Letters

Monday, 20 March 2017

Tricky business of football

THE sacking of Claudio Ranieri as manager of Leicester City Football Club shocked fans and sport establishments. But the sacking (or resignation) of a football manager or coach of a club is a norm.

It is part of a series of sudden exits by those who have fallen victim to the stress and to the demands on sport management from club owners, fans, stakeholders and sponsors especially.

The saga of manager sackings highlights a degree of convergence between the world of sport and business. Managers of top football clubs now face strains that are familiar to those at the top of more conventional companies.

In recent years, money has been pouring into football through television deals, sponsorship contracts and increased merchandising sales.

At the same time, many football associations and clubs are now business-oriented. This trend forces team managers to bear the additional burdens that come with a club role as a business entity.

The presence of growing business influence in football demands that teams produce a performance of high quality. This must satisfy the owners and stakeholders, and must eventually culminate in revenue a team helps a club to earn.

This is the case in the sacking of Claudio Ranieri (pic). There is the demand of an owner for success on the field to generate the revenue growth that justifies his heavy investment in players.

A manager may spend millions but fail to win a single trophy and a club may have adopted the wrong strategy.

The question is: where does a manager find his target players? Is he an innovator who develops new players, who uses them or sells them profitably in the market? In so doing, he incurs heavy R&D costs in the process like, say the Manchester United of old which grows its own players to profitable use.

Or does he just copy what others have done? In football, that means buying known players in the market. This strategy does not incur such high costs as the setting up of a youth academy and grooming young and potential players to cover for the senior players and eventually take over from them.

But can he identify players with greater value better than anyone else in the market? As in the business world, if he is a copycat there is often no money to be made out of it.

The inability of a club to win trophies under a manager can be similar to instances in the corporate world. A good analogy is a company that grew through tremendous acquisitions and was always looking for the large, high-profile acquisitions, and all the while the management neglected the cash flows.

Perhaps, like that company, a football club may have gone too far. A club may acquire a star. But that can be a big mistake. What it needs is a home-grown player to stay in the side and not upset the balance of the team as well as the cash flow.

Another parallel between the world of business and football is the issue of leadership.

When a new person takes over a club or association, he is likened to a messiah-type character. The problem with leaders in this kind of mould is they are almost immune to criticism and probably receive very little criticism from within the club.

This can be seen in business as well: the charismatic leader, the chief executive as guru. It is common to hear of CEOs with tremendous charisma but who are unwilling to take criticism. Many sport leaders take criticism badly, no matter how constructive it is.

In business, the burden of power in companies is increasingly spread by dividing the roles of CEO and chairman and devolving more responsibilities to operational managers. Similar changes to the role of the manager are under way in many football clubs in Europe.

Today, more clubs are following a system where a team coach looks after the playing side, backed by specialised coaches for individuals and groups.

A separate director of football handles administrative duties such as scouting, transfers and player contracts. The manager or chief coach coordinates all and has the final say on the final outcome. Simply put, the manager is still the boss.

But he can bring additional specialists onto the staff to ease his workload. With the huge cost of players these days, he has to get the best out of them, and if he can get someone in to help him that is all good and well.

Ultimately the old-fashioned coach-manager as the final authority stays. Thus, he usually pays the price of failure by resigning.

If a manager adopts the modern management techniques, shares his responsibilities, is open to criticism and pursues a strategy geared to achieving organic growth, he may be able to hold on to his job for a long time.

DR ARZMI YAACOB

Subang Jaya

Tags / Keywords: football

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