There are many aspects to achieving success in football.
Whether we like it or not and some don’t, football is a business as well as a sport. It is very different to a normal trading business where the quality of a product, its marketing, sales and service delivery are fundamental to creating a profitable and successful entity. What football has on top of these fundamentals is emotion and customer (fan) pressure that are rarely there to the same extent in a routine business. This does influence owners to make decisions they would never make in the businesses where they have made their money in the first place.
So, what makes a successful football club? There is not one single thing, it is a mixed dynamic, but clearly some areas are more important than others. If you can get the ideal mix, then the chances are you can achieve your goals. I have been lucky enough to have been involved in four promotions and two league championships in my career and the basics adopted were always the same.
If there is stability and a real sense of family created within a club then that is the basis for achieving commitment and a sense of purpose at all levels which makes it a good working environment for everyone involved. That is something that has to be built day by day and does not happen overnight.
Firstly, you need to create a realistic and achievable business plan for the short, medium and long term. Setting clear objectives in every area of operation is essential and then monitoring performance to make sure the objectives set are achieved working to the budgets set. Making unplanned decisions on the hoof is the road to failure.
Recruitment of players is key, but recruitment needs not only to be about what you do today but what you are trying to build for the future. Increasingly clubs are using the loan system to fill up to five squad places and that can fulfil short term goals but if the loan players are all go back to their parent clubs in the following January or May then that is disruptive to the bond and team spirit you seek to create. Players have to have ability, but they also have to have a work ethic. You can have all the skill in the world but without application it is meaningless. All the best sides in the world have a strong work ethic.
Management of the players, motivation, tactical awareness, effective analysis of the opposition and organisation are essential ingredients and good set piece organisation for example can be the difference between winning and losing a match.
Nobody should underestimate how important the ancillary services around a team are. By that I mean physiotherapy, sports science, player analysis and psychology. If players are not managed effectively physically and mentally then they will either not be on the pitch to perform or not be in the optimum condition to perform. Managers often like to avoid dealing with players personal issues and players don’t want to raise them for fear of it affecting their place in the team so creating a relationship where any problem can be solved for the good of the group is important.
Of course, if the club is not performing commercially then that brings financial pressures that can impact upon the team and increase the funding level needed from the owner. A football club has many businesses within the one overall business, and all need to contribute to the bottom line. A sponsorship business…a retail business …a conference and banqueting business …..an events business……a communications business.
Building a successful club requires dedication and hard work and it is not an exact science and luck plays a part but as the saying goes sometimes you make your own luck!
Peter Varney – Chairman, Integral Sports Management
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Photograph: Ian Hodgson/Ian Hodgson NMC Pool