Mourinho Fulfils his Destiny

September 20, 2007


Jose Mourinho leaves Chelsea football club. In doing so, he fulfils his destiny as the special one, chosen to achieve greatness. His story, like that of David Beckham, is the tragedy of those who would challenge the Gods by flying too close to the sun

Jose Mourinho is the John F Kennedy of football mangers. The clearest illustration of the charismatic personality in a sport not lacking in charismatics. The similarities to the stories of David Beckham and George Best are worth noting.

According the mythologists, the story draws on deep and commonly shared beliefs about ourselves and our world. It speaks of our acceptance of powerful forces guiding our destiny. The most powerful stories are told and retold down the ages. They can be found in Greek tragedies, in Celtic and Norse sagas, and also in the campfire tales of ancient peoples. The central figure is heroic. Destined to succeed spectacularly, and then fail spectacularly. The message is that the special ones may appear to have been blessed, but whoever is out there doing the blessing also wants to remind us that humans at some point have to come to terms with their limitations.

The special gifts of the charismatic include that of captivating those with whom they come into contact. We still use the old terms such as ‘spell-binding’ about their acts and speeches.

Jose had to go

Jose was fated to lead Chelsea to success, as he was fated to win the European Cup with Porto, a team hardly considered capable of it. Charismatic leaders have that effect on followers. The spell makes then capable of achieving things they would otherwise have believed to be impossible.

Those who come to mock often fall under the spell, but may fight against it. So it was that Mourinho even captivated the skilled and wilful members of the English Media legions, although there were those waiting, waiting patiently for the story to end in tears.

However, the spell retains its potency. Even when there are signals of a different reality, there are cries of denial. Jose has a contract to 2010. He will be staying at Chelsea. Thus spake Peter Kenyon on behalf of the club. But the fact he needed to make such an assurance was significant.

Perhaps sensitized by the week’s financial denials and reversals of policy by the Government and the Bank of England, I was not convinced by the spokesman on behalf of the Chelsea financial empire. So much so that I found time yesterday to update an earlier post, on the likelihood of Jose leaving the club.

Jose, David, and George

As is it with Jose, so it was with David Beckham and George Best. Their stories have similar ingredients of great giftedness and achievements accompanied by reminders of their fallibility, and potential downfalls. All achieved world-wide acclaim. All suffered. I will spare further links to the stories of the great Achilles or the original Hero. Jose and David still may have opportunities for further episodes in their reworking of that ancient story.


What’s going on at Tottenham?

August 24, 2007


There is a belief in football sports lore that a manager is in trouble when his chairman publically offers him support. This week Martin Jol of Tottenham Hotspur was the latest recipient of such an endorsement, delivered by his chairman David Levy

The story is rich in leadership implications. Martin Jol is widely recognized as a successful international football coach. As Manager, he has been as as successful as outside experts expected in his time at Tottenham Hotspur. Last season ended with the club in a creditable fifth-place in the Premier league. The evidence is that he is well-respected by the players. His acquisition of Dimitar Berbatov has been a huge success, with the Bulgarian striker scoring over twenty goals in his first season at the club. Despite interest from Manchester United and Chelsea, Tottenham was able to reatain their star striker, who has indicated the importance to him of his manager’s influence.

So why is there any doubt over Jol’s future? The obvious source of dissatisafaction is the two successive losses at the start of the season earlier this month. This was followed by a convincing win, but the rumours grew. The directors at the club appeared to have reached a view that their manager was not the person through which they would fulfil their goal of becoming one of the top four English premiership clubs. On this criterion, last season’s fifth place was a failure, even if it had been judged a signal success by most disinterested observers (if there is such a thing).

It appears that the poor start to the season may just have reinforced a corporate view that had emerged earlier. According to iol,

Spurs had offered his job to Sevilla coach Juande Ramos
In almost three years in charge his position has never been under such scrutiny for his usual media briefing…Jol only received the “100 percent” support of his chairperson Daniel Levy at the third attempt on Thursday, [August 23rd 2007] two previous statements from the Spurs’ board this week notably failed to give him their full backing…As Jol prepared to give his version of events, Spurs were forced to deny rumours that Fabio Capello was next in line to take over the helm after Ramos’s decision to stay put in Sevilla

So, there is some evidence of board-room discontent. It calls to mind the background of rumours around Jose Mourinho at Chelsea earlier this year, and Sven Goran Eriksson as he approached the end of his time as England manager.

