Manchester United – A Basket Case of Brittle 0 Rings!

Posted on April 21, 2022

Watching the black comedy unfold at Manchester United is compelling viewing. I am no business analyst but in 25 years of running a small, limited company, I have seen some spectacular failures. After that amount of time dealing with large corporations and one-man bands, I almost instinctively know a crap business model when I see one. It’s not a special skill, everyone I know who has been in business a similar time, possesses the same ability to know a basket case when they see one. It’s the ‘10 thousand hours of practice’ theory in action.


When you look at Liverpool Football Club, it is a well-oiled machine. They have a structure in place that if all the components of the club are put carefully together, the rest will take care of itself. Liverpool possesses some great players, but they also have many largely unspectacular ones. James Milner and Jordan Henderson take the most stick for being dull and functional athletes. However, they are 8/10 players every week as opposed to say, Paul Pogba, who will dazzle once a month and wander aimlessly around for the rest of it.

I read somewhere a while ago that Liverpool FC adopts a kind of ‘0 Ring Theory’ that I know a bit about (but not too much if I am honest). I believe that it is a theory that stems from when the space shuttle blew up. It turned out that a little washer (called an 0 ring) cracked in low temperatures, and it triggered a chain of events that ended up in catastrophe. The theory in business (or a football club) is that if just one small component is wrong, the whole structure is in danger of collapsing. I guess it is a modern version of ‘one bad apple’.

Pep, Klopp, and 0 Rings

Manchester United has brittle ‘0 Rings’ all over the place. This is made a far bigger issue by the fact that several of them are club owners. United could bring in Jurgen Klopp and Pepe Guardiola as joint managers and Manchester United would still be a basket case. The owners have raped and continue to rape the club of its finances. The stands are rusting, and the training facilities are antiquated. The owners have made millions for doing nothing. Manchester United is like a public service that has been sold to Serco. Shareholders come first; the people who put money into it (supporters in this instance) last.

If Liverpool or Manchester City discover a brittle ‘0 Ring’, they move it on, ruthlessly (Joe Hart for instance). To play for one of these clubs, you can be the most talented player in the world but if you are not prepared to put the work in, off you go. Mo Salah might be regarded as the jewel in the Liverpool crown, but he has to work as hard as James Milner, or he will be dropped. The same rule applies to Kevin de Bruyne, an incredible talent who you see tracking back in the 92nd minute when City are winning 3-0.

Owners With Something for Nothing

At United, the players and staff see the owners getting something for nothing, and knowingly or unknowingly, it affects their performance. “If the owners can get away with taking millions from the club, why should we bust a gut to allow them to do it?” It seems ridiculous but that is what, subconsciously, seems to be happening throughout the club. Add to that, a stadium that is crumbling and training facilities that don’t stand up to those of rivals and you can see the problem. United, arguably the biggest football club in the world, is a structural bask case.

Every so often, the owners pretend they are addressing the issue with an ill-thought-out signing, or the engagement of a high-profile manager. As I write this, they have employed a new manager from the highly successful Ajax of Amsterdam. He will walk into chaos, with players who are out of contract, useless, or with a desire to be somewhere else. It could be argued that he is taking over at the club’s lowest point, making it easier to start from ground zero and re-build.

However, for as long as the brittle ‘0 Rings’ are the owners, it is unlikely he will succeed.

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