Management Theory or Style Adopted By Manchester United Football Club

In almost every organisation there will be some kind of management. In the words of Crainer (1998, p. xi)

“Management is active, not theoretical. It is about changing behaviour and making things happen. It is about developing people, working with them, reaching objectives and achieving results…”

This piece of work will look at management theories and styles which have been applied by the Manchester United Football Club and to see the effectiveness of their choice of style to their organisation.

Mullins (2007 p.453) suggests that

“an essential ingredient of any successful manager is the ability to handle people successfully”.

This characteristic can be seen through the managers’ attitude towards employees, which in this case will be the football players.

The following is an extract describing a management style used by Manchester United manager.

“His has always been a management style based on carefully controlled disruption, creating a constant momentum designed to keep players on their toes with the unspoken but permanent threat of potential replacement.

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” (Michael Grant, 2003)

This style can be related to McGregor’s (1960 cited in Tony Morden 2004) Theory X, which Mullins (2007 p.444) believes is a “control” and “authority” form of direction. The Michael Grant extract can be associated with Theory X which supports the idea that

“Most people must be coerced, controlled, directed and threatened with punishments if the organisation is to achieve its objectives”. (Mullins 2007 p.444)

This is similar to Likert’s (1961 cited in Mullins 2007 p451) System 1; Exploitive authoritative management system which says

“Decisions are imposed on staff and motivation is based on threats.

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” (Mullins 2007 p451)

This can be seen as there is a threat for the players/employees of the team to lose their place in the squad or job if they don’t perform as suggested by the Michael Grant statement.

Figure 1 is Blake’s and Mouton’s (1985 cited in Mullins 2007 p.448) basis for a describing and comparing of managerial styles. The styles compare in relation to concern for production against concern for people. .

Here is another extract which can support Manchester United’s use of Theory X and Exploitive authoritative management system.

“One recurring theme of Ferguson’s management of Manchester United has been his view that no player is bigger than the club. He has consistently taken a “my way or the highway” approach in his dealings with players and the pressure of this management tactic has often been the cause of many notable players’ departures” (

From this extract we can identify that the style being applied by the Manchester United manager is the authority-compliance management which is described in figure 1 which shows high concerns for results and low concern for people.

A 1991 development of the managerial grid/Leadership grid includes a 9+9 Paternalistic/Materialistic management style (Blake and Mouton op. cit.) where

“reward and approval are granted to people in return for loyalty and obedience and punishment is threatened for failure to comply.” (Mullins 2007 p 449)

This can be applied where employees are rewarded for their loyalty to their manager/club in the form of retaining their position in the team, where as if they rebelled they may see themselves ‘departure’ (as described in quote) from the club as a form of punishment for their failure to comply.

So far it may look as the management style at Manchester United is purely based on getting results and failure to attain these results leads to the manager punishing his sub-ordinates, which shows a great support of the Theory X theory. However Theory X is an extreme at one end of the managerial spectrum described by McGregor, at the other end of the spectrum McGregor (1960 cited in Mullins 2007 p.445) describes Theory Y which the managerial direction is based on motivational needs and co-operative relationships. “In practice the actual management style adopted is influenced by the demands of the given situation.” (Mullins 1985 cited in Mullins 2007 p.445)

“‘I reminded them today about how good they were. The most important thing is that we lost with dignity. They are big men and it’s important to have humility. Be positive even when you lose.'” (Gwyther & Saunders 2005)

From this we can see how the Manager motivates his players even though the team lost whereby they didn’t get the result that the organisation desired. This touches upon characteristics which form McGregor’s (1960 cited in Mullins 2007 p.444) Theory Y which states ‘Motivation occurs at the affiliation, esteem and self-actualisation levels’. We can see that the manager is engaging their self-actualisation levels by telling them how good they are, making them feel as a unit by using words such as “we” which will make feel affiliated with the club and we can also see that he is motivating them to be “positive” and having “dignity” this can help the employees with their esteem levels.

This can be analysed further if we refer back to Blake and Mouton’s (1985 cited in Mullins 2007 p.448) managerial grid, it would seem that there is a high concern for people and a low concern for results which could be interpreted as a ‘country club’ style of management.

