The Fall and Rise of Manchester United

CaptureManchester United is a successful football team who won the league in 2013 and quite a few times before that. And lots of shiny trophies as well.

Over the summer…

…they changed their manager of 27 years (Sir Alex Ferguson – SAF) and their CEO. They then managed to not sign any new players over the summer despite trying very hard. Bad. In the current season as of today they are nearer the middle than the top of the table and have been knocked out of two of three cup competitions at an early stage. Bad.   

This has caused much gnashing of teeth amongst their supporters who feel an entitlement to win everything.

Manchester United’s misfortunes this season have caused the production of schadenfreude to reach new highs amongst the non-fans.  

Parents and Children and Adults

I have written about transactional analysis before – where you can adopt the “scripts” of a parent or a child or an adult in your relations with others. The role you adopt can be determined by the other person if you’re not aware of what’s going on.

Someone taking the parent role tends to bring out the child in others.

The child role tends to conjure up the parent in others.

The adult role tends to bring out the adult in others.

Upon his retirement, SAF published his memoirs.

It is clear to me that he takes the parent role in a parent-child relationship with his players. This is not to insult the players at all. It is natural to react in this way.

He rails against players who think they are bigger than the club. When he describes the perceived misdeeds of these players, I think he’s got it wrong. I don’t think they think they are bigger than the club. I think they think that they are no longer children. And they resent being offered the child role.   

SAF’s behaviour is not uncommon. There are a lot of bosses who act as parent. And his first contact with a lot of the players is when they are actual children and he deals with them and their parents, and if they make the cut he and the club often became the new recruit’s surrogate parents.

There’s a telling passage…

…where Rooney (star striker) wants to know about transfer targets, i.e. who the club is thinking of bringing into the team. He’s concerned the club is not ambitious enough (code for not willing to spend serious cash). SAF thinks this is none of Rooney’s bloody business. Very parent.

And then I read in yesterday’s paper than Rooney has been told by the new manager what the buying plans are for the near future. And the noise is that he will sign a new contract and stay with the club into his thirties.

This is a clear move from SAF’s parent to the new manager’s adult relationship.

When someone sees themselves as an adult…

…you really need to treat them that way because if you stick with parent, you end up with an angry Rooney who is going to go off in a huff with his talent.  

I saw this with both my kids as they got to final year in primary school. They see themselves as more adult than the teachers see them. That imbalance will never be a happy one.

All change.

The transition from parent/manager to adult/manager has been abrupt. Literally overnight. One manager leaves and another comes in. And SAF’s final words to the players were “don’t call me boss any more”…in case they weren’t clear the parent had gone.

The transition to adulthood in the team is happening in front of our eyes. It will take time and it will be hard and some of the children won’t make it. But it will be for the best.

It’s fascinating to watch. Better than the football.

Fans are not known for their perspective.

They wouldn’t be fans if they were. I suspect that predictions of Manchester United’s long term decline are premature. It was never going to be smooth. It was always going to be this way.

Adult-adult is always better, if both parties can raise their game to the adult level. This implies that the previous parent-child state was sub-optimal, despite the phenomenal success over the last 30 years.

A lot of the competition are talking themselves into complacency. They may regret that.

So why should you care?

Well it’s worth considering if we are always operating as adults whenever we can because if so we will allow the other person to be an adult which is where their potential really lies.

The other thing to be aware of is to make sure that we do not accept the child role when a parent hands us that script, despite the fact that the parent might think that we have got too big for our football boots. 

6 Responses to The Fall and Rise of Manchester United

  1. John Hodkinson January 28, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

    If rumours are to be believed then the parent SAF is still refusing to give up his role and interferes with the actions of the new adult in his children’s life.

    • Mark Nugent January 28, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

      All too believable I’m afraid. Still, an unswerving adult approach from the new boss should fix the grandparent. Mark

  2. David January 29, 2014 at 10:03 am #

    In fairness to old red nose, I think his experience starting there in 1986 (and previously) WAS of dealing with children – hence the adult – child relationship. I’m thinking of the Norman Whiteside / Bryan Robson / Paul McGrath’s (still drinking apparently) of this world.

    Over time I think that’s changed somewhat though, especially with the influx of foreign players (who have often had a different approach / have been shocked by the lifestyle / antics / behaviour of the UK players – though of course there are some foreign individuals who have taken child like behaviour in sport to new heights).

    That’s probably been noticed / rubbed off on home grown players, and as long as they’re not wasters / reprobates, I guess they reasonably expect to be treated like adults as above.

    What lessons does this have for us in the real world? (sorry …). The reality is that sometimes you ARE dealing with children, and sometimes its very difficult or impossible to deal with them and have an adult – adult relationship, no matter how hard you try. I’m not a manager now, but I recall one ‘customer facing’ environment I worked with, where I needed the team (of six!) to co-ordinate their breaks / lunches so someone (including me) would always be at the ‘front desk’ should a customer require attention. I tried to treat them like adults, and asked them to come up with a system, rota, whatever to ensure this. This totalitarian outrage saw the toys getting flung out of the pram, and ultimately there were dictated to from a higher level, with dire warnings of the consequences for non-compliance.#

    Similary, someone i know working in a clinical setting has seen three people fling the toys out of the pram, up to and including angry walk outs from work (!!) because they didn’t get a job that had come up (an external candidate was successful … no mean feat given that someone was already doing that role for quite some time on an ‘interim’ basis). Unbelievably, none of these people have been brought to book for their appalling behaviour.

    It may not surprise you to learn that all of this bad behaviour occurred in our beloved public sector.

    What am I trying to say? Err …

    I guess moving from the adult -child to an adult – adult relationship can only happen where the ‘child’ has the (as above) talent and importantly attitude to move up to adult position.

    (And some people’s misplaced sense of entitlement is monumental)

    • Mark Nugent January 29, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

      Thanks David. I do remember myself asking someone who reported to me to define his own goals for the year – I got a very aggressive and scandalised push back. “That’s your job.”
      As you say, people do need to be ready to move to the adult stage. Getting them there can be facilitated by a coaching boss, but it is often easier (and better) to get rid of them and replace with an adult. Although I am a coach the fact is that it is better to coach a Mata than a McGrath.

  3. Robert Sloss January 29, 2014 at 10:36 am #

    Football is an exception, after all SAF was somewhat successful with his approach over a long period. I think it is because his staff really do start as children and only as they become adults have they “caused trouble” and been shipped out. SAF can point to his success and the lack of success of the people he moved on in Football. David Beckham, the best example, was never as good a footballer after he left. He, of course, has become a more rounded person, developed other skills and has become much richer but that isn’t about Man Utd.

    Will David Moyes’s more adult approach work as well? Sadly in this environment I doubt it. Look at the other successful Football Managers, Wenger, Mourinho, Clough and you find SAF type behaviour. After all they all insist in being called the Gaffer!

    • Mark Nugent January 29, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

      I wonder how the German’s do it…?

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