Can Business Learn From Football?

A really enjoyable Business Breakfast on Monday as part of Clydesdale Banks “Supporting Business Growth” week. David Carry and Gary Mcewan were excellent speakers, both making reference to the synergies between sport and business. It reminded me of this blog I wrote back in 2010 addressing the very same subject!!

aberdeen football club

Football and Footballers never seem to be out of the headlines these days. Unfortunately not always on the back pages where they belong. As someone who spent more hours than I care to remember on a football pitch, I still take a big interest in the game and always enjoy a lively debate on its merits. This week I met up with an old teamate who now runs a successful national business. We discussed the similarities between the “beautiful game” and business. The parallels are obvious and allow for loads of anecdotal synergies. I remembered the excellent book “The 90 minute Manager” which offered “business lessons from the dugout”. It’s well written and packed with quotes from a host of well respected Managers and personalities.

It recognises that business is actually making the journey football did many years ago. It is the journey towards the ultimate realisation of the importance of the Manager. This realisation occurs because the performance in business at all levels has now become as open to scrutiny and analysis as Football has always been. In a Football team a good Manager is easy to identify, because his team consistently achieves results. In a large company however, good Managers can sometimes be difficult to identify, often lost in the fog of corporate politics and bureaucracy. However growing external pressures are now forcing internal company operations to become increasingly professional so that management performance can be more measurable and the positive effects of a good Manager more obvious. Some in Business may scoff at this idea of learning from the experience of Football, but they do so at their peril because I sense that business is moving towards the openness and visibility which Football has always possessed.

I’ll share a few quotations from the book to highlight my point.

The Team.

“In my business, togetherness is not just a nice concept that you can take or leave according to taste. If you don’t have it, you are nothing. Selfishness, factionalism, clique-ishness are all death to a football club. As a Manager in Football, I have never been interested in simply sending out a collection of brilliant individuals. There is no substitute for talent but, on the field, talent without unity of purpose is a hopelessly devalued currency”. – Alex Ferguson.

Strategies.

“Companies like football teams, must see the marathon not just the sprint. While continuing to compete in the sprint they must manage the expectations of their stakeholders based on their knowledge of the Marathon”. – Graham Taylor

“We at Liverpool may have spent £12million on an Academy, but it’s worth it. If you take five 11 year olds, you’ll make two or three pro’s. Two won’t make it, maybe injured, maybe mental weakness. But the two or three who do make it will pay off that investment..! “ – Gerard Houllier.

And finally.. A law firm back in 2001 was recruiting for a new corporate partner. An ad in the FT ran with a large pic of Shankly with his arms aloft and trademark Liverpool scarf round his neck. The ad read.. “Bill Shankly was a man of conviction and an inspirational leader. As we continue to expand our corporate and finance practices, we need people with Bill’s qualities. People who can push themselves and inspire others…. If you’re looking for a chance to raise your game, get in touch”. Quality…!!

Have a good weekend.

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