Sean Connor's Technical Area: Trust and loyalty in football

According to the business and leadership guru Stephen Covey, “without trust we don’t truly collaborate; we merely coordinate or at best cooperate. It is trust that transforms a group of people into a team.”

Wednesday, 1st December 2021, 11:42 am
Updated Wednesday, 1st December 2021, 11:44 am
Former Institute boss Sean Connor and his right hand man, Sean Friars.

For me, as a manager, I have always believed that trust is a key value, a cornerstone within all the environments I have managed. I am not alone in this belief with the great Phil Jackson and many others believing in trust as a key pillar in their standards of performance.

Looking from the outside at Manchester United and their very obvious woes, it was clear to me that the trust between the group was breaking down. What did surprise me and rankle with me was the comments of Michael Carrick, upon his appointment as interim head coach.

It was not only me that felt this way, with United Legend Paul Scholes stating that, Carrick and Kieran McKenna “should be embarrassed to still be at the club,” and how he would feel guilty if he had remained in the positions as they had both done, when their manager had been relieved of his duties.

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The situation at Old Trafford is not a unique one, and the same situation occurs time and time again.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, spoke emotionally about his love of the club and all his staff, defending the players and how they were all working hard. He came across as I imagined him to be a really nice guy and obviously loyal.

So, when I heard the utterances of Carrick, in his first press conference about how he had his own ideas and wanted to get these across to the players, my first question was, did he share these ideas and views with his manager? The man who had just spoken so highly of him less than 24 hours earlier.

I have been on the end of such a scenario, at a particular club, thankfully it was the only occasion but it’s not nice.

As Paul Scholes highlighted, it was the very same staff that Ole had trusted with the preparations each week. He had put a lot of trust in them, “Ole trusted them each week, they have let the club down as much as Ole has”.

Have they shown Ole the same trust and loyalty? The performance in the Champions League game on Tuesday against Villarreal, although a victory, for me highlighted no real difference in performance, attitude or application. Nothing has really changed; Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in the Premier League wasn’t much of an improvement and they were fortunate to come away with a point in the end.

When I parted company with Institute, without going into too much detail, there was a clear difference in both the vision and application of that vision going forward with the board.

Once we had agreed to part company, my assistant manager and a genuine top-class man, a legend of a player, Sean Friars, informed the club of his decision to leave with me.

Sean, backed the vision and plans we had outlined and in his view, we were on the right path. Sean is the most emotionally intelligent person I have encountered in my life, never mind my coaching career. He made the decision, then contacted me to let me know.

Sean has principles and he stood by them, rather than take the easy course and maybe take the job, and as Carrick stated, put his own ideas into action.

Sean was totally involved in the job, the vision we created was a joint one and we agreed on how it needed to be implemented, we did not agree on everything, but when we did make a decision, it was ours, and we went with it.

Even when the current incumbent in the hot seat, Brian Donaghey asked Sean back, he remained consistent and this decision increased my respect for Sean, as a man and a coach.

Michael Carrick is not the only coach to have done this recently, Graham Jones at Newcastle, being the only one of Steve Bruce’s coaching staff to remain at the club. It will be very interesting to see what role he has within Eddie Howe’s coaching set-up, because if we believe the rumours, Howe declined the Celtic job due to his inability to secure positions for his own coaching team at Parkhead.

It was Cicero who said, “nothing is more noble, nothing more venerable than loyalty”.

Sean Friars showed his loyalty and belief in our vision and operational methods. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer showed his loyalty towards all his staff and the club. He did not, in my view,get the same back from Michael Carrick, Kieran McKenna et al.

It now looks like Ralf Rangnick, will be in charge at United very soon. Will he bring in his own staff or will he work with the current crop of coaching staff? If he does keep the current coaching staff, he may find like Ole, loyalty is a transferable and intermittent quality at Carrington.

I feel, maybe herein lies the real problem at the club. The lack of trust and loyalty means there is an uneasy cooperation within the squad, where individual survival and self-perseverance sits above any group trust and loyalty.

This could be the real reason Manchester United are so far behind, City, Chelsea and Liverpool.

I could be wrong, but I cannot image such scenario when Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola leave their respective clubs, and within 24 hours their assistant takes control and talk about their new ideas and putting them into action.