History, so often a great teacher, sometimes
sends mixed messages. For instance, at
Leeds United, Don Revie created a culture
that had family at its very heart. To him and
his players, it was them against the world.
'The Don' was in every sense the head of
the family and, in true Corleone style, he
looked after their every want and need.
They, in return, repaid him in bucketfuls
with their performances and loyalty.
However, there can be a problem with
top-down structures such as this; very
often, when the head of the family dies, the
family’s structure and unity dies with him,
leaving little on which to build a new future.
Don was truly bigger than the club he had
built and, when he left in 1975, he took the
magic with him. It heralded the beginning
of a slow thaw, which eventually became a
meltdown that lasted until the late 1980s.
This season saw one of the biggest shifts in management
for a long time. Many of the most successful clubs in
European competition now have a new man at the helm.
assesses the likely impact of the changes.
BIG ChANGe, lIttle IMPACt
COLuMN | HOWARD WILKINSON, LMA CHAIRMAN
Unlike in business, however, this rarely
goes as smoothly as they would like. The
histories of Leeds United and Liverpool
teach us one huge lesson - change, when
mismanaged, can bring disaster.
Don and Bill shared a desire to have total
control of almost all areas of their clubs,
including those unrelated to their teams.
Today, as manager tenures decrease, such
control would be impossible, but control of
all areas relating to the team is an absolute
must. Of the six clubs under discussion,
perhaps only Manchester United can be said
to have outwardly maintained large portions
of the old traditional model, the same
manager for 26 years with an influence on
the club far beyond those who have recently
taken the helm at Chelsea, Bayern Munich,
Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Of the new incumbents in the hot seats,
it is David Moyes who perhaps has the
biggest challenge. He has stepped into a
great club with a long-standing culture that
is embedded in its people and this is the
glue that held relationships together. David
has to rebuild those relationships in his
mould, which will take time.
The recent changes at these clubs are
unlikely to present major opportunities
to would-be contenders. The seemingly
relentless trend towards the growth of a
fairly small group of European super-clubs
will continue. In England, so long as the big
clubs remain stable in the boardroom and
maintain their desire and ambition to drive
their businesses forward, we will continue to
move slowly and inevitably towards an elite
league within the Barclays Premier League.
Meanwhile Liverpool, Leeds United’s
great rivals, continued to enjoy a golden
period after the departure of the late and
great Bill Shankly in 1974. Shankly had
developed a culture centred around the
feeling of privilege and pride at representing
the club and its fans. As a result, everyone
at the club, at all levels, was similarly
committed and actively contributed to the
After Shankly's shock departure,
however, events proved that the club was
bigger than the man. After Bill left, those
remaining - Bob Paisley, Joe Fagan and
Kenny Dalglish - simply shuffled along the
bench and sat in his seat.
The history of these two clubs would
indicate that the consequences of change
on great clubs such as these will always be
different and that difference will be much
influenced by legacy.
These days, while the manager is often
portrayed as the ruler of all he surveys, the
reality is different. The big clubs are huge
commercial enterprises, each with their own
philosophy, vision and strategy. Critically,
they recognise that success on the field is the
beating heart of the business and that they
must grow an infrastructure that supports and
is aligned to the club’s aims for that success.
They are also acutely aware of the
direct correlation between results, salaries
and the ability to realistically compete
in the transfer market. Managers can
produce the extraordinary, but miracles
are increasingly rare.
Clubs of this magnitude will also be very
conscious of realistic succession planning.
“These days, The big clubs are huge
commercial enTerprises, each wiTh Their
own philosophy, vision and sTraTegy”
Don Revie created a family culture at Leeds united.