Football- A business getting detached from reality

This blog couldn’t really be timed any better. The football season has begun, many clubs are spending record amounts of money in the pursuit of success and we have a new world record transfer fee for Neymar for a reported cost of £198 million. This more than doubles the previous world record transfer fee for Paul Pogba for £89 million last summer. We have also seen Hearts from the SPL, sack their manager before the league season begins.  It just shows that football is getting detached from fans and the business practices are detached from what we would describe as standard practice.

With the amount of money flying around, the demands of owners and a global fan base for their teams to win and play an attractive style football, you see some strange decisions being made in this pursuit of instant success.

Some very successful business people, who have accumulated a lot of wealth through their business ventures have bought football clubs.  It is clear that to have built up enough wealth to buy a club, owners must have a lot of business experience and acumen, however, once they are in the football world, some seem to abandon those principles.

Sir Alex Ferguson is arguably the most successful football manager ever. When he was appointed as Manager of Manchester United in 1986, he was given time to put his stamp on the football side of the operation. It wasn’t all success, in fact his first 3 years were poor and some fans call for him to go. It was the faith of then chairman Martin Edwards that kept him in the job and his faith was more than repaid. Nowadays, managers tend to be a poor run of games from the sack and the long reigns of the now retired Sir Alex and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger are a thing of the past.

There a few clubs we can consider as case studies to illustrate this;

Leeds- Under their previous owner, Massimo Cellino, Leeds went through 7 head coaches in 3 years. Before buying Leeds, as president of Italian side Cagliari he went through 36 in 22 years.

Watford- In total there have been 7 full time managerial appointments at Watford since the Pozzo family took over the club 5 years ago. Last season, Walter Mazzarri delivered premier league safety with 6 games left, which in all honesty would have been the club’s main objective (and the only team outside of the top 3 to beat both Manchester United and Arsenal). He was sacked at the end of the season. The previous season, his predecessor, Quiqe Sanchez Flores, delivered premier league safety and an FA Cup semi final, with the same outcome- The sack.

Leicester city- Claudio Ranieri, pulled of nothing short of a footballing miracle, guiding Leicester city to the Premier league title in the 2015/16 season. 9 months later, after pulling off the unthinkable, he was sacked amid rumours of player ‘unrest’ and some rumours of coaches being unhappy.

Swansea- The ‘Swansea way’ has been ingrained in the club’s rise through the football leagues and the label has been used as a template to how clubs should be run, particularly when you are a new club in the Premier League. However, the last couple of years has brought new owners and a bizarre movement from the Swansea way to no obvious strategy of any kind. A number of strange managerial appointments and signings, led to a very near miss of relegation last season.

Whilst this article has mainly focussed on some of the stranger decisions made by owners and clubs, it is also worth noting that there are many clubs that have a reputation for being well run. Steve Gibson at Middlesbrough has an excellent reputation for supporting managers, Dave Whelan achieved success at Wigan before retiring, Daniel Levy runs a tight ship at Tottenham. Even Swansea City enjoyed largely upward curve through the leagues and did have an excellent reputation- Some even referred to it as the ‘Swansea model’ until recently.

Football is a multi million pound business, however, some of the practices are not what we would say are standard. Does constantly hiring and firing managers, truly lead to success? Can player power allow you to influence a hiring or firing decision? How many millions would you over pay to sign someone who may (or may not) lead to success?

The sport is becoming more and more detached, one has to wonder, will the bubble burst at some point?

Enjoy the new season, whoever you may support