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April 23, 2014



"Organizations matter more than individuals. The truth is that the Manyoo team isn't very good... they won the league last season because their rivals were in transition rather than because of their own brilliance"

I'm not sure about this. Who were those poor rivals? Man City, who had themselves won the league the previous season and who had spent enormous amounts on players, and Chelsea, crowned champions of Europe, who were so poor they could only follow it up with the Europa League trophy. They might not have been at their very best, but it's a stretch to say that they were easy opponents. It's true that the Rodgers revival at Liverpool hadn't got underway, but the rest have no excuse - they were good and United were better than them.

As for this season, it's not apparent that the standard for topping the table is any higher than usual. The openness of the title race points to the fact that there's much less separating the top teams than there has been in some recent seasons, but United still can't get close to them. Liverpool might well win the title despite finishing seventh last season.

I think there's another argument which can be made here, which is that the problem at Man U is about power imbalances, in particular the centralisation of power under Ferguson. He was able to run the club with himself at the centre, with the owners dependent on him to deliver success on the pitch. He exploited his position for personal gain (as he's reasonably entitled to, by the standards of football) and built an organisation around himself that was perfectly tuned to keep on cranking out winning performances. He didn't allow any of his assistants to linger long enough to build up a rival powerbase and he famously got rid of successful players who were seen as challenging his authority. From his position at the top, a fall guy could always be found for anything that went wrong (Moyes' mistake in removing Ferguson's coaches was that it left him with nobody to blame).

Unlike Liverpool, there was no real 'boot room' institution to provide continuity after the great man's departure, but it seems that he liked it that way. This is one way in which managers can matter as individuals - they can centralise power to such an extent that nothing works without them, and then hold the organisation to ransom. So long as they deliver the results, the lack of oversight and the elimination of any nascent rival powerbases ensures that the manager can remain in power indefinitely. Ferguson was knighted, feted by politicians and even academics and made personally wealthy by dint of holding on to his position for as long as he did. It is perhaps possible to consider a parallel with some of our captains of industry in other sectors, with banking springing to mind.

None of this takes away from his footballing achievements. It's interesting to consider, though, whether his dominant approach was necessary or not. Is authoritarianism and hierarchy a better way of getting things done, in football at least? Ferguson and Mourinho are both people who appear to use bullying and power dynamics to their advantage, and they are two of the most successful managers in English football. That said, one of the joys of this season lies in the fact that the two breakthrough managers - Rodgers and Martinez - seem to be thoroughly nice blokes, more interested in encouraging their players than shouting or throwing things at them.

Luis Enrique

there's also the difficulty of interpreting events involving randomness from one observation. I mean for all we know Moyes could have had the highest probability of success of all available candidates, in some meaningful sense. Those, for example, claiming that Ferguson made a mistake, ignore this possibility because, I think, they are thinking deterministically.

Dave Timoney

You don't have to be a cynic to suspect that events have panned out pretty much as Ferguson hoped, thereby disproving (in his mind at least) your point #3. He probably didn't want Moyes to fail utterly, but to at least fail relatively, and thus reflect greater glory on his own tenure.

As Rob noted, Fergie was determined to always be the "big man" at the club, and to thereby eclipse Busby. The hero-worshipping Moyes was hand-picked for his assumed ability to get Manure into the top 4, but no further. The reports that Fergie will be involved in the choice of successor suggest that neither he nor the Glazers have learnt anything.

As for the right match, surely it's time Big Ron came back in from the cold. I'd love to see him give Mourinho a kick in the technical area.


First up, I have to dispute the idea that Moyes was widely seen as a good successor. It's less that "nobody knows anything" and more that "the usual football writers know very little." Plenty of people who approach football from different angles to the press were sceptical of Moyes appointment.

However, that said, it seems clear that there were structural problems in the Utd squad.

I'm not fond of a lot of "The Numbers Game" book by Anderson and Sally, I think their analysis is unrefined in a lot of places.
BUT, their statistics around the impact of an effective striker are pretty good and I think provide an insight into the Moyes conundrum.

Basically, SAF bought a championship by buying RvP. His goals were a huge difference - and Anderson and Sally make a good case that said goals weren't easily replaced. And indeed, this year, they haven't been easily replaced.

Throw in the retirement of Scholes, Vidic and Ferdinand a year older and slower and you have a really bad starting point for Moyes.

Still, Rob has a point about centralisation - without someone who could help make transfers happen, it was hard for Moyes to rebuild… and here we are...

Socialism In One Bedroom

"and Chelsea, crowned champions of Europe, who were so poor they could only follow it up with the Europa League trophy."

I wouldn't compare cup competitions to the league personally.

How Man Utd won the league so convincingly last season may be one of those unresolved mysteries. But I have been saying for the last 2 or 3 seasons that Ferguson hadn't strengthened the squad with enough quality players. I believe those chickens are coming home to roost. Though I think Moyes was always the wrong man for the job personally.

Igor Belanov

Man Utd are in a period of transition, and one that Ferguson's last triumph, the 2012/13 championship, did much to obscure, to Moyes' cost. The problem is that for clubs like Man Utd, with an image as 'winners' and heavily indebted, there is currently no room for transition, as they are dependent not only on stacks of cash but also on 'confidence', that blips in form do much to erode.
Unfortunately, the cult of the manager merely creates the idea that someone can come in and wave a magic wand, something that is unlikely. 5 years after Matt Busby's departure Man Utd were relegated. History is unlikely to repeat itself as dramatically as that, but I reckon Man Utd's future could well resemble the post-1990 fortunes of Liverpool.


It's fair to say that United's failure to win the league has a lot to do with other team's improving, but it doesn't explain just how far they've fallen. Spurs have heavily regressed and are still set to finish above them.

It's implausible that the career trajectories of several key players coincidentally "fell off a cliff" at the precise second Moyes took over. It clearly had a lot to do with the change of regime.

I don't think this conclusion requires a managerialist outlook, because Moyes replaced the entire non-playing staff too. The structure of the club should never have allowed one man the unrestricted power to immediately destroy the institutions and middle management that were crucial to its success. But then, as you say, that's Ferguson's legacy.


Did you have to specify the "(female)"? I'm pretty sure that plenty of male tweeters are completely over the wall to wall coverage of a bloke who ran a team losing his job, which is basically what it seems football managers are there to do - take the fall for a bunch of bad results, whether they can change them or not.

Chris Wilson

This all very interesting. Can we now have some footballers discussing economics? Just for the contrast.

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