….Manchester United face unique challenges replacing Alex Ferguson

….Manchester United face unique challenges replacing Alex Ferguson

After 27 years of managing their club, Manchester United have the unenviable task of replacing their legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson.  Any successful organization places a premium on succession planning and Manchester United is no different.  This will not have been a snap decision for Ferguson or the club and both will want the next manager to maintain the consistency of success and culture at Old Trafford.  But given Ferguson’s long and successful reign, here are 5 Ways Manchester United will face unique challenges in replacing the winningest manager in modern football history:

1. The Shadow – Although this is not an unprecedented transition from legend to newcomer, no previous football manager will cast a bigger shadow on his successor than Sir Alex Ferguson.  Not only has he collected more trophies for Manchester United than any manager has for their club, he is staying on with the club as a Director and Ambassador.  No longer a day-to-day micromanager, he will be ever-present much like past living legends of the club.

2. Man-management – Ferguson has commanded respect from his players, staff, senior executives, and opposition.  His reputation for getting the most out of his players and engendering loyalty has been one of his competitive advantages.  Will the existing players rally behind the new manager?  Will transfer targets be as attracted to the club?  Will youth players take a cautious approach to joining ManU?

3. Controlling the elements – Modern football management has changed a lot since Fergie took over the reins of United in 1986.  Clubs have grown in size and sophistication, especially the Premier League elite, requiring professional management in areas beyond football.  Sir Alex oversaw much of this evolution at United and had influence in almost all aspects of the organization.  How much say will the new manager have over club activities?  Will it be exclusively over the First Team, Football Development, or broader?

4. New CEO – The top two jobs are changing at Old Trafford this summer.  In addition to Sir Alex moving to the boardroom, current CEO David Gill is also departing (but also staying on the board).  Gill has been at the club for more than a decade, much of that as the CEO.  The club will be especially concerned about the risk of culture shock, adding pressure to the new manager to forge a strong relationship with the new CEO.  While ManU will hope for another period of stable management and continuing success, such transitions across all sports are the exception rather than the norm.  The most successful transition in English football history was between Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley at Liverpool, a seamless internal transition that saw Paisley maintain the club’s level of excellence.  New CEO Ed Woodward is an internal hire, so it is expected that the CEO transition should be smooth.  But all stakeholders, including fans, should not set their expectations as business as usual.

5. Publically listed company on the NYSE – Last year, Manchester United listed as a publicly-owned company on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).  While ownership control remains with the Glazer family and the shares sold come with no voting power, the club has additional responsibilities as a public-traded company.  While United’s top competitors – Chelsea and Manchester City – are family-owned with rich benefactors, ManU have to report and deliver value to their shareholders.  This can mean that the goals of the football side and business side do not always align, a line that will be difficult for a competitive manager to navigate.  A mature, business-savvy manager will be needed to cope with these additional factors.


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JB Hacking

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