Is Mourinho’s messy departure writing on the wall for brand Manchester United?

How long can a brand stay on top when it does everything wrong?

Maybe the forthcoming fortunes of Manchester United will tell us.

The once all-conquering English football club has just sacked its third manager – the once all-conquering Jose Mourinho – since long-serving and successful manager Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. Mourinho, who’s won the Champion’s League twice in his career (with Porto and Inter Milan) and won two Premierships with Chelsea was supposed to put the club back on the road to glory. Even though it was obvious he was becoming more fractious by the day and his reign at big clubs (he also managed Real Madrid) getting shorter. Terminating Mourinho (below) will cost anywhere between £10m and £24m and Man U also has to pick up a £500,000 plus bill at Manchester’s posh Lowry hotel.

Mourinho was the choice of Man U executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, the US Glazer family’s representative on earth. He’s made a series of disastrous decisions, not just the managers but also a string of players who seemed pretty good before they came to the club but flopped thereafter. Mourinho moaned that the club didn’t spend enough but around £300m was spent in his reign, nearly £90m on World Cup winner Paul Pogba (who Man U once let go as a teenager) but who didn’t even get on the pitch as United lost 3-1 to Liverpool in Mourinho’s last game.

But Woodward is supposedly a commercial whizz, landing a string of commercial deals ($370m by some estimates coming from these in 2016-17) which keeps the Glazers and other shareholders happy (Man U is listed on the New York Stock Exchange where it’s valued at $3bn.) Or does it?

Sooner or later, if football’s your business, you have win at it – if you want to stay a big, rich football club. And those companies pouring money into United’s coffers will start to question their investment (although most are on long-term deals.)

Even the biggest clubs go into decline. Silvio Berlusconi’s AC Milan did, losing top spot to Juventus and (in Mourinho’s time, Inter Milan.)

Woodward, on behalf of the Glazers, needs to spruce up his football judgement or hire someone to do it for him. He’s just hired former player Ole Gunnar Solskjær as interim manager to the end of the season even though Ole’s last stint as a Premiership manager saw him win just three games out of 18 and get the sack. Admittedly at Cardiff, a yo-yo team who go up and down a division regularly.

Football clubs are big global brands these days. That’s why competing Gulf states pour billions into the likes of Manchester City and Paris St. Germain. It’s a PR budget not a sporting investment.

A while back Saudi Arabia (which could do with some good PR), was linked with a bid for the club. That was rapidly knocked on the head for obvious reasons although who’s to say they won’t come back. It would make good sense for conscience-free shareholders wanting to cash out.

That aside, the Man U brand has big problems. You can’t carry on as a big football club (or brand) if you’re not very good at football – whatever your supposed brand management skills.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.
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