Political lessons from Man U’s football fiasco

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by Michael Y.P. Ang

It is difficult to argue against the sacking of Manchester United inept manager David Moyes, who has almost single-handedly turned what was recently a global power in club football into an outfit no Red Devils supporter can be proud of.

Under  Moyes, Manchester United regressed into a mangled, unaesthetic team which only Liverpool or Manchester City fans, most of whom hate the Red Devils with a passion, are pleased to see.

I said “almost single-handedly” because other individuals should share the blame. The Moyes fiasco raises many questions about how England’s most successful football organisation is being run. Why is a club that has achieved so much success over the past two decades doing so abysmally when it comes to succession planning?

The Old Trafford management – club owners, board of directors, and coaching staff – appears to have gotten so drunk with all the trophies predecessor Alex Ferguson had helped to win for 20 years that they couldn’t care less about putting all those proverbial eggs in one basket. Perhaps Manchester United’s major stakeholders were too reliant on just one man – Ferguson.

Consequently, they let the ball drop on one crucial matter – succession planning. Ferguson was unable to find an internal successor – not his assistant manager, first team coach, nor any of his veteran players. Ferguson was then forced to look externally for a replacement.

Does this sound like a Singaporean corporation that almost always looks abroad for its chief executive or senior-level managers, while denying its Singaporean employees enough leeway to learn from their foreign colleagues to be able to eventually take over them when they leave?

Political lessons

Could it be that Ferguson’s management style was so domineering that it denied his subordinates and veteran players the freedom to develop into capable managers?

Similarly, any political system that denies non-ruling parties enough space to mature and develop is undesirable. There are some people who talk a lot of about embracing inclusiveness and diversity. But when it comes to non-ruling political parties, it seems like the two virtues they extol are deliberately ignored.

If a country is continually too dependent on a single political party for leadership and governance, it runs the risk of becoming entangled in an unhealthy mindset or way of doing things. This is likely to cause an inflexibility to adapt to changes when needed. Consequently, there could be trouble, which is exactly what the Red Devils are facing now.

Whether it is a country or a football club, neither can afford to be complacent just because of many previous years of growth or success.

Don’t forget that Ferguson himself should also bear some responsibility for his beloved team’s disastrous season. After all, it was he who chose Moyes. Although Moyes did a rather decent job managing his former club Everton, Ferguson should have asked himself: How many trophies did Moyes help Everton win? The answer is zero.

How could someone who has never won a trophy as a manager be suitable to manage a team of megastars who are expected to win championships season after season?

Besides Ferguson, Manchester United’s owners and board of directors should not be let off the hook either. Why did they approve Ferguson’s recommendation of Moyes? Were they just blindly following Ferguson because he had delivered so much for the club?

Just because a person or political party had a good or decent track record, it does not necessarily mean they will always make wise decisions. Some people just like to think they have all the answers, all or most of the time. But Singaporeans would do well to remind themselves that nearly infallible human beings only belong in fairy tales.

Blindly following a football manager, even a highly successful one, can still lead to football disasters. Fortunately though, football fiascos are never end-of-the-world stuff.

However, blindly following or always depending on the same politician or political party simply because of their past successes, while ignoring current problems, could lead to devastating consequences for a nation, especially when that political party is no longer what it used to be.

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