So, here’s the facts. I wrote this blog in December, just after Jose Mourinho was given the old heave-ho by Man United and as the baby faced assassin was coming in to take over. I then didn’t post it… as a Liverpool fan, any sense of schadenfreude generally has a habit of coming back and biting you up the backside. And anyway, in and of the main, we sing about our own club not the misfortune of others.
Anyway, I’ve played around with it, and watched with a wry smile as old (or should that be forever young) Ole has kick started a United team that lacked any sort of desire under the self-proclaimed special one…
It got me thinking about the parallels of football teams, high profile manager exits, and the tumultuous state of the High Street as the desires of a new consumer has overtaken the bricks and mortar solutions of a past that had always delivered…
Jose Mourinho. God-like genius or pretentious arse. Whatever your view, he lasted barely 18 months in the latest chapter of let’s resuscitate Man Utd, the club that’s been leaking bodily fluids every injury-time minute since Sir Alex hung up his stopwatch.
My love affair with football began in the early 1980’s. Liverpool were the team and United were to be honest second fiddle. Come the 1990’s, Liverpool’s glory years appeared very much on the wane and United were truly on top. The glory years of gathering trebles and trophies and talent culminated in a rapid international expansion that was the envy of English football. The Red Devils could do little wrong as the club morphed into a football-brand corporation with an international footprint … some years before it was cool to be a football-brand corporation with an international footprint.
Mourinho’s exit was the latest in the club’s ill-fated attempts to transition from Fergie. It’s an exponentially grander version of a problem the same club faced after Schmeichel up and left. And it’s analogous to the plight of those dying on the high street.
Many are quick to use the word transition about Manchester United. It’s just transition – instability and short-termism equals lacklustre performance on the park … and that means ailing business. That’s fine, we’ll pull through and rekindle our old form, right? We’re trapped in the vortex between generations, we just need the right manager with the right formula to come along and get us back on track.
Jose was supposed to step up. But the Portuguese man of words was out of his depth – this club was drowning but not because the transition was stuttering but because transition itself was not an appropriate remedy. It was time for transformation and nobody appeared to be prepared to own that, accept that, and stop sniffing the fumes of the past.
A new era landed on Manchester United five years ago, just as a new day dropped on the high street even before that. Manchester United thought they could shove in a new Scotsman, reshuffle the staff, and they’d be back in time for tea. The high street waited, dabbled, rested, waited … and panicked.
Asking when this annoying digital fad will cease is like asking when Fergie’s coming back. It won’t. He’s not.
What worked in the past has gone. To make money you have to spend it. To rule once more you need to dig up your infrastructure and lay it back down. People aren’t any more natural fans, you have to work harder to snare them in an age of choice and impatience. To grow, you first have you play like a side that knows who, what and where it is. If you’re in a period of transformation, set expectations and your compass appropriately. Sacrifice a few years to turn the ship around. Winning and transforming aren’t Yorke and Cole, they don’t coexist well.
United was creaking even before Sir Alex retired, his exit was merely a catalyst. The club was missing an anchor – a subtle and understated piece of brand that was a key spiritual connector between club and fan. In Ole Gunnar Solskjær – always a fan’s favourite, United appear to be on to something.
When he departed, Sir Alex took a piece of United’s soul home to rest on his mantlepiece. And just as digital owns the spirit of the street, we can reclaim if we’re prepared to change formation and think on a new plain.
The key to the future isn’t hidden in the past. We’re in a different world and we’re moving forward faster than ever. 4-4-2 is dead.
He’s not coming back. Solutions lie in accepting it won’t be like it was. What you once had was special – and it’s a shame those days are gone. But they have. And you need to evolve. It’s time to face up, fess up and transform.
Spiritually, structurally, financially – do different or die.
Good luck (but not too much) Solskjær. 8 out of 9 and 8 with a win…. the spirit of Fergie is clearly back, but with a clear modern twist.
Good luck retailers. Embrace digital, think it first, look for the wins, and not just playing not to lose, and then maybe just maybe the spirit of the high street can come back too.