8-2 is probably the most famous football score line I have come across in the recent past. But to those who have started watching football and become Manchester United in the last 2 weeks, there is more to the man who was responsible for the entertainment provided that evening. 12 Premier league titles, 5 FA cups, 4 Carling cups, 10 Community shields, 2 Champions league titles, 1 UEFA cup winner’s cup, 1 UEFA super cup, 1 Intercontinental cup, 1 FIFA club world cup and 25 years (and still counting) managing the biggest football club in the world are facts that still do not do justice to this man. He is a management institution – a leadership role model.
His man management is probably the quality that stands out the most. He has been able to connect with different generations and earn the respect of his players. Footballers, known to attract tabloid and controversies, are probably the toughest employees to manage. With the amount of money involved in the game, players look to switch clubs in a manner similar to the way employees flip jobs at corporates. His negotiation skills and flexibility in such matters have been fantastic. Knowing when to keep a lid on one’s ego is one thing I have personally learnt from him. He has been able to use the media and his position to his advantage to keep players at the club. Taking the whole Wayne Rooney incident last year for example; he was able to convince a player, ready to leave the club due to its inability to compete in the transfer window, to stay back. Rooney is probably the happiest player at the club today.
His succession planning is another thing that impresses me. Knowing when a player is fading away and who can best replace him is very important. He does not shy away from investing in young players. He has built more than 5 teams in the past from scratch. He focuses on buying players who suit the club’s style of play. A great recruiter and an even better administrator of trainers and coaches. I have also noticed that he always keeps a few experience players in the squad. These are guys who have seen it all and understand the culture and values of the club. It’s all good to hire MBAs, but without some experienced staff, I feel an MBA will still be rendered useless.
The man has withstood a variety of competition in his career. From the might of Liverpool and Arsenal to the riches of Chelsea and Manchester City, he withstood it all. I think resilience and the ability to face challenging times are two traits that have emerged to be of high importance in the last five years. He has proven that by hanging in there and getting the basics right consistently, one can survive any sort of turmoil. Yes, he manages one of the biggest clubs in Europe with a great brand value. But the club has faced huge debt problems after the LBO (done by Malcom Glazer in 2005). He had been forced to sell some of his top players to create cash in order to pay down the debt. But his will to succeed has always carried him through.
“You have got to find a way to affect people’s lives through motivation. But you have to have players who can be motivated. Some people can just melt.” Alex Ferguson.