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What can Mercedes learn from Manchester United’s fall from the top?

Can the eight-time constructors' champions use the lessons from football to work their way back to the top?

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Despite being one of the most recognizable and well-loved sports teams in the world, Manchester United have been having a rough time of late. And at no point was this more apparent than last week when they suffered an embarrassing loss to Brentford FC.

This saw Manchester United – who are worth an estimated $4.2bn as of 2021 – go 4-0 down to Brentford FC, who are worth a tiny fraction of this and have nowhere near the same list of achievements.

While on the one hand some might explain this loss with reference to issues specific to the day, such as the high number of yellow cards given away, specific failings with the defense or a flaw in Ten Hag’s tactics, many are taking this as a sign of sdeeper issue present within the Manchester United squad.

For the online sports betting fans watching along, this was a completely unpredictable event. And even the most insightful sports betting fan could never have predicted that Manchester United would go 4-0 within 35 minutes of their second game in the league season.

Notably, this latest loss to Brentford FC was Manchester United’s seventh successive away league defeat, which certainly seems to suggest deeper issues are lurking. 

And if the possible decline of Manchester United is in question, we must consider it in light of the fact that this is not only the first time since 1960 that they conceded at least six goals in their first two matches, it is also the first time since 1992 that they have lost their first two matches.

By losing to Brentford, Ten Hag also suffers the embarrassment of losing his first two games in charge since John Chapman in 1921 – hardly the record he wanted to start his career off with!

Manchester United’s loss as Mercedes’ inspiration?

While Manchester United are left reeling from this embarrassing if not historic defeat, others have looked to it as motivation or as a cautionary tale against resting on your laurels.

This was certainly true of Toto Wolff – the Mercedes F1 racing chief – who recently stated that he has closely studied Manchester United’s downward spiral.

In a recent interview, Wolff revealed that he has followed the famous Premier League side’s recent missteps for insights into why great performers fall from grace.

Just a few years ago, Manchester United’s sporting dominance was all but unquestioned. Much of this was due to their historic rise under legendary football manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who won a record 13 Premier League titles, in addition to producing an impressive roster of top-tier players.

Following his departure, Manchester United have struggled to come anywhere close to the level of success they achieved under Ferguson. And the famed English side have looked increasingly desperate as they cycle through an ever-changing roster of coaching and management staff.

Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton after finishing second in the 2022 French Grand Prix REUTERS/Yara Nardi

Much like Manchester United, Mercedes are also a team that have experienced considerable success in recent years, much of which was due to the intervention of a talented manager in Toto Wolff.

Toto Wolff took over as chief of the Mercedes team in 2014, and since then they have won eight consecutive titles. This has put them on a historic run and helped them to achieve new levels of success in the sport. However, Mercedes have struggled to put things together this season.

With the possibility of losing momentum and incurring losses in mind, Toto Wolff started searching for different examples of when great sporting teams failed to repeat successful title runs. In particular, Wolff looked to Manchester United’s history under Fergusson and in the years after he left.

At the core of why great teams fail to maintain momentum are very human reasons. In particular, Wolff believes that humans become complacent or fail to be energized by the pursuits that once drove them towards success. Great teams also tend to lose a sense of ambition over time.

For Wolff, this is what makes maintaining these levels of success so difficult.

Looking to the future

A variety of issues have hampered Mercedes in this most recent Formula 1 season. This includes numerous on-track errors, new regulations they have struggled with, and an inconsistent car. Because of these, Mercedes now sit in third place, well behind the leaders.

Despite these challenges, Wolff has learned a lot this season and still firmly believes the team have what it takes to be successful going forward. 

In particular, Wolff is using the issues they have faced this season as learning opportunities. And while they are getting plenty of things wrong at the moment, this is ultimately the basis for longer term success.

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