannidis
29 December 2015


Popular posts from this blog

Preliminary (Provisional) & Conservatory Measures before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS): Procedure & Practice.

An Insight into the World of Football Transfers

Football Agents & Tapping Up: Business As Usual