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You're Fired!

Robin Copland

I do not suppose that there is a perfect way of sacking someone.  It is never nice and never easy – either for the manager doing the deed or indeed the victim. 

Neither, I suppose, is there is a perfect way of doing it badly, but if there is, then surely Manchester United plc has come pretty close in their handling of Louis van Gaal’s dismissal earlier this week.  You could not have made it up as speculation mounted that Jose Mourinho, the self-styled “special one” was set to be named as van Gaal’s successor.

There has, to be very fair, been speculation around a Mourinho/ Manchester United link up – almost since the day in December 2015 when he and Chelsea parted company.  Speculation bubbled and boiled mainly in sync with United’s results; good and all was quiet, but bad – well, all hell broke loose.

The one competition in which United was doing well this season was the FA Cup; they won their semi-final tie against Everton, setting up a final against Crystal Palace.  On Saturday 21 May, the club won its record-equalling twelfth FA Cup competition after extra time at Wembley.  It was the club’s first post-Sir Alex Ferguson trophy and came at the end of van Gaal’s second year of a three-year contract.  Those with long memories may remember how the then plain Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United career was only saved by an FA Cup win in 1990, but it now seems that winning the FA Cup is no longer enough.

Hours before the final took place, the BBC broke the news that van Gaal was going to be replaced as club manager by Jose Mourinho.  Van Gaal’s wife read the report on the BBC’s website and is said to have given her husband the news not long after the final whistle. 

On reflection, it was probably impossible to keep news of ongoing discussions between United and Mourinho secret and, as BBC’s sports editor, Dan Roan, wrote,United hold the Dutchman in high regard and had desperately tried to maintain secrecy during their negotiations with Mourinho, hoping Van Gaal would lead his team to a top-four spot in the Premier League.

Even after that target was missed, the club wanted him to be able to enjoy his FA Cup win, never once briefing against their coach or adding to the speculation. But it was always naive to think that news of their plans would remain secret.

Once the news broke on Saturday, it was hard to fathom why they waited to put Van Gaal out of his misery. Once again serious questions will be asked about the way the Glazer regime runs the club - and the way it communicates.

So maybe with the best of intentions, but it does not alter the fact that it has all gone wrong again; less than two years ago, the same thing happened to David Moyes, the previous United manager.  He read about his sacking in the newspapers.

What’s the lesson for negotiators?  Well, if you want to maintain your reputation, you have to try to keep negotiations private and avoid news spilling out.  According to press reports, van Gaal may very well have been willing to walk without compensation – he has done it before.  Apparently though, he has been so angered by the way that Manchester United handled the whole situation that he employed the famous QC, Paul Gilroy to represent him and his resultant pay-off has been reported at a cool £4.5m; it has been an expensive loose tongue.

Competitive, adversarial stances breed competitive adversarial stances and that can be costly.  If you want to preserve your reputation or indeed your relationship with valued business partners, think about dealing with them in a more polite, private and professional manner than that displayed by the power brokers of Old Trafford.

Oh.  And has anyone told Ryan Giggs where his future lies?

Robin Copland

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