Fergie's managerial qualities still the benchmark
It is routine for many of us at the firm to gather after our Monday morning meeting to discuss the weekend's English football results.
Characteristic of armchair spectators, we're know-it-alls: skilled authorities on formations, team selections and refereeing. It's mystifying to us that, week after week, highly paid and respected managers and officials somehow fail to implement the obvious.
Oddly, there was only a modest cheer in the office last week when Manchester City won the English Premier League in what was the most exciting end to a season since Arsenal grabbed a last-minute goal against Liverpool in 1989 to overtake them at the top of the table on goal difference. The reason was simple. Manchester City last won the league 44 years ago and, apart from a handful of ex-pat followers, the team has achieved little in the interim to build their brand outside of their home base in Lancashire.
The only revellers at our weekly get-together around the coffee machine were those supporters who were happy to see the title go to any team but Manchester United.
I'm a long-suffering Arsenal fan, and, although a season does not pass when I do not express my loathing for Manchester United (pure envy), I have developed a sincere admiration for the managerial genius of Sir Alex Ferguson. For choice I would have preferred his team to lift the trophy.
Manchester United has been one of England's glamour clubs for the past 50 years. The loss of eight young players in an air disaster in 1958 drew worldwide sympathy, but it became the first British club to win the European Cup 10 years later, under the management of the legendary Sir Matt Busby that elevated its global status. Superstars like George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton added to the club's allure. In the '70s and '80s, a long sequence of poor performances diminished their appeal - they were relegated in 1974 - swaying impressionable youth to turn their adulation to trendy clubs like Leeds, Liverpool and Arsenal.
But for the past 20 years, under the stewardship of Sir Alex, Manchester United has dominated English football, making it one of the wealthiest and more widely supported sport brands in the world.
Sir Alex possesses a number of qualities that would attract extensive investor interest were he at the helm of some listed industrial or service business.
He is a capable and informed leader, with a commanding presence, who is deeply devoted to his work and who is able to extract heroic performances from his players. He has instilled a strong sense of allegiance in his squad and where individual egos have threatened the team's stability, he has displayed the fortitude to forfeit their talent, even at cost to his team's chances in the league.
He has built a brand loyalty that motivates some of the world's most gifted footballers to aspire to wearing a Manchester United jersey.
A number of clubs have attempted to emulate Sir Alex's success, Arsenal perhaps the closest.
While manager Arsene Wenger may have exhibited a keen eye for spotting young talent, his failure to hold on to his key players, and to rouse the passion in his talented squad when it mattered most, have left the north London club trailing far behind the successes of their Manchester rivals.
Chelsea's Champions League victory in a penalty shoot-out over Bayern Munich at the weekend dominated the sporting headlines.
Their poor effort on the night hardly earned them critical praise, but for Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who purchased the club for a record £140-million in 2003, the trophy was the culmination of the labours of eight different managers and a £1-billion investment in fees and salaries.
While Chelsea have enjoyed a fair amount of success during Abramovich's reign, outsiders remain distrustful of the Russian's motives, viewing his involvement in English football as nothing more than a ruse to gain political and social mileage in the UK.
Chelsea finished a disappointing sixth last season; a reflection of management's declining interest, a concern that was reinforced by his regular absence from home games.
Observers harbour similar misgivings about title winners, Manchester City's, Arab owners. Few seriously believe the hundreds of millions of petro-dollars invested in the club's triumphs have been driven by a boyhood obsession with seeing the side they followed as soccer-crazed youngsters achieve international greatness. It takes years, if not generations, to establish a brand's credibility, whether it is a manufactured product, service or football club.
Despite Chelsea's and Manchester City's recent successes, the clubs will learn there is no quick-fix to securing a following outside the confines of their county borders. It requires time, dedication and zeal to secure customer trust and satisfaction. Supporters seek sincerity, reliability and dependability and will react harshly against betrayed promises.
But in football, or for that matter any sport, once you capture a fan they remain devotees for life. It is a well-known truism that a man will change his job and his partner, but never his team.