Really not a football post

Manchester United vs Chelsea 1-1 (3-0 after pa...

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And I don’t mean a goal post. It is just that sometimes we can use sport to illustrate a point about business.

So to a cliched quote “If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got.” attributed to W L Bateman. This sentence is used everywhere to entreat business owners to change their practices whether it is their purchasing, their marketing or their office practices or whatever. Of course, if things aren’t being done well and the business is struggling, it is best to turn over a new leaf and get help.

Sometimes, though, using tried and tested methods and having continuity is what brings success, not just now and again but year after year.

No, this is not a football post

Which brings me to football, the variety known better in America as soccer. I will let you in on a secret. Manchester United is not my favourite club. Nevertheless I have to admire their achievements year on year, and their pragmatism in accepting that they cannot win everything every year. Just the same they have a pretty good average.

United have won the Premier League again in 2011. They reached the European Champions’ League final. It is a great achievement (he says grudgingly but admiringly). How have they done it and how do they do it? By sticking with the same manager year on year (yes, Sir Alex Ferguson for nearly a quarter of a century), a manager who is the best at what he does and is single-minded, and doesn’t care what people think of him. Success brings money, and whatever the financial antics of the owners, the football business is self-perpetuating in its success.

United have won the Premier League four out of the last five times. They won the Champions League in 2008 at Chelsea’s expense.

Really, it’s not about football

Oh yes, on the other hand, there is Chelsea. The club has loads of money at its disposal, or rather, the owner does. Chelsea have won the Premier League Title three times in the last six years which is also a great achievement. I have to declare an interest here. I have supported Chelsea since I was a lad, seen them relegated to the old Second Division twice, and then promoted back to the first. I followed them from one end of the country to the other.

Chelsea nearly went out of business in the eighties. They were saved by an astute character called Ken Bates, whose hobby is rescuing football clubs. He made Chelsea a top-rank successful club by most standards, had the vision to employ managers from overseas because they were the best for the job, and Chelsea won the FA Cup and played in Europe.

Mr Bates sold out to a very rich man whose apparent ambition is to own a football club that wins the Champions’ League. Chelsea have actually been a bit unlucky not to have reached the final on one occasion and not to win in the final on another, but that’s another story.

The owner is single-minded on winning the Champions’ League. He has sacked several managers because they didn’t quite make it after two or three years. He is so impatient. This season he sacked the manager’s well-respected assistant, Ray Wilkins, back in November. The club was top of the Premier League at the time.

The team stuttered for six or seven weeks and lost their place at the top. From January, though they had a great league record. I think if they hadn’t sacked Wilkins they would have won the league. The other top clubs including even United have not been at their best this last season.

I am not taking anything away from United. They got the points and Chelsea ultimately didn’t. Carlo Ancelotti, a great and successful football manager was then sacked at the end of the season because Chelsea hadn’t won the Champions League.

So, it’s not about football

This is a difficult post to write for me. Yet United demonstrate along with Sir Alex that if you have a tried and tested formula and you keep doing the right thing in business, whether football business or anything else, you WILL succeed. United didn’t win the Champions League in 2011, beaten by a better side. However, you wouldn’t say that because now Apple has a larger market capitalization than Microsoft that Bill Gates is a failure, would you?

If it is not working, change. If it really does work, don’t let anyone tell you that you are wrong. Sir Alex wouldn’t. What do you think?

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