Come to think of it …

Ambition drives business leaders onwards, and sometimes upwards. The goal of reaching the top four clubs in the land is one that can be understood. Only the churlish would point out that such an ambition needs deep pockets, maybe deeper than those around Tottenham at present. The ambition would have been further strengthened by the ease with which Chelsea has jumped to the top of the status table in London, as well as the top of the league nationally since the Abramovitch takeover and his foolishly wealthy support. That must hurt. For the moment, in town, Tottenham must look up to Arsenal who must look up to Chelsea. I looks up to him, but he looks up to me, as the old John Cheese sketch put it.

Admirable ambition. If the stories turn out to be accurate, the ambition was rather unrealistic, and badly executed. A fine manager is put under pressure, and the club has succeeded in the short-term only in undermining his efforts.

Mourinho’s job is safe: Update

April 21, 2007


An earlier post reviewed the prospects of Jose Mourinho staying with Chelsea Football Club. Renewed rumours have broken out at the start of the 2007-8 League season as Chelsea results took a dip. Relations between owner and coach blow from luke-warm to Russian Steppes cold

Original Post

Speculation has been rife for nearly a year that Jose Mourinho will lose his job as Chelsea Coach at the end of the season. CEO Peter Kenyon announces that Mourinho’s job is safe. So why is this unlikely to end speculation? The question takes us into the matter of how leaders in general may fail to convince the press and the wider public of their integrity.

When a politician says “I’m not standing for leader” the message is rarely taken at face-value. I’m most familiar with the UK scene, but it seems a pretty universal reaction. We assume that the politician will find wriggle room so that the original statement did not mean what it sounded like. I suspect that there is widely shared tacit knowledge that the politician is saying something he wants us to believe, while reserving the right to claim that something else was meant, if and when that becomes convenient or necessary.

We can examine this through the highly specific incident in which Chelsea CEO Peter Kenyon has denied the story that Coach Jose Mourinho will be fired at the end of the year. Kenyon could hardly have been more specific. In an interview published on the club’s website he was reported as saying

“Jose’s got a contract until 2010 and we’re not going to sack him. He’s got the full support of the board, that’s really important”

There have been no press stories to indicate that Kenyon habitually misleads the public in his public statements. Yet, my suspicion is, that there is something in stories about Mourinho’s future. An earier denial by team captain John Terry did not not prevent the rumors from continuing. The Press is discounting the public statements without having prior cause for doubting the spokesmen.

Don’t ruin a good story

One broader issue is the attraction to many journalists to keep a good story running. Some have made claims to know that JM is going, with ‘exclusive’ claims that yet another international coaching star has been approached. (Germany’s coach Juergen Klinsmann is the latest of a long line of heirs apparent).

There’s little follow-up mileage in a headline that says ‘Jose to stay’. Maybe this kind of wish from journalists helps achieve self-fulfilling prophesies from time to time. It probably contributes to the uncertainties and insecurities of high-profile jobs. But one factor is hardly enough to explain everything. It pays to look more widely.

The Owner’s influence

In Football, the club owner is often one major factor in the coach’s survival. In the case of Chelsea, owner Abramovich has about as much power as any one person can wield. Whatever Kenyon says, even if Jose’s got a contract to 2010, and even if he has the full support of the board today …. well, you can fill in the dots for yourself. How about ‘things might change if Chelsea fails to win the European Cup, or the Premiership, or the FA cup, or any combination of the three’ ? Abramovich’s reluctance to talk with the press simply adds to speculation.

Jose’s leadership record

Mourinho’s leadership record at Chelsea over the last three years has been outstanding. Before his arrival he had already established himself as one of the most successful coaches in world football. This gives credibility to his somewhat ironic self-description as The Special One. He has recently made it clear that he would like to stay at the club, implying that the decision to leave would not be his.

Leadership and trust

Leadership is often said to be the process of influencing others in seeking to achieve one’s goals. An important aspect is shaping the sense that others make of critical situations. Kenyon would like to reassure fans, as well as the media, that there is no ‘Jose Mourinho problem’ at Chelsea. We have also seen how such a statement may not be taken on trust.

In some contrast, Jose Mourinho seems to be achieving that precious asset in his relationship with his players. He has communicated his belief that the players, too, are ‘special ones’ . When needed, a half-time reminder from the Coach (coupled with shrewd and sometimes daring substitutions) has resulted in the second half, a return to the high levels of performance demanded of the players.

Charismatic leaders achieve their results partly through a form of unconditional trust that they induce in followers. ‘Less special ones’ have to rely on force of argument, often against the reluctance of others to believe what they are being told.