However this can be seen to support the earlier statement that actual management style adopted is influenced by the demands of the given situation, which can be clearly observed by studying the statements by the Manchester United manager.

Mullins (2007, p452) suggests the dominant style of management is influenced in any particular situation by the nature of the organisation.

The nature of the Manchester United organisation would best be associated with Likert’s (1961 cited in Mullins 2007 p.451) System 4 participative management system where the ‘leadership involves’ (i) ‘trust and confidence in staff’ (which in Manchester United’s case would be the football team). The team will have to perform the roles when they are in a match situation where the manager will have limited control and will have to have trust and confidence in his players to fulfil their roles. (ii) ‘Motivation being based on rewards for achievement of agreed goals’, this can be applied in the case where a player of the team has fulfilled his role which in return has earned him the right to play the following week.

There are three fundamental concepts of System 4 management. (i) “The principle of supportive relationships”, (particularly between supervisor and subordinate). Mullins (Mullins 2007 p.443) describes this concept by stating “employees look to their managers to facilitate their achievements rather than direct and control their work” an example of this in Manchester United’s organisation would be training sessions that aids employees to improve their skills. (ii) “Group decision-making and models of organisation and supervision”. The nature of this organisation will be reliant on group decision making where before the match they will decide who will perform certain duties such as corners and free kicks although this could be done during the game. Different sections of the team will have specific roles which can be seen as models of organisation, example the team will be split into defenders, midfielders and forwards who will be supervised by the captain and manager.(iii) High performance aspirations throughout the organisation. The following extract shows that management achieves high performance aspirations at Manchester United by making their employees see the vision of the company.

“They have attributed his success to factors as diverse as “working class ability” to asses the qualities of men around him, and “tunnel vision”.”. (BBC Sport 2001)

Schein’s (1965 cited in Cole p.29) Self-actualising man concept, which is based on Maslow’s (1954 cited in Cole p.33) hierarchy of needs theory, stresses the individual’s needs for self-fulfilment as the prime motivator. We can see how the manager at Manchester United utilises this motivation technique in the following statement

“I love my players, I do. I love them. But that doesn’t mean you neglect your paternal job of saying: ‘I expect better than that of you, come on.” (Gwyther & Saunders 2005)

This can also be linked back to McGregor’s (op. cit.) Theory Y notion, which suggests’ motivation occurs at self-actualisation levels’.

How do we know that the managing styles applied at Manchester United are effective? Drucker (1955 cited in Mullins 2007 pp.460-461) proposes

“The manager is the dynamic, life-giving element in every business. Without their leadership ‘the resources of production’ remain resources and never become production. In a competitive economy above all, the quality and performance of the managers determine the success of a business: indeed they determine its survival.”

Manchester United management achieves this through their “people management” skills applied through motivation, loyalty, teamwork and leading edge training methods.

Mullins (2007 p.462) suggests that effectiveness can be measured through indicators. Elements that can be measured could include the motivation and morale of the employees’, success of their training and development, and the creation of an environment in which the staff works effectively.

Indicators of these measures could involve productivity (direct indicator of productivity would be league tables), adherence to quality standards and accuracy of work (Mullins 2007 p.462). The following quote by Steve McLaren (former England football manager) reveals the methods that the manager at Manchester United uses to be effective.

“…he treats people with the utmost respect … He has tremendous influence over the way the players play, behave and train … Anybody who comes in immediately knows what the standards are.” (Townsend 1999.)

Using Reddins’ (1970 cited in Mullins 2007 p.467) 3D model we can associate the management at Manchester United with the ‘executive management’ style which has high concern for task and relationship and sets high standards and favours ‘team management'(Blake and Mouton op. cit.). Reddins’ executive management style is the most effective in his 3D model (Figure 2) (Reddins 1970 Cited in cited in Mullins 2007 p.466) therefore we can conclude that Manchester United is an effective organisation

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Management Theory or Style Adopted By Manchester United Football Club. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

Management Theory or Style Adopted By Manchester United Football Club

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