Apologies in advance to anyone who doesn’t like football.  Apart from the fact that I’m an avid fan, I find the game a deep reservoir of metaphors and lessons which can be applied in the world of business – particularly management and leadership.

A current case in point is Wayne Rooney’s dramatic loss of form and motivation.  As a life-long Arsenal supporter I hate to say anything nice about the sworn enemy, Manchester United, yet I have to admit that Rooney was one of the half-dozen best players I’ve ever seen play ‘in the flesh’.  Right up there with Jimmy Greaves, Liam Brady, Jurgen Klinsmann, Peter Beardsley, and Thierry Henry.

So: in the prime of his life, on £300K a week, doing a job he loves and was brilliant at, a happy family life, a massive house in Cheshire – what could possibly go wrong?  Some say the slide started with Louis Van Gaal’s poor communication skills: apparently when the manager decided to leave him on the bench for an away game, but didn’t inform Rooney of the decision until United were already at their opponents’ Stadium.  But that was eighteen months ago, including a year under the self-proclaimed Special One, José Mourinho.

While money can’t buy happiness, it certainly lets you choose your own form of misery.  Groucho Marx

The first thing this episode shows, very clearly, is that remuneration cannot seriously be an issue.  (Unless you think he’s being paid too much, a complaint you don’t often hear from staff).  Using Dan Pink’s leadership model as our starting point, was it that Meaning or Purpose had disappeared, and/or that neither Van Gaal nor Mourinho managed to get Rooney re-connected to his purpose – or to Man Utd’s purpose.  The dip didn’t happen under Sir Alex …

Dan Pink also talks about Autonomy: empowering employees to make their own decisions.  I imagine that’s difficult in a top-flight football team, where everyone has to know exactly what they’re doing, and what their team-mates are supposed to be doing.  Having said that, I worked in Manchester for six months in 2005 and nipped along to Old Trafford for any midweek matches.  Rooney was at the height of his powers, and I was there the evening he scored Match of The Day’s Goal of The Season – a stupendous volley from the edge of the penalty area.  My fellow-spectators and I spent some of that match trying to figure out what position he was supposed to be playing.  Perhaps Sir Alex did give him that autonomy.

Enhancing a Sense of Belonging?  Teamwork and interaction are the DNA of any team, and Rooney was always held in very high (and warm) regard by his colleagues – and his opponents.

Never push a loyal person to the point where they no longer give a (expletive deleted)

The final component Pink talks about is Competence and Mastery, which interestingly encompasses ‘Creating Meaningful Development Opportunities”.  I am the first to admit that I have no idea what goes on inside Mr Rooney’s head.  Nor am I privy to the innermost thoughts of Sir Alex, Louis, José – or any of the England managers he’s played for.  My suspicion is: that having played an average of 42 games per season, for 15 years, on the highest national and international stages, usually injury-free, winning every trophy in the game, he has simply run out of steam.  He needs a bigger challenge, and perhaps he needs a step-change in his career, just like any ‘normal’ employee.  The poor chap is burnt out.

I may be eating my words 4 weeks into his new season at Everton.  Perhaps his boyhood club, and Ronald Koeman, will be able to turn things around.  If not, perhaps they could put Rooney in charge of the Everton academy, or the Under-23’s – if he wants to, of course.  I’d like to see him find his mojo again.  He deserves to.

Are any of your best performers showing signs of having lost their desire?  Don’t assume more money or trinkets will do the trick.  £300K a week didn’t do for Roo.

A few more ideas for you here.