If we want to speculate …

We should take a look at the pattern of behaviours of the actors in the past. Kenyon has tended to be a ‘safe pair of hands’, perhaps tending to a parsimony in revealing and addressing inconvenient information. Abramovich has tended to achieve his results in a discrete fashion. Mourinho has tended to push his employers to get his own way, and has been known to put his job on the line to achieve what he wants. Which suggests that if and when Mourinho leaves, it will hardly be a case of ‘going quiet into that good night’.

Correction, but is it better?

The entry was modified to eliminate the earlier misspelling of Jose’s name. It originally referred to someone called Mourhino. I was tempted to retain the accidental error, but decided it was a bit of cheap and accidental graffiiti and maybe it explained why the post was not being hit very often (message to othe dyslectics out there …).

Bold and lucky Generals: The case of Arsenal Football club

April 5, 2007


A bold general may be lucky but no General can be lucky unless he is bold. The military precept has been adapted to explore the current disappointing performance of the Arsenal Football team. We ask whether the principle has any validity – in football or in military conflicts.

The excellent title to an Arsenal football blog post set me thinking. Where had I heard that before? Napoleon?

Well, almost. Turns out that the quote has a football and a military pedigree. The quote can be traced to a report in The New York Herald Tribune of a football match that had taken place at the start of the 2005 season. The game was one in which Arsenal suffered an ‘unlucky’ loss to Chelsea, when a bustling, and as yet largely unhailed Didier Drogba produced what the report decribed as

.. a fortuitous goal, a mishit by a big, bludgeoning attacker

The author of the Herald Tribune report traced the quotation in his title to the British Field Marshall, Archibald Percival Wavell. The Arsenal blog picked up on it a few years later.

And Napoleon?

It did sound a bit like a Napoleon story. That greatest of French military leaders was an early proponent of spin, so we have to be cautions about his words and intentions. There is a possibly apocryphal story of how he would consider the prospects for a junior officer by musing ‘Yes, but is he lucky’. The story fits with Napoleon’s somewhat fatalistic view of events which was coupled with a belief that there is a critical moment in battle (if not in life generally) when a great leader can seize the initiative regardless of circumstances.

Yogi’s warrior

Which story brings us back to the excellent Arsenal blog by Yogi’s warrier. I’ve noted earlier that Arsenal is well-served by intelligently written blogs It must have something to do with the civilizing impact or the other great French General, Arsene Wenger. Yogi’s warrior bemoaned Arsenal’s bad luck this season, with injuries to their main players, particularly their peerless Thiery Henry.

‘So what is wrong? More than anything I believe Arsene is having what could be called ‘bad luck’. Look at the wider picture. What else can the serious injuries to your two lead strikers be called? Careless? Hardly. Henry perhaps at a push but Arsenal tried to nurture him back from the World Cup only to have the French scupper their plans. The volume of football required of the player due to success at club and international level is the cause, as well as a stupid carelessness and stubborn pride from his national team manager. RvP’s foot? What else is that but bad luck?’

Luck, and Jose you know who

Seems to me, that luck deserves closer attention than it has received by academics, who would much rather study risk and uncertainty. With one or two exceptions, serendipity is out there with psychic studies as of dubious pedigree to warrant serious academic attention. Among the less cynical was the celebrated sociologist Robert Merton who suggested that luck could be partly explained by superior sensitivities to unexpected and unsought opportunities.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the ‘lucky General’ in the Herald Tribune story was none other than Jose Mourhino. Nor that the ‘lucky’ substitute was Didier Drogba. The win over Arsenal was about the time when the public profiles of both these figures were on the up. Since then Jose’s Chelsea have won two league titles. Mourhino’s reputation has grown even more. Drogba has largely fulfilled the promise that his mighty transfer fee required.

Even more significantly, Chelsea has also suffered ‘bad luck’ this year on the injury front. But this has been coupled by a remarkable number of ‘lucky’ wins. Although there has been talk of Chelsea losing momentum to Manchester United in the League, the gap in points between the two teams has remained almost the same over a period of several months.

Leadership lessons?

One possibility is that our beliefs are shaped by the sense we make of complicated situations, through what Herbert Simon called bounded rationality. Another factor is a tendency among one group of people to believe that they have little control over events, while other people believe they have more control over events. The positive mental attitude of the latter seems to work in a leader’s favor. So we collect events that conform to our negative beliefs, and assert we have been unlucky. It is likely to be the same mindset which leads us to attribute the success of others to their good luck. As I’ve probably written before, ‘either you believe you can or you believe you can’t. And in either case, you are probably right. Rationality is bounded (as Herb Simon taught us). Napoleon, and Jose, desplay the self-belief of charismatic leaders that transmits itself to their followers (and even to their enemies).

