It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffet.

In Manchester United’s case it took them 26 years to build their reputation and they have spent the last couple of days tarnishing it.

From a PR perspective, it has been fascinating to watch the dismissal of David Moyes unfold, particularly as a fan of the club.

When Moyes was originally appointed last July, there was a lot of effort put in by the club to highlight that he was a long term appointment. Alex Ferguson’s retirement speech was used as a platform to urge fans to get behind the new boss; Moyes was deliberately given a six year deal to show the faith the club was putting in him; the Chosen One banner; and club representatives like Bobby Charlton were rolled out to deliver messages about the long term future – “We have secured a man who is committed to the long-term and will build teams for the future as well as now. Stability breeds success.”

Lots of public displays of commitment, but as the saying goes you’re only singing when you’re winning and United’s results on the pitch called for a change of tune.

While the majority of supporters probably accept that it was the right decision to make a change at the top, the manner that Manchester United dismissed Moyes left a lot to be desired.

The writing was on the wall the day after a woeful performance against Everton, when at 2.15pm on Monday a number of journalists simultaneously tweeted that Moyes was to be sacked. This was quickly followed up by news stories on their respective websites within five minutes. Something like this is not mere coincidence, it is the result of background briefings with media under the specific agreement that the news is embargoed until a certain time.

Once the clock struck 2.15pm, Twitter was alight as the news made its way around the world in seconds due to the reach of the journalists and outlets selected for the briefings.

What followed next was even more cloak and dagger as media outlets then approached Manchester United for comment. In their responses they deliberately chose their words carefully, stating that Moyes had not ‘been’ sacked, but as Stan Collymore quickly pointed out they didn’t use the word ‘being’ as it was clearly only a matter of time.

Moyes by all accounts was clearly unaware up until this point and had apparently been working on deals for a number of targets with his supposed transfer warchest – another PR stunt rolled out weeks earlier by United to show their faith in their man. The message clearly struck home as he turned up at the club grounds the next day at 4.30am to avoid the cameras, ahead of his inevitable dismissal at 8am.

Over the twenty six years of Ferguson’s reign at United, the world of football had clearly changed. Whatever romanticism it once involved was dead and buried. Money is now the name of the game. That made Manchester United that bit more special, as fans largely ignored the Glazers’ takeover and Ferguson continued to deliver on the pitch by primarily putting his faith in young players. In contrast, a lot of United’s domestic rivals seemed to dismiss managers on a whim and money was no object. United were something to be admired, yet twelve months later they seem no different from their peers.

While there has been a lot of commentary over the last couple of days about Moyes’ communications gaffes, whether it was with media or his players (this article by Simon Kuper in the FT probably sums them up best for me), his statement after his dismissal was full of class.

In contrast to the obvious briefing by insiders, the lack of support by his club in the face of all the rumours, and the schoolyard gossip coming out from the dressing room, Moyes’ statement reflected his integrity. I’ve included his comments from the LMA statement at the bottom of this post.

Standing back, I’m left to wonder what the club hierarchy’s objective was in terms of how Moyes’ sacking was handled. From a reputational perspective, I’m mystified as to how anyone could think it would reflect well on the club. Yes his appointment now appears to have been a mistake, but the only benefit for insiders going behind the manager’s back to the press could only seem to be to deflect attention from the Glazers. All the people who were paraded out in support of Moyes around his appointment were now nowhere to be seen.

Oliver Holt has written the best column summarising how the club has now permanently lost part of their identity. If you’re reading this post, Holt’s piece is a must read.

Quoting Gary Neville, Holt writes:

We look at football management and think of it as being a world of madness, an absolute world of madness, where the average manager gets sacked every 12 months. I’ve always felt that Manchester United should be different and hold itself up as a club that basically stands against what is happening in the game,”

Before adding his comment:

We know now that the idea of dynasty at United started and finished with Ferguson.”

Now the club is left trying to spin about how they will bring in a world class manager, but with limited options it doesn’t look like they will be able to bring in the type of star studded name to match the brand. Sure enough the gains made on the stock market have quickly dissipated as shares closed 5.3% down today after a 6% rise yesterday. It looks like the investment community doesn’t believe the hype.

The world of football never fails to surprise and this week is no different. Naively I obviously thought United were different, but reality has coming crashing home today. In the words of Alex Ferguson, “Football…Bloody hell!

David Moyes statement:

“To have been appointed as manager of Manchester United, one of the biggest football clubs in the world, was and remains something of which I will always be incredibly proud.

Taking charge after such a long period of continuous stability and success at the club was inevitably going to be a significant challenge, but it was one which I relished and never had a second thought about taking on.

The scale of the manager’s job at United is immense, but I have never stepped away from hard work and the same applies to my coaching staff. I thank them for their dedication and loyalty throughout the last season.

We were fully focused and committed to the process of the fundamental rebuilding that is required for the senior squad. This had to be achieved whilst delivering positive results in the Barclays Premier League and the Champions League. However, during this period of transition, performances and results have not been what Manchester United and its fans are used to or expect, and I both understand and share their frustration.

In my short time at the club I have learnt what special places Old Trafford and Carrington are. I would like to thank the United staff for making me feel so welcome and part of the United family from my first day. And of course thank you to those fans who have supported me throughout the season. I wish you and the club all the best for the future.

I have always believed that a manager never stops learning during his career and I know I will take invaluable experience from my time as United’s manager. I remain proud to have led the team to the quarter finals of this year’s Champions League and I remain grateful to Sir Alex Ferguson for believing in my ability and giving me the chance to manage Manchester United.”

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Piaras Kelly
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