One of the country’s unhappiest men on Tuesday morning was a good friend of mine and season ticket-holder at Anfield who, over the course of the last six months, had acquired a soft spot for the former Manchester United manager, David Moyes.
“I hope he stays the full six years (of his contract),” he told me on Sunday after an abject United were humiliated at Goodison Park. “He’s doing a great job. Long may ‘Agent Moyes’ remain in post,” he laughed.
Whether Moyes is wholly responsible for the partial destruction of Manchester United’s brand value is debateable, for he inherited far too many average footballers to launch a serious challenge for the league title, but taking over at Old Trafford was always going to be the toughest of tasks.
Perhaps he failed to recognise this, finding it impossible to refuse the post after being anointed by Sir Alex Ferguson, almost literally, and then labelled the ‘Chosen One’.
Unsubstantiated rumours flying around last summer suggested that several of Europe’s most successful and highest-profile coaches rejected overtures from United’s top brass to take the managerial helm.
Succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson was not a job any of them fancied; it was, one well-known manager told me, like trying to “trump Mother Teresa in the Godliness and goodliness stakes.”
Nevertheless, it’s hardly surprising that bookies make current Dutch manager, 62-year-old Louis Van Gaal, their 6/4 favourite to take the reins on a permanent basis, probably after the World Cup.
After all, he’s won league titles in Holland (with Ajax and AZ Alkmaar), as well as in Spain and Germany, with both Barcelona and Bayern Munich respectively.
Such experience does not come cheap, although the prospect of a European big hitter moving smoothly into the top job at Old Trafford certainly calmed stock market nerves.
Manchester United’s shares, listed on America’s Nasdaq market, rose 6.7% in early trading on Tuesday following Moyes’ dismissal as investors appeared to believe that the club’s owners couldn’t possibly get perhaps their most important appointment so wrong a second time.
Moyes’ sacking was inevitable (his departure boosted Manchester United’s market value by $150 million), although not just as a result of his failure to guide United into the Champions League, but because the team’s performances were in danger of undermining the company’s share price.
According to submissions made to America’s Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) when the Glazer family listed a tranche of Manchester United shares on Wall Street, the single most important factor which influences the value and trading of United’s Class A shares is team performance.
This factor outweighs the effects of economic conditions or the performance of equity markets – even the departures of key personnel.
Unless United’s first team perform well, their business model begins to unravel.
“Through our 135-year heritage,” United’s SEC documents declare, “we have won 62 trophies… enabling us to develop what we believe is one of the world’s leading sports brands and a global community of 659 million followers.
“Our large, passionate community provides Manchester United with a worldwide platform to generate significant revenue from multiple sources, including sponsorship, merchandising, product licensing, new media & mobile, broadcasting and matchday.”
The club’s supporters “engage with us in a variety of ways,” continues the SEC paperwork. Quantifying this in tangible terms, it reveals that in the last full accounting year, the club sold more than five million items of licensed products to its “global community of followers”.
Moyes’ sacking has succeeded in bringing the scale of Manchester United’s commercial operations under the spotlight.
On Monday night, the club’s board finally decided it could not afford to jeopardise these operations, the size of which are quite staggering.
For example, more than two million replica Manchester United shirts were shifted last year, while its branded products are sold via 200 licensees in more than 120 countries.
The value of such sales is comparatively easy to quantify, but what of the club’s colossal customer relationship management (CRM) database, a proprietary data repository that includes contact and transactional details of customers around the globe?
This, maintains the club, “enables us to analyse and better understand prospects and customers to drive revenues. The CRM database now holds in excess of 33 million records, an increase of over 15 million year-on-year.”
It’ll come as no surprise to learn that Manchester United’s website, published in seven languages, boasts in excess of 63 million page views every month.
Anything capable of impairing a commercial organisation of such magnitude, or jeopardising an operation which grew commercial revenues by 65 percent between June 2011 and June 2013 simply could not be permitted to continue.
Of course, no empire, sporting or otherwise, enjoys a God-given right to maintain its hard-won hegemony (as United themselves know from their days in the Second Division in 1975), but it became apparent that while the club’s commercial operations could withstand an element of volatility, senior Old Trafford figures doubted whether David Moyes was capable of spending up to £200 million of transfer funds wisely. His limited record suggested not.
This is the figure which some observers believe will be necessary for United’s hierarchy to spend on up to eight new players during a summer likely to witness a massive clearout of playing staff.
Undertaking such a large number of valuable transactions is an enormous gamble as few incoming players, particularly foreign stars, rarely hit the ground running.
It would appear, however, that United’s board has greater faith in someone like Van Gaal selecting the incoming talent rather than a man who paid almost £30 million for Marouane Fellaini.
In the meantime, appointing an interim manager at Old Trafford makes good commercial sense. It enables negotiations with various managerial candidates to be conducted before the season ends and, once appointed, the new man can get cracking on launching what promises to be a series of high value transfer bids.
It also suggests that United’s board are far from bothered about whether the team qualifies for next season’s Europa League.
Three of the club’s remaining four matches are at home, but few would bat an eyelid if United failed to finish high enough up the league table to guarantee Thursday night jaunts to Estonia and beyond.
In fact, the writing was on the wall for United’s probable participation in UEFA’s secondary competition earlier this month when the club announced plans for their summer tour to the USA – scheduled to be played at the same time as 2014-15 Europa League qualifiers are being contested.
David Moyes is a decent man, but his replacement would be well advised to consider how he will cope with any adverse commercial repercussions arising from a sustained poor run of form.
And one thing the new boss can guarantee: it will happen.