Leading is not managing - insights and evidence from football

Samandeep Chohan

Makis Karteros

Posted: September 26, 2014

Report on an EASM 2014 presentation by C. Molan and J. Matthews

An interesting subject for those individuals who play or have played for a club outside the professional level. Both authors have an emotional attachment to this particular topic having competed at a semi-professional level in Ireland, in addition to their UEFA A coaching licenses. Conducting such research was pivotal when finding out how leadership is viewed from a player’s, manager’s and chairman’s perspective. Both authors also go on to state how the subject needs further research regarding the contextual understanding of ‘off field relationships’.

With a question concerning ‘leadership’, one would say it was difficult to cultivate an explanation. What is a leader? Is it the same as being a manager? Or is it more? Therefore to conduct such research, Molan and Matthews composed a list of questions, physically asking the three sets of groups’ abovementioned for their opinion. The only way to get a definitive and factual answer was to do primary research. Using archetypes would contribute to this. It’s safe to say such research is dismissed in semi-professional football. However, getting a response was made easier through their connections with Irish football. Data was collected from a sample of teams competing in the ‘League of Ireland’ (43rd out of 53 on UEFA’s league listings [at the time]).

Creating a relationship with teams was tough as it is, but examining a particular viewpoint was difficult. Each individual produced raw data (data which needed to be transformed into results). Most importantly however, this data was trustworthy and accurate.

Leadership off the field?

From what is understood ‘leadership’ varies from stakeholder to stakeholder. What a player wants may not be on the list of requirements from a chairman. So we can come to a conclusion managers have a difficult task.

From preliminary results, we see two key points concerning ‘off the pitch’ leadership; the long term strategy of the club and both, positive and negative implications. This may be classed as influence from the board, media etc. Under this perception, team vision and individual consideration comes to play. Is the team vision to solely win? If so we do not care about off the pitch encounters. Or do we want to also care about how a player feels off the pitch? Are their thoughts considered – ‘a Mourinho style manager’.

In the eyes of many, leadership roles far pass the concept of managing. Molan and Matthews came to a conclusion regarding leadership and how it plays a part “off the pitch”. They felt leadership is a very abnormal concept. One has to deal with conflicts, ‘dark leadership; (bad side of leadership) and impression management (keeping all stakeholders happy).

Having said this, maintaining a good relationship with all stakeholders involved is important, yet difficult. At the semi-professional level, maybe some stakeholders can be ignored. Do managers have time to please everyone? A question was asked, and the response – no. Most of the individuals in question have other means of income, so their focus may not be entirely on football. Of course this is a contentious subject. No individual wants to be criticised for what they do. It’s human nature. We want to be the best we can be.

To finalise, some thoughts on leadership: At the end of the day the leader is the one who makes decisions that others cannot question. If they actually follow them or not sometimes it is not a matter of the “leader’s” ability to lead. Brian Clough was a great leader but not for Leeds United. Different variables should be considered in relation to leadership, organisation’s tacit knowledge for example.  Moreover, off the pitch leadership should not be underestimated even if the focus is on solely wining. A player in his 20’s playing for club in a strange country probably needs someone to guide him in his off the pitch life, in order to perform on the pitch.

About Samandeep Chohan

Samandeep is a recent Sport Management graduate at Coventry University who is seeking employment in the world of sport. He has worked in the ticketing and sales department for Coventry City Football Club, organised and coached sporting events and written for sporting blogs from the age of 16. Samandeep’s email address – chouhan3@uni.coventry.ac.uk

About Makis Karteros

Makis is currently writing a PhD on investment in human capital and its impact on football club’s performance.  He has been involved in the sports industry in many ways having worked for professional football clubs, media organisations and IT companies, in Greece and India.