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How would football managers survive in business?

Posted by
06 Sep 2016
As the new football season approaches, this year seems to have generated many conversations around which manager will triumph, mainly due to their varying management styles. I want to concentrate on whether individual styles would be effective in the business world rather than how they would fare with results on the pitch. Therefore, instead of discussing how to get the intended results by berating players like the famous ‘hairdryer treatment’ from Sir Alex Ferguson, I intend to discuss what made Harvard University want to invite Sir Alex Ferguson to lecture on a long-term basis and whether any of the other managers' styles would be equally as successful in business.

Alex Ferguson was invited to talk about his management techniques for a class of MBA students and was quite open about his initial feelings by stating that "When you're approached by an institution like Harvard, you know you are dealing with top quality. I had to consider that I was opening myself up to something I've never done before. But at this stage of my life, I felt that if I'm helping young people progress through their own routes to management, then ultimately that was an important and compelling factor for me."

Anita Elberse, who organised Ferguson's talks said that the “benefits of learning from Ferguson, would benefit most executives in business as they would be thrilled if they held a high-level job for half as long as Sir Alex”. She further added that he spoke about the idea of how to manage teams by stressing the importance of building a foundation and planning with the long-term in mind, rather than to make sure you win to survive.

There were some very interesting managerial lessons that came out of the lecture, for instance, when speaking about how an organisation can create loyalty which is incredibly valuable and the overarching strategy of control. "If I lose control of these multimillionaires in the Manchester United dressing room, I'm dead," He is controlling and forceful by nature and expects loyalty at all times. His management style is very autocratic and prefers a high level of power over his team.
By way of comparison when Carlo Ancelotti was at Chelsea, he was a manager-coach, whose brief was to stick to footballing matters only. As a manager he provided authority, yet let others around him lead the decision-making. Roman Abramovich made all the business decisions as it was seen that in the business world Ancelotti would struggle.

However, Ancelotti was only at Chelsea a short period so it perhaps pay to look at someone like Arsene Wenger for a more direct comparison. Arsene is generally placid, serious and analytical. His success can be attributed to his management style and acute economic awareness. He likes to avoid paying inflated fees for players who are either peaking or past their best, he has instead opted to buy and develop young players in the hope they will realise their full potential. Wenger continues his mission to shape Arsenal's long-term success even if at the expense of trophies and to their fans frustration. His methods would work very well in the commercial arena of running a business especially in the current climate.

In short, I feel that a business can be very successful as long as there is a solid business model behind it, however it certainly needs the right leader to direct, challenge and change things if necessary, hence the style of the individual is key and needs to be changed if events are not going right. 
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