In the future: there’ll be a succession plan in place
In the future, elite clubs will have an informed, comprehensive succession plan in place which will take into account a wide number of contingencies, whether dealing with a serious injury to a highly paid and prized full-back, to establishing a five year player development and transfer strategy toward European qualification without violating FFP. These succession plans will incorporate everything from projected player market values to advanced on-field metrics to keep track of areas of strengths and weaknesses in the squad before they become financial burdens. Regular horizon scanning will also help improve the transition of academy players into the first team, as the succession plan identifies key areas, whether in tactics or recruitment, for youth coaches to work on in time to help shore up any weaknesses in the first team.
Most importantly, these plans will ensure that everyone at the club, from the chairman to the chief executives, the director of football to the academy coaches, has a collective idea of the club’s long and short term strategy to deal with even the most unexpected and unlikely outcomes and eventualities. These plans will also help prevent the kind of knee-jerk, reactionary transfer decisions that can put clubs at unnecessary competitive and financial risk (see the end of any January transfer window).
Today, however, as this series has hammered home over the past few months, many clubs simply don’t have a succession planning strategy in place. Witness the response to news that FIFA’s disciplinary committee had given Barcelona a two window transfer ban for alleged violations of Article 19 in FIFA’s transfer regulations. There was not only confusion in the press over the status of deals for the “future Messi” Alen Halilovic and potential Victor Valdez replacement Marc-Andre ter Stegen, but concern over potential replacements for the ageing Carles Puyol in defense.
Yet Barcelona was first alerted to the FIFA investigation back in February 2013, 14 months ahead of FIFA’s disciplinary ruling. This should have given the club ample time to make contingency plans for replacing key members of the squad, with consideration given to the worst case scenario of a transfer ban.
Whereas the case of Barca may be an outlier, there are other areas where a strong succession plan would have made a significant difference. Some analysts point to weaknesses in Manchester United’s first team stretching back to before their 2012-13 title-winning season, and argue that Sir Alex Ferguson’s replacement David Moyes walked into the United job with very little time to make crucial changes ahead of the current season. It’s not clear whether United knew of these potential issues, yet Moyes’ comments less than a month after the end of the 2013 summer transfer window—“Maybe where we’ve got work to do is to bring in players not for the squad but one or two to go right into the team”—points to the absence of an adequate succession plan for the ageing playing squad.
Some argue that these decisions should be left to the manager alone, but as we’ve seen with United, this can lead to instability and “transitional” seasons, leading to a loss of revenue. A strong succession plan ensures decisions that affect the fate of expensive squad assets are never left in the hands of single person or their backroom staff, but rather a collaborative process involving all key stakeholders – the chief executive, the board, the chairman etc. These plans will also help avoid the loss of an entire season due to a handful of failed deals for players in key positions in a single transfer window, something which even the most skilled football directors and managers can’t always prevent.
Ensuring these succession plans are regularly updated and adapted to changing circumstances will be made easier with cutting edge software too. 21st Club’s recently released ‘Evolution‘ platform will, for example, enable clubs to access key information on their player assets and scenario plan for the future from ‘anywhere at anytime’.
But even just making time for regular meetings between the key decision makers to discuss what the team will look like in five or ten years will make a big difference in shifting organisational planning from the short to the long term, and help prevent the kind of panic driven mistakes that clubs sometimes pay for years afterward.