A Footie Fan Rant.
I love football. I grew up as the only girl in an all-boys (3) household, got on the sports-loving track, with football being our favourite sport, and spent most of my long holidays perfecting my football skills when I was not in after-school lessons.
I could have gone on to win the Ballon D’or if I had pursued that career, but I did have a higher calling for transforming organisations. 😊
I started hearing about the FA Cup, Premier League and Champions League. It was all so confusing! I later learnt how a prolific footballer like Kanu Nwankwo represents the Nigerian national team and a private football club far away in Europe. I started to understand the rules of the game. E.g. Champions League performance does not directly affect position on the Premier League table.
Then I fell in love with Manchester United. My passion for the club started in 2006 when I decided to watch the Champions League final match between Barcelona and Arsenal Football clubs and made the unfortunate mistake of supporting Arsenal. Oh, the heartbreak!
The disappointment I felt from the loss made me search for other top football clubs, and the pedigree of Manchester United struck me. It was delightful to watch a coach like Sir Alex Ferguson on the sidelines and the passion and dedication of players like Michael Carrick, Edwin Van der Sar, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney and of course, Christiano Ronaldo. How would you not fall in love with such a team? Had I known! I began a lifelong journey into the love of a football club that was recognised as the most valuable football club in 2017 and 2018. I will come back to this shortly.
At some point, I discovered the PlayStation Vita and tried several games on the console, but I got hooked on FIFA. FIFA had different modes such as the Kick-off, Tournaments, UEFA Champions League and Career mode. I was a beast in career mode! I always focused on selecting my team and setting it up to win the main tournaments of the season – the Premier League and the Champions League.
At the beginning of a season, I would spend some time creating the coach profile, selecting my players, making the right deals to buy the right players, and selling those I know would not help me achieve my goals. Sometimes it was frustrating making a bid to buy a player and getting rejected, but then I had defined my objectives for the season and would continue to search for players that I felt would help me achieve this. Was this the beginning of my strategic thinking side? Who knows.
Back to Manchester United. In the winning years, the club had a clear goal; We are Manchester United. We win trophies. It is never over till it is over, a.k.a. Fergie time (due to the endless possibilities of the team during that period).
Ferguson is celebrated as the most successful manager in British football history, winning thirteen (13) Premier League titles with Manchester United. When he retired, the world of football and the club knew they would be missing something.
Over the last few years, I have been dismayed by how my beloved club has lost its glory. Watching the team play these days is such a chore. You never know what to expect, and I would rather be heartbroken by the highlights than endure live-action heartbreak.
As a Human Resource Professional, I have tried to use my business experience to figure out what has gone wrong with the club.
The lack of clarity in its business objectives stands out for me. The direction the club is going is unclear to most of the fans, players and the myriad of coaches (8) the team has tried to hire over the last eight years. The good book says – write the vision and make it plain so everyone who sees it may run with it. (paraphrased)
This lack of clear objectives has also led to a failure in talent strategy. When you compare the profiles of most players the team has had in the last eight years to the 2006 team, you would understand why their performance has been a shadow of what it used to be. No wonder a club as big as Man U would sign a superstar player, offer him one of the most expensive contracts ever and then he would leave the club and complain that the club gave him nothing in his six years at the club. Side eye to you know who.
For Manchester United to start the journey to return to its former heights, it must redefine its objectives clearly for all stakeholders and then align its talent strategy with its business goals. The talent pool of a football club is not limited to only players but includes the coach, top executives and backroom staff.
The graduate management trainee program in blue-chip multinational firms is one great initiative I have seen such organisations use to define and drive their long-term talent strategy. For Manchester United, its Academy is a close parallel to a management trainee program.
If we go back to our extended definition of the talent pool, it becomes clear that a robust approach is needed for the sustainability of the Academy. Ungroomed leaders tend to choke fresh talents. HR leaders must lead the focused and intentional development of their executive and senior leadership teams. This will help drive the required endorsement and prioritisation of the academy system and create opportunities for these developing talents. There is no point in developing the future talent of an organisation when the existing leaders remain stagnant and ineffective.
Do I think the club can regain its lost glory? Absolutely. Is it going to happen soon? I doubt it. Though, a good starting point is to listen to the gentle rant of this ardent but unrepentant footie fan!
Written By: Gbemi Atimomo (HR Leader & Executive Coach)