While the best football players struggle with the new ball at the World Cup in South Africa, in a couple of conference rooms at the UK’s Warwick Business School, some 20 professional players, coaches and lower league managers are being drilled in the role of payment-in-kind loans used in the leveraged buy-out of big football clubs. “It’s basically paying for a club on the never-never,” says one student at a morning session examining football club balance sheets.
They are attending an applied management course for aspiring football managers. As well as improving their business knowledge, the course is designed to increase the longevity of a typical management career.
“There is so much churn in the game that people, after one appointment, may never get another chance to manage,” says Sue Bridgewater, an associate professor of marketing and strategy at the school and director of its Centre for Management in Sport.
Course alumni include Stuart Pearce, a former England captain who is now a coach of England’s World Cup squad and manages the country’s under-21 team, and Mark Hughes, the former boss of Manchester City.
Michael Appleton, a former Manchester United player and now a coach at West Bromwich Albion, is among those on this year’s course. He was forced to retire at the age of 27 after an injury while playing at West Brom. “One of the main reasons I want to be a manager is that I want to replace the butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling you get as a player,” he says. “I want that pressure.”
Business qualifications for most football managers in the English League remain dominated by the traditional model – learning on the job.
But the Warwick course offers an externally assessed academic qualification based on two residential weeks, along with additional days of teaching and written assignments.
Participants conduct mock player transfer negotiations, assess themselves in a leadership and psychology module, learn mentoring techniques, work on strategies to gain the support of club chairmen, and are trained in how to speak in public.
The course is backed by the English Football Association, the League Managers’ Association and the Professional Footballers’ Association.
Chris Powell, the retiring chairman of the PFA, is among this year’s participants. The former England international and player-coach for Leicester City, spent 24 years as a professional player and now describes himself as “a novice hoping to become a manager”. To succeed in English football management today, he adds: “You have to learn the money and administrative side.”
Tony Loughlan, first team coach at Ipswich Town, hopes the course will help him to develop his negotiation, media and personal presentation skills so that he can eventually move into managing a top club in his own right.
“It’s not a safe industry ... You want to stay in a job as long as you can,” he says.
Students can at least hope that formal management training will improve their chances. Just under 100 former top footballers or coaches have completed the course since it was launched in 2002, and Prof Bridgewater estimates that a third of all league managers have passed through its doors.
“For managers it’s a very transient profession, and it is almost inevitable you will get sacked,” she says. “Even if you are successful you will have periods out of the game – and to help deal with that we have stress management as part of the course.”
Her research shows the average spell of a league manager has fallen to an all-time low of 1.4 years. In career terms, aspiring managers need a Plan B. But though many on the Warwick course recognise their chances of success are slim, emotionally they do not seem to countenance failure.
“Money is not a fundamental motivation,” says Prof Bridgewater, “They simply love the game – and find it difficult to stay away from it.”
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