What Jose did next: How a leader can make a difference

March 7, 2007

200px-jose_mourinho-07.jpgChelsea football club won a vital cup-game after a poor first-half performance. Much of the change in performance was attributed to the influence exerted by charismatic coach Jose Mourinho through his half-time exhortation. This appears to be a case example of a leader’s inspiring influence. But is it as simple as all that? Are there lessons others can learn and imitate successfully?

For forty-five minutes, the current champions of the English Premiership played like the underdogs (which they weren’t) and almost like the away team (which they also weren’t). The visitors, Porto, cashed in on their superiority through a well-taken goal after fifteen minutes, a lead they held until the half-time.

Coach Jose Mourinho had been captured by TV cameras grimly heading for the changing rooms, a few minutes before the half-time interval. The ITV commentator suggested that the result would depend on what the gifted coach could do to change the performance of the ailing team.

From the start of second half, Chelsea upped their game. Within a few minutes their increased pressure was followed by a goal. If there is such a thing as momentum within a sporting contest, Chelsea had achieved it and was benefiting from it. A goal for either side would win the two-leg tie, and the team would advance into the quarter-finals of the European Cup. The well-worked goal from Captain Michael Ballack was the inevitable winner.

Victory had been billed as a critical factor for the team to achieve its lofty aspirations, following the three years of bank-rolling by billionaire owner Roman Abramovitch. Speculation had been growing that Mourinho’s future at the club was in doubt regardless of the result, although failure would have reduced his chances even more.

The inspirational speech

Mourinho was happy to explain subsequently what happened at half-time. His team appeared to need a jolt to help them out of a psychologically bad place.

“I asked the players to enjoy the situation,” Mourinho said of his half-time team talk. “We had 45 minutes to change things, and I asked them ‘are you scared of it or are you going to enjoy it?’… Psychologically, I just made the players think a little bit.”

The Charismatic explanation

How might we explain the change in the team’s performance? One explanation fits with the charismatic model of leadership. The great leader inspires his followers through his own personality and stirring performance. The overall impact extends far beyond the words, to the instantaneous impression created by the leader.

According to this sort of model, the result of the leader’s ‘speech act’ was to trigger an immediate change in behavior in the players. Through his shrewd psychological insight, and ‘giving them something to think about’ the players responded.

There are other factors to consider

If we look a little more carefully, we may feel there are other factors to consider. Both Mourinho and opposing coach Jesualdo Ferreira felt that another change had also been important. At half-time, Jon Obi Michel was introduced, giving Chelsea the lacking dynamism from mid-field.

Both and … not Either or

The situation is complex and unclear, suggesting that it is some combination of the substitution of Michel, and the half-time leadership intervention which taken together achieved the desired change. The evidence seems to support Mourinho’s self-assessment as a Special One.

Some leaders may have hit on a tactical shift to help put things right at half-time. Other leaders might have well-developed psychological sensitivity (emotional intelligence?). I suggest that the combination of tactical astuteness and psychological astuteness is particularly rare.

So, yes, I’d say that the overall impact Mourinho had on the result was in this instance significant, and also one likely to have been matched by a minority of coaches at any level of the game.

What might we learn from Jose?

This is an important question for those wannabe leaders in football and beyond. Mourinho acknowledges how much he learned strategically and tactically from his mentor, the former England coach Bobby Robson. (At, among other clubs Porto). The half-time team-talk has a ring to it that sounds equally authentic if we imagine it had been delivered by Sir Bobby.

This is evidence which suggests that leadership performance (at least, on the Football field) can be learned and developed, even by a special one such as Jose Mourinho. What of the rest of us? Among the less gifted, those who believe they can learn such things from their role models are probably right. Those who believe they can’t … well they are also probably right as well.

I don’t know if Jose’s the greatest football manager ever, but I know how to find out

February 24, 2007

Jose and Arsene (BBC image)So the Special one’s been at it again. In his own words, he’s up there in a group of no less than eight and no more than fourteen. He may be talking of today’s managers. Or he may be talking about where he is in the all-time great rankings. In either case, it would be nice to have some rules for working out whether Jose Mourinho has got it right. Here are a few suggestions.

