Football’s failure in philosophy
In any ordinary organisation, philosophical alignment is a key factor in success. If the people on the shop floor can endorse the organisation’s vision, the people in head office have a greater chance of achieving it. It is for this reason that much time, energy and money is spent on communicating the organisation’s vision to those that will help to achieve it.
But football is not ordinary. Stakeholders are fixated on the tangible business of the next game and some decisions may contradict any embedded philosophy to achieve results in the short term. Indeed, few clubs successfully implement a philosophy, ethos or approach that survives a poor run of form, with emotive impulse undermining any long-term strategy.
The most obvious example is in the hiring of a new manager where new managers often bear no resemblance in approach and ethos to their predecessors. They are then empowered to fundamentally change the club to suit their own style, despite the high probability that the team will be under different guidance within a year. This can result in previously productive players being consigned first to the bench and then to the shop window. There are only a few clubs that have undergone extensive managerial change and emerged with their original philosophy in tact, with the team playing in a consistent style with similar players.
When a philosophy successfully permeates the entire club, the rewards can be far-reaching. Embedding a philosophy will align the club in its approach to transfers, tactics, youth development, managerial and coaching recruitment with the following benefits:
- Lower player and staff turnover as new staff adapt to the club rather than the other way around. Those who can’t buy-in to the club’s philosophy would be found out during the recruitment process, and would not be offered the job
- Reduction in ‘key person risk’ as the role of any individual becomes subordinate to the club’s ethos. This means that clubs are well placed to survive the departure of influential staff (Southampton surviving both Mauricio Pochettino and Nicola Cortese’s departures being a good example)
- Enhancement of the club’s negotiating position, as we become more confident that we know exactly what we’re looking for
- Better results. If our playing staff buy-in to the club’s ethos, they will become emotionally, and not just financially, invested in the club’s success. This produces better performances and therefore better results over time
In principle, the benefits of a suitable, well-thought-through philosophy are clear. The challenge in football is in retaining faith when results are not forthcoming – in holding one’s nerve. For this to happen, clubs must define a clear vision and philosophy which people can believe, and embed it for the long-term.