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England’s World Cup journey – any lessons?

Friday 13 July 2018

MANAGEMENT expert Professor Chris Brady, who ghost wrote Carlo Ancelloti’s autobiography, assesses what lessons can be drawn from England’s expectation beating World Cup performance.

As the dust settles on the team’s semi-final exit for Russia 2018, Professor Chris Brady, of the University of Salford Business School says that many of the things that are thought to hold the England team back are not relevant in the slightest.

He adds: “When looking for management lessons in any sector there is one overarching imperative - to separate the consistent from the random. The first lesson from England’s journey, therefore, is to identify what isn’t important. Apparently, it’s not that important to have a winter break. Just as we’ve decided to have one, we get to the first semi-finals since 1990 when we also didn’t have winter break. True, a winter break might get us to the final next time but don’t bet on it.
“It also doesn’t seem to matter what the percentage of England qualified players are active in the Premier League. In fact, this has always been the case. In fact, if you look at the make-up of the French starting eleven not one plays in Ligue 1.
“There also doesn’t seem to be a particular `model’ to follow for the development of players. Rather it seems that groups of exceptional players seem to appear at clubs and nations almost at random. In the 1970s the emergence of a group of highly talented young players in the Ipswich Town first team created a view that something special must be going on there. The same occurred with the Class of ‘92 at Manchester United and with the fabled La Masia at Barcelona. All produced ‘golden generations’ but nothing extraordinary since. It turns out that those groups were the rare and not a new norm. They were doing pretty much what they’d always done and more or less what everyone else also did.
“Once it was the obsession with the French model, the magic of Clairefontaine (INF Clairefontaine (Institut national du football de Clairefontaine) had produced a team that won their home World Cup followed by the Euros two years later. Be sure that Clairefontaine will rear its head again if/when France win on Sunday. The same was true of the obsession with the German restructuring after their disastrous performances at the 2002 Euros. Remember that Germany’s victory in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil was held up as the culmination of building 52 centres of excellence as well as 350+ regional coaching bases employing close to 1300 full-time coaches. All of which cost somewhere in the region of £80m. This is the same Germany that didn’t even get out of the group stages this time around. 

“So, perhaps the biggest lesson is not to copy the current fad but to create your own brand, your own way of doing things, a way that suits your values and your beliefs. As Peter Drucker, probably the most influential management thinker of the 20th century is quoted as stating, ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’. Establishing and adhering to a set culture is the biggest lesson as perhaps Croatia has demonstrated.

“The second lesson from, and for, the FA is to select the head coach on his/her fit to that brand, the correct cultural fit. Incidentally, being English is, in the world of national football teams, a key cultural requirement and one with which the FA seemed to disagree, if statements prior to the appointment of Sam Allardyce are to be believed.  Constant changes of coaches (or CEOs) with their own ‘philosophy’, and the cultural consequences that accompany those philosophies, are rarely a long-term solution to organisational underperformance.
“Obviously, great knowledge of the game (or business) is also is an essential characteristic of successful leaders. However, such knowledge does not necessarily come with a stellar playing career (think Mourinho, Wenger, Saachi). To a certain extent the FA got lucky with Gareth Southgate, who had the requisite knowledge and the street cred of an excellent playing career and was a perfect cultural fit but perhaps even more fortuitously was available after the unfortunate departure of his predecessor. However, it also must be acknowledged that the organisation had prepared the ground by having employed Southgate to work within the organisation at the junior levels (think Low, Guardiola, Enrique, Zidane). He therefore had a feel for the culture as well as the requisite knowledge allied to an analytical approach to what was needed at a playing (operational level).

“One of the problems of promoting players (workers) to managerial roles is that the skill sets are not necessarily compatible. In football there is no correlation between playing and coaching careers – great players make great and/or rubbish coaches and rubbish players make rubbish and/or great coaches. The answer is to interview for the skills and cultural fit that the organisation requires. In Southgate the FA seem to have achieved both. Southgate is a keen learner and a very focused strategic implementer. He has the knowledge and is clearly a solid cultural fit.
“So, in conclusion, we don’t need a winter break, it doesn’t matter how many foreign players play in the Premier League and there is no magic model to follow, so create your own brand and recruit to that brand. Of course, also expect Gareth Southgate to be under huge pressure from the same fans and media now lauding him if England are soundly beaten at home by Spain in their first competitive game after the World Cup.”

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Sam Wood

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