This is not going to be very exciting. On the other hand, you might find it useful if you ever find yourself in a fighting talk situation. Otherwise you may want to save it for after the end of the season. Which, according to some Watford fans, has already arrived. Anyway, yerwego. Letsby Avenue.

According to an excellent Arsenal website, Jose Mourhino has been winding up the opposition prior to the Carling Cup final. The BBC also picked up, and provided the excellent image above of Jose and Arsene both looking suitably wise. On reflection, Jose wound me up, prompting this post.

How to decide the greatest anything: The rule of last one standing

You can decide the greatest anything – once you know what the rules of the game are. The greatest is the one left, when you have shown all the others are not so great. Take the London Marathon. The winner is the runner who is not finishing behind anyone else. Or in the long jump, he or she is the one whose longer jump is longer than everyone else’s. And so on. Apply the rule and spot the champion.

But it’s not as simple as that is it?

No, sorry, it’s not. For example, today we heard that this year at Wimbledon, the best female tennis player of the tournament this year will get the same prize money as the best male tennis player. I’ve listened to lots of people say that’s right, and lots saying that’s wrong. The rule of last one standing (or actually the last flopping down on the hallowed grass in a practiced victory routine) sorts out the best in each of the competitions. But who deserves the most money? The last bloke standing (or flopping?), simply because the blokes play more sets than the women? Or Roger Federer, because he’s likely to be said bloke, and because he plays fewer sets than any other bloke? Or because he would get ten out of ten for artistic merit for more sets than anyone else.

See where I’m coming from? We can’t decide if we can’t even agree what are the rules of the game to arrive at the greatest. The more events and the wider the timeframes, the harder it gets.

You mean like picking the greatest footballers of all time?

Exactly. I mean like picking the greatest players of all time. And even if we agreed on the rules of the game, we run into the complications of judges interpreting rules. It’s bad enough in Football with one referee having to interpret the rules (with assistance). But what about that Olympic favourite, high diving? The judges practice as hard as the divers, but they still can’t agree all that closely.

So picking the best players over time is tricky. You can’t even compare statistics. Some clever maths show that sports become more competitive over time, with less of a spread between best and worse teams playing each regularly. (It may not seem so in the Premier league, but it’s probably the same there as has been shown in other studies).

Some ways to decide how to decide

In each case, a general principle can be proposed. Find some way of establishing the what rules are to be used to arrive at the last manager standing. Notice, the problem now shifts from finding the winning manager, to finding the winning rules. See what can be learned from the rules applied to obtain the winner in other situations.

Gonks, anoracks, accountants, and attourneys (sorry, members of the legal profession) like rules that involve counting and measuring. The greatest golfer is said to be the one who earns the most dollars in a year. That’s more or less accepted in a year. It doesn’t work over time however. Note, it’s not the golfer who gets the lowest hole average in a year, a method which wouldn’t always get the same result. Note also, it’s not the football team winning the most games that necessarily wins the league or even the World Cup, or the tennis player who wins the most games in a match, tournament or a year.

Hm… Boring, isn’t it. There’s no one answer. But we can fix it to get different ‘right answers’ according to different rules. Or how about this approach? You ask the best managers to vote on the very bestest one of all?

I think you can see the snag there. How do we pick the best manager. Hm. Or maybe we ask everyone in the world interesting in soccer to send in their votes. Hm, again, lot’s of scope for cheating, and how much do most of those ********’s **** s know about anything anyway?

How to see how right Jose is on this one?

OK. That’s what you’ve been waiting for. You deserve a serious no messing answer. How can we Jose compare with today’s managers; and how to compare him against the all-time greats?

This is what I’d do. I’d carry out what’s called a meta-analysis (phew). I’d have two sets of people. One group would be the rule-setters, and the other the rule testers. Each would have fans, players, coaches, pundits, even referees and other officials. Then I’d lock the rule-testers up until they agreed on the rules for picking the bestest manager. They would then be let out.

Next, the rule-testers would be locked up to reach the answer as dictated by the rules. Again they could come out when they have reported. Their job is to have a league table of the current day managers. We can then see where Jose fits on that list.

This gives us the answer to the first, and simpler question. For the other question, I’m inclined to go for a different approach. I’d get all those game players to play out footie games with teams and managers from all time periods. Using some of the rules already established you could then see who wins out.

Oh, yes, if that fails, I’d be inclined to ask Jose what he thinks about it all… Or maybe Arsene.

