When he leaves the building
One of the things that makes sport different to other industries is a sporting organisation’s dependency on a relatively small number of individuals. In the UK for example, a large ‘normal’ business generating £200m+ in turnover will employ over 1,500 people on average. A Premier League club with the same income might have a workforce that is one-fifth the size of this.
In most cases, the importance of a star footballer to a club outweighs even the most celebrated CEOs in a ‘normal’ business. A top player might be worth 5 points – and therefore impact expected revenues by over 5% – per season to a club, whereas for example Apple’s share price fell just 0.7% in the day after Steve Jobs’ resignation in 2011.
The head coach is another key part of the business, especially if they’ve been at the club a while. During this time he (and it almost always is a ‘he’) develops a number of processes – from training sessions, to player development, to cultural management – that are in danger of leaving the building when the time comes for him to leave. The need to mitigate key person risk is less significant in other industries outside of football, because there are a greater number of employees involved in building and running operational processes.
The data suggests that this departure of knowledge from football clubs does happen from time to time; the chart below plots clubs who in the last few years lost a head coach who had been at the club for over 8 years. While some clubs (e.g. Leioa, New England) kicked on from the foundations laid by their long-term head coach, many others have seen performance deteriorate over the years (e.g. Rubin Kazan), or taken longer to reach that level again (e.g. Manchester United)
While it’s perhaps not reasonable to expect successors to exceed the performance levels set by someone who has become a club legend, we can always be better at making sure the previous coach’s ideas and processes are retained as the club’s own intellectual property.
Indeed, this applies to any aspect in the running of our club. Is our Head of Academy’s process for tracking the development of our young players just in his head and laptop, or is it a physical part of the club? Can we maintain our record in recruiting undervalued talent when our Sporting Director leaves the club?
Sustainable success is hard to build in a unique industry, but that’s no reason to let knowledge leave the building without making it a part of our club’s fabric first.