Why Clubs Need Great Office Staff

The following is from Roy Keane’s autobiography. He explains his transfer from Nottingham Forest to Manchester United in the summer of 1993. It’s interesting for two reasons:

1) Why a club needs excellent administrative staff to be successful;
2) The ruthlessness and cunnigness of Alex Ferguson:

I’d heard that Alan Shearer was on 500,000 pounds a year (at Blackburn), so that’s what I demanded. After some bargaining, I accepted Blackburn’s offer of 400,000 pounds a year. A deal was agreed late on Friday afternoon.

Terms agreed, I was ready to sign the contract. But when Kenny Dalglish (Blackburn boss) phoned Ewood Park, the office staff had left for the weekend. “Don’t worry,” he said, “you can sign the forms on Monday.” We shook hands.

I went home to Cork for the weekend. On Saturday news of my transfer to Blackburn made the newspapers. The fee set a new British transfer record. I hit the town on Saturday night to celebrate my move.

On Sunday, I woke up with a hangover. I was due back in Blackburn the following day to sign forms. After that I was looking forward to a holiday.

At lunch time the phone rang. It was Alex Ferguson. My family were Manchester United daft.

“Roy it’s Alex Ferguson here. Have you signed any forms?”
“No, but I shook hands on the deal, and I’m due to sign the forms tomorrow.”
“Why don’t you have a chat with me before you do anything?”

Wow. Manchester United. The Premier League champions.

“Yes, but I have agreed the deal,” I tell Ferguson.
“You’ve signed nothing. Come over for a chat.”

From that moment I was never going to sign for any other club. In my heart of hearts I knew I could never refuse to sign for the world’s most famous football club.

The next morning – after a hectic night on the town – I flew to Manchester. Alex Ferguson met me at the airport. We drove to his home close by. Brian Kidd was there. After a meal and some general chat, Ferguson suggested we have a game of snooker. He was a useful player.

I liked him straight away. For a man managing Manchester United, who’d just won the Premier League, he was unaffected, funny and reassuringly human. He was also clearly hungry for more trophies.

“Roy, Manchester United are going to dominate the domestic game with or without you. With you we can win in Europe,” he asserted.

It was a persuasive argument. However, there were a few obstacles to overcome before a deal to join United could be done. Ferguson asked who was representing me. I told him the PFA. He suggested that we would not discuss terms right now. “Leave that to me,” he urged. We agreed that I would tell Dalglish our deal was off. After that, I would have to sit tight while United dealt with Nottingham Forest. It wouldn’t be easy, Ferguson pointed out, but, he assured me, he would secure what both of us wanted in the end.

I phoned Kenny Dalglish to tell him that I’d changed my mind about joining Blackburn Rovers. He went crazy.

“What the fuck do you mean?”

I told him I’d talked to Alex Ferguson.

“We shook hands on a deal. You can’t back out now,” he screamed.
“Look, I’m sorry, I really am,” I told him, “but I’ve got my future to think about, I’m entitled to that.”
“You’re entitled to nothing except the commitment you made to me on Friday.”
“I’m sorry, if you’d had the forms ready, I would have signed on Friday.”
“Nobody does this to me, nobody does this to Kenny Dalglish. You’re a wee bastard and you won’t get away with this.”

Here was Kenny Dalglish insisting that I honor a deal I hadn’t signed. The same Kenny Dalglish who’d spent several months tapping me up behind Brian Clough’s back. The more he swore at me the less my conscience bothered me.

The next call I received was from Frank Clark (the then new Nottingham Forest manager). I confirmed that after talking to Alex Ferguson I had changed my mind. Clark had also received a call from Ferguson. Unlike Blackburn, who going to pay 4 million, Manchester United would pay just over 3 million. That was unacceptable to Forest, Clark declared. He made it clear that there would be no sale to United unless they matched Blackburn’s fee. I insisted that United was the club I wanted to join. Stalemate.

I was going on holiday to Cyprus and spoke to Alex Ferguson again. He assured me that the choice was mine. It was up to me which club I joined. If I kept my nerve, everything would work out in the end. Keeping my nerve might mean starting the following season as a Forest player. I resolved to do as Ferguson suggested. Go on holiday and don’t worry.

The next day the phone rang at 6:30 am. It was Kenny Dalglish.
“You won’t get away with this,” he began. “Blackburn Rovers will sue you for every penny you’ve got.” He and Alex Ferguson had never got on and this more than anything appeared to be bugging him. He called me names. He repeated that nobody “fucked with Kenny Dalglish and got away with it.”

When I returned to Forest for pre-season training, I was forced to train with the reserves. It was made clear that I would be punished for the crime of rejecting Blackburn by being ostracized in every conceivable way. Ferguson told me to keep my composure. This was a game of poker between United and Forest. United’s latest offer of 3.5 million fell 500,000 short of Blackburn’s bid. If I kept my head, Forest were faced with a choice: 3.5 million or an asset worth nothing, training with the reserve team.

Two weeks into pre-season training, Forest blinked. Manchester United’s bid of 3.75 million was accepted. Now I had to negotiate my own deal with United. Their offer of 250,000 pounds a year was 150,000 short of Blackburn’s.

Eventually, with the help of property lawyer Michael Kennedy, United offered 350,000 a year, 50,000 less than Blackburn. I was happy to sign. A thousand pounds a week was a small price to pay to be a Manchester United player.

Keep it Arsenal

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