I always had it in mind to write something about three exceptionally long term and successful leaders in three very different fields. Now Alex Ferguson has gone, here’s the gist in short blog order…
– Gerry Adams, who came to lead his political party from the fringes of constitutional politics in Northern Ireland to the head of northern nationalism, and is now spearheading a challenge for political power in the south.
– Rupert Murdoch, who landed on British shores to scoop up a failing daily broadsheet (the inheritor of the Labour supporting Daily Herald) and from whose turnaround built a global media empire.
– Alex Ferguson, who after a very shaky start quickly began to replicate the stunning success he had achieved for Aberdeen in breaking the hegemonic grip that the big Glasgow clubs had had on Scottish football.
What do they all have in common? Well, recognising the fact that I’m not the greatest fan of any of them, I would say all:
– had a certain genius in how they motivated their ‘teams’;
– were visionary and far sighted in comparison to their rivals to power;
– spotted opportunities that gave them a substantial early lead over those rivals;
– and they all terrified both their rivals and would be interlocutors.
All were outstandingly confident in their own personal powers and legitimacy. But each too owed some of their long incumbency to structural situations which substantially disabled their rivals in some way.
In Murdoch’s case Sky was granted a monopoly position in the satellite spectrum with a bare minimum of the production obligations thrust upon terrestrial broadcasters. This is what sealed the real money and expansion into the US market.
Adams’ project has benefitted hugely from the all shall have prizes devolved institutions at Stormont in the sense that it has disabled any and all opposition, both within and without the institution (see here, here and here).
Ferguson’s long incumbency was characterised by a steady disabling of opponents by the prize giving rules of EPL, so that Sir Alex’s early victories steadily brought him an almost impregnable structural advantage, only broken by first millionaire then billionaire investments in single rival clubs.
As the first of these alpha males takes his leave, we might ask is the appointment David Moyes, everyman manager of Everton, a gamble?
Not in the short term. After twenty unbroken years of success Man U is the sure bet of English soccer; surely something the Glazers understood better than many of the club’s fans. Monopolies never lose money.
Yet Man U, like both News Corp and Sinn Fein, owes almost all of its rise to top to the services of one extraordinary man in combination with that economic/political nobbling of opposition players/voices.
Facing the future without Fergie is both inevitable and a little scary, if more for the club’s investors than its fans.
The club’s accumulated capacity to make serious money from fans both real and digital and the raked prize-making of the EPL will last so long as Moyes delivers consistently enough.
But the real pressure is on his rivals to begin to undo the rich featherbedding of past champions, and ultimately burst “the incumbency bubble” of the EPL.
Just, don’t hold yer breath…
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty