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Why Does Sacking the Manager Always Seem Like a PR Own Goal?

So the Chosen One becomes the Last One and the hunt is on for the New One. Being objective, should David Moyes have gone? The argument that says yes is pretty compelling but from a football public relations point of view, what is less interesting isn’t whether he should go but the manner in which he departs. Getting rid of senior personnel is seldom pain-free but the less messy you make it, the better.

We are used to seeing Manchester United do things very, very well; from winning silverware and attracting commercial initiatives, to managing their sport PR, this is a savvy club. Whilst the rest of English football seems to have a rotating door installed on the manager’s office, the Reds basked in the reputation of being a ‘non-sacking’ club. So where did it all go wrong this time?

As any club supplier or an employee in any other walk of life will know, longevity is not a right and should be earned; in no other organization would you see employment contracts without probation periods. The window of opportunity for a Premiership manager to achieve success is getting increasingly narrow. By March this year 33 managers in English football left their posts, with over 50% being sackings, a position dubbed ‘embarrassing’ by the LMA’s CEO, Richard Bevan. Not only is this disruptive for players, it results in huge sums of money being squandered. Just one such example is de Matteo’s reported current income of £130,000 weekly from Chelsea, despite having left the club in November 2012. With many clubs now being answerable to shareholders, the idea of paying staff that are not employed by the club would seems an unsustainable business model. Showing a manager faith seems considerably harder than showing them the door.

Few people – industry professionals or not – will be impressed with the way the PR was handled. Did anyone not know on Monday afternoon that David Moyes was for the chop? Anyone except, allegedly, David Moyes that is. United has the issue of being traded on the New York stock exchange, so were slightly hampered by the obligation of sharing information that could affect the club’s share price. This meant telling US traders yesterday. The club is rumoured to have cultivated an inner sanctum of media, many of which are Manchester-based, who were also privy to the news earlier than most. The influence of social media on the modern media landscape means geography is irrelevant and embargoes are tenuous; with a story of this size is it any wonder that gentlemen’s agreements were overlooked in the rush to break the news. Expecting anything else under these circumstances was naïve at best.

The club was unlucky that Easter Monday happened to be a quiet news day and that, owing to the lateness of Easter, it was the day before the country returned to work, elevating the story even more. There is a lot to be said for announcing bad news on the Friday before a public holiday and I bet the football PR team at Manchester United now wish they had gone for Good Friday instead. Whilst neither day makes it good for Moyes it would have stopped the club getting crucified in the press.

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