Forget their ranking in UEFA’s coefficient system, Manchester United are the biggest brand in world sport! In the football world, they lead that particular race by a country mile or two, and for good reason as well. The club boast the biggest shirt sponsorship deal in any sport that itself guarantees money worth a world class addition to the side every summer without so much as a tremor on the balance sheet.
Indeed, Manchester United are so well backed up financially that their official website has categories of ”partners”. There’s the financial partners that include the Commercial Bank of Qatar, the Media Partners that include Globacom based in West African states such as Nigeria and Ghana, the Regional Partners that include Donaco; an ”official casino resort partner” in places like Vietnam and Cambodia, and of course the big daddies; the Global partners that incredibly include 20th Century Fox as an ”official feature film partner”!.
In all the club can boast up to 70 sponsors in all manner of the fields from which you can rake in a dollar. Not that Ed Woodward and Richard Arnold together with the suits in the club’s London office are close to calling it a day in this regard. Far from it! There are active efforts daily at the club to further hoard the club to anyone that cares to be associated with what is one of the world’s most recognisable club names.
Whilst its not of recent that United got these partners, it is very much a new phenomenon that he club has immersed its playing staff into the same so as to further its corporate image. Players at United are now encouraged to join social media platforms—a move that wouldn’t have seen the light of day had that Old School Wily Scott still been in charge. Whilst some United players were on social media by the end of the legendary manager’s career there, it was not with the spirit and pomp characteristic of tweets from players today.
The club has since moved on to actively partaking in making blockbuster-esque productions to hail arrival of big signings. Some would say Jesus Christ will do very well to better the glitz and fanfare on the occasion of His Second Coming. Only the US Presidential Election next week will better the unveiling of Pogba and Zlatan for twitter mentions and conversations this year. In this particular regard, United were helped by the fact that these events not only caught the attention of their alleged 659m fans worldwide but also their rivals (who are quite a bunch mind you!).
Crucially, in all this, the stardom doesn’t end at the unveiling. It is carried on right to the said player’s debut and the first goal celebration that, going by standards these days, should take a while to get through. With all the finger locking, clicking, dabbing, et al, broadcasters are guaranteed an extra half a minute to replay the scored goal. Their only worry would be if the said scored goal was a simple tap in that didn’t require 10 angles of a replay! But no worry! The club’s official channel and app has ensured all angles of a goal are shown…just in case you want to see how the goal viewed from the J-stand!.
Players at the club have bought into this permissiveness to concentrate on their personal brands even whilst on the pitch. Where you once had a collective effort of 11 individuals fighting for a similar cause, you now have individual efforts among 11 aiming for a similar cause. Unfortunately for United, football is such a team sport that you are as strong as your weakest link. The sum of the parts is therefore much tougher to beat than a collection of shiny incoherent toys. This is the art that Sir Alex bought into to dominate English football with players that were not always considered the best in their country let alone Europe.
Sir Matt often reminded the Busby Babes of how hard the fans in the stands had to work during the week so as to be able to come to the game and watch them. If the players did not replicate that hard work on the pitch, somebody was not getting fair trade. No wonder the Babes did not just put in a shift for their fans, they sought to entertain them every Saturday and football was what it should be….a timely pill to ease the burdens of a long work week!
These values of hard work and team ethos have been compromised for the need to enhance individual brands. The sight of Jose Mourinho in the stands asking Eric Baily not to take a photo during the game against Burnely on Saturday was a nadir of its own. As it is, one imagines that playing for Manchester United should get you photographed so much so that you hate the idea, let alone the sight of a camera! But not the modern day footballer.
It follows then that a club in this predicament need a strong captain to remind a wayward dressing room of the values on which the club they represent is built. Unfortunately for United, their captain has had his own personal crisis that has been all too well documented. His confidence is hardly at the level to tell an 89m quid player not to act out every game as though he is following a script to a rap music video shoot! Michael Carrick would ideally be the man to step in the shoes of the voice of reason but he is a man whose actions speak much louder than what he is supposed to say. Not one to really let loose in the changing room. Chris Smalling could pass for the same passive nature.
It has left many fans pondering the possibility of Ander Herrera as club captain. Whilst not physically built to give Pogba or Zlatan reason to bat an eye lid, the Spaniard boasts the qualities to lead on the pitch. His game has been modelled around getting the team going in the middle whilst his comments to the media are just the sort of stuff a captain says. His basque roots in Zaragoza and then Athletic Bilbao have allowed him to carry a loyalty tag to his personality that his former clubs pride in their players. He is one of possibly just a handful of individuals whose game retains a Musketeer feel to it. In it for the cause. All for one and one for all! At this rate, it will not be too far long before he leads out United on to the pitch.
Until then, the buck is left with the manager. Poor Jose Mourinho! His is a task of learning and adaptation as much as anything else. His contract duration of four years will in the least require him to learn how to deal with this corporate-dab culture whilst building a team, mean enough to go all the way and win the club’s 21st league title. As such, he might have to moult some of his skin to allow for new methods and new ways of man management. Individually, his team will still be capable of some great results because of the sheer talent within but as a team, it is very much a work in progress. Sadly, the most important prizes in May are usually handed out to teams. Not that the dab culture will be too bothered as they could easily dab to a goal of the season contender that carries an individual award in May!