It always amazes me that the manager of a hugely successful football club resigns – first thing the new man does is sack his backroom staff. The very people who lived and breathed the success all the way. The closest connection with the key employees – the players.

Evidence Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United. A shambolic lack of succession planning has led to 10 years of confusion, millions wasted, under performance. Only the Romans did it worse. “Don’t like Caesar, stab him to death”. Look where that got Brutus.   

Sir Alex picked Martin O’Neill for Celtic. Dermot Desmond asked if he would present 3 names for consideration. He gave them one.  Decisive, perfect. The next manager – Gordon Strachan – won the same number of league championships. Continuity.

Yet SAF left Manchester United at precisely the same time as CEO David Gill. Neither apparently knew the other was off. It showed starkly the tenuous nature of the Glazer family’s grip on the business. As owners they were fringe players in the biggest decisions.

Succession planning has never been more important. Owners and shareholders expect the best performance, have a set of highly sophisticated analytical tools at their disposal. So do the staff.  It’s why newspapers have deputies and assistants – the next leader comes from within. 

I had a wry smile at Jamie Bolding – the founder of startlingly good digital business Jungle Creations – who stepped down last week and appointed two new joint CEOs. Smart – one will survive, one will die. The business will win.

I joined Mirror Group as a Director bang at the time Trinity merged with them – hard-bitten national newspaper operators marrying the hicks. Two £1B value businesses joined up – to make one £1B business. The local paper folks – nice people – couldn’t hack it. I sat next to the CEO at dinner one night. Asked him how he was getting along with Mirror Editor Piers Morgan. “Extraordinary guy,“ he said, shaking his head. “He wants to know the circulation every day”.  Unlike the Editor of the Weekly Bugle who made his own beetroot sandwiches for lunch.  Wore a jumper.  

So England and Manchester United star Wayne Rooney has quit playing. If ever a man was destined to screech off the rails and do a George Best it was Wayne. The fact that he didn’t – despite a couple of right good goes at it – is testimony to himself of course. But right there, with both arms round him, was Sir Alex. It ended sourly, Wayne will appreciate it now. You bet he does. Only SAF could handle Cantona. Shame he never got Gazza. 

Five big management decisions to ponder in sport. The wrong succession plans will lead to years in the wilderness and wasted millions.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer:  Will stay as manager of Manchester United. Won’t win the league, this or any other year. At least he brought back Mike Phelan from SAF’s days. The Glazers should have hired Pochettino when he was free. The biggest club in the world needs the biggest names.

Jurgen Klopp:  The Liverpool way used to be to appoint from within. For a time they ruled the world. Now, just as they are building back to those levels, the best manager around has made it clear he is off.  Owners Fenway are tough and shrewd. They won’t be appointing Steven Gerrard.

Toto Wolff:  The Mercedes F1 boss has said he is stepping back. Inspirational, collected, a German with charisma. Rest assured the succession planning will be supremely efficient and ordered. As will be replacing “Sir” Hamilton. Who can dance round contract talks all he likes – leave Mercedes, win no more races. Toto has got that all covered. No danger.

Eddie Jones:  Signed an extension for another two years as England rugby coach which is a blessing for the Twickenham blazers. After Sir Clive Woodward disappeared, so did the team. Eddie is right up there with Jurgen.

Pep Guardiola:  He is Joe the Toff. Manchester City don’t deserve him, he looks uncomfortable. By the time his contract runs down in another two years he will have been there for five. The longest he has ever done at a club. There is more to life for him than football – golf for one. For all his genius there isn’t any passion or soul and Colin Bell’s death only reminds everyone of how it used to be.

And one last total “succession planning” disaster which is too late to bring back from the precipice. Trump. One of the first things The President gets is “the football”. The nuclear codes. I only hope and pray it’s “lost” if the most barmy leader since Caligula promoted his horse decides to revenge-nuke Georgia in his final days.  That’s the trouble with democracy – Obama’s legacy was Trump, now the oldest man in the covid queue is next up. Which way to the bunker?

Steve Sampson is former Assistant, Northern and Scottish Editor of The Sun newspaper, and a Director of Trinity Mirror publications. He was a launch presenter of Radio5 Live, founder of First Press Publishing and contributes to the BBC. Based in Scotland, he is an investor/owner across a series of digital initiatives, and a media adviser.

About Steve Sampson

Steve Sampson has held senior positions in media principally with Mirror Group and Murdoch newspapers. He also founded First Press Publishing which was acquired by Trinity Mirror in 2000 where he served as a Director on various TM companies. He heads up a portfolio of digital assets in online and mobile with connections in the UK and US which include a global launch this year. He was one of two founder Vice Chairmen of Ryder Cup Captain Colin Montgomerie's cancer charity at the inception but now takes no active part.
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