I was a kid when I heard the news that Ron Atkinson had been sacked from Manchester United. “Big Ron’s gone? No way!” But it was true, and really not surprising with United struggling one-off the bottom. What’s more some Scottish guy replaced him. Bit of a joke that one, as if someone from above the border could manage the pressure of proper football in Division One. I mean, maybe let him have a go at Wigan or Peterborough, but one of the biggest clubs in the country?
The landscape was shifting. Liverpool were on the decline with their golden age of dominance coming to an end, Arsenal were doing well, Everton were around the top and so were Spurs. United, they had been a bit “meh” for a few years, and it would be 3 more years before they would win the FA Cup, and then the Cup Winner’s Cup, and then the floodgates opened.
The rest is history and Sir Alex is arguably the most successful manager in history, and probably will be for quite some time. He built an empire, and beyond that he laid the foundations for that empire to be expanded. All they needed was someone who could keep the players focused and confident about winning games, as well as someone who could develop young players and maybe find the next Beckham or Rooney. Wait – What about if they bring in the guy who found the first Wayne Rooney? Brilliant…
Except it wasn’t brilliant at all. Sir Alex had built his empire on a cycle of win and develop. I’m sure it was a lot more complicated than that, but success breeds success. Integrate young talent into a system of winning, instill the desire to compete at the highest levels, create an environment where the only expected outcome is a win, and create a closed them vs us environment where players will run through walls for each other, even if they don’t like one another. It wasn’t brilliant because they brought in a manager who hadn’t won anything at all since the old Second Division some 13 years earlier. To be honest, they’d have been better off bringing in Graham Westley, at least he knew how to win. Or Pep Guardiola. He knows about empire building, he’s a product of the most influential empire since Constantine, well, at least in the soccer world.
Here are the three takeaways for today:
1 – Empires rise and fall. Even the strongest empire with the best foundations can crumble.
2 – Past success does not guarantee future success. Past behaviours however, they are typically predictive of future behaviors. Past failure? Probably a good indicator of the future as well.
3 – Sometimes winning isn’t enough. Moyes has a higher win ratio at United than Sir Matt Busby. He also had the highest loss ration since 1977. Not a great stat for someone who is reported to have focused on not losing.
This week we’ll look at the traits of the successful empire builders, and the traits of the less successful. It may sound obvious, but the biggest key to success – whether you are coaching a High School team or one of the biggest clubs in the world, know your people.