Paul Revere rides again

February 8, 2007

PAUL REVEREIt’s Paul Revere in reverse. English patriots are riding out to warn against the American forces threatening their homeland. Only this time it’s Americans advancing and winning the battles for England’s premier football teams. There are Russian forces too, but that’s another story. Will the victorious leaders win the support of the natives, or are we in for prolonged insurgent battles in the name of independence from the invaders?

This week Liverpool FC was acquired by two sporting Entrepreneurs from America. The event met little resistance from supporters, in contrast to an earlier takeover at Manchester United FC two years ago.

The battle for MUFC

When two American sporting entrepreneurs took over Manchester United Football Club a few years ago, the fans rose up in a display of organized resistance. The initial reactions were intense suspicion that the move was the prelude to the destruction of the club in the interests of short-term financial manipulation. The more extreme predictions have not come to pass, and the club is experiencing an upsurge of results on the pitch. Boycotts by disaffected season ticket holders have been rather ineffective, as the enlarged stadium at Old Trafford since the take-over has regularly claimed Premier league record attendances.

In England, changing financial requirements brought about by TV rights and product franchises, were increasingly forcing a generation of club chairmen to sell their majority holdings and control.

But football’s more than a business – isn’t it?

Much has been written about the intensity of the cultural identity provided to a region, by its football clubs. An earlier example in England saw fans of the ‘Old’ Wimbledon form a breakaway club as the original team was relocated to Milton Keynes.

Thus the outcry at MUFC. But even before, there had been a relatively smooth transition at Chelsea FC, during which fans quickly accepted the potential of what was at first seen as an unlimited budget provided by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.

A succession of takeovers were to follow those at MUFC and Chelsea FC. At Aston Villa, all the dedicated efforts of Chairman Ellis in investing his own fortune in the club had cut no ice with the fans. The chairman’s commitment and willingness to fire the coaches he appointed had earned him his nickname of Deadly Doug. This probably helped reduce opposition to the take over at the club by another American sporting entrepreneur, Randy Werner.

West Ham succumbed to offers from an Icelandic football administrator and retailing entrepreneur. Arsenal FC, one of the elite and revered names of English football, retained its broad governance, but at the cost of moving into a new stadium named after its backers, the United Emirates.

What sense can we make of the reactions to the takeovers?

At first sight it might appear that English football fans have become less susceptible to the ‘shock of the new’. This might have been because the governance at Chelsea and MUFC was seen to be, if not models of benignity, then were not as deviously short-term and threatening as the Paul Revere outriders were crying at the time.

Overall, however, it seems to me that we have several factors that come into play, influencing the receptiveness to the new regime. Dissatisfaction with the prevailing leadership in achieving the expectations of the fans is one such factor. This was stronger at Liverpool which had lost its one-time supremacy over other English clubs, than at MUFC which had been enjoying a lengthy period of success. The threat of Chelsea was still largely unappreciated. There was probably even stronger dissatisfaction at Aston Villa/

Meanwhile, across the channel

The threat of forein invasion is less acute elsewhere in Europe. Italy’s clubs remains beset with a range of problems which produced assorted punishments and leagl proceedings. Such turmoil did not prevent Italy winning the greatest prize of all, The last World Cup. Last weekend’s rioting was another eruption of the culture of football violence in Italy. However, Italy’s leading clubs tend to have backers of enormous resources and have have not been such an attraction for American sporting entrepreneurs.

Nor have the clubs in Spain, which can boast two of the world’s most glamorous and wealthy clubs (Barcelona and Real Madrid). France and German clubs and also remain relatively untouched by foreign predators. Again wealth (Real) and interestingly democratic ownership (Barca) offer protection. Top teams in Germany and France likewise have resisted foreign invasion.

So what can we conclude?

First, that England, despite strong local culture in football historically, has been rather open to new ownership promising better success on the field. There is an interesting parallel with the openness to foreign ownership of commercial concerns, for example in the automotive industry. Secondly, the resistance will still vary according to local circumstances.

Chelsea sets a question of momentum in sport

December 27, 2006

When champions Chelsea ran out at Stanford Bridge, for the Boxing day fixture against Reading, the match could be seen as particularly influenced by momentum.

In October, in their previous encounter, the momentum of a Reading defender in impact on Petr Cech put Chelsea’s star goalkeeper out of action until the New Year. Since, then, sportswriters have been talking about Chelsea losing momentum to table-leading Manchester United.

What is momentum ?

Sporting leaders often talk about momentum – gaining it, losing it, or retaining it. But just what is momentum? In dynamics, it’s the energy possessed by moving objects. It’s an important concept for figuring out what happens when cars hit people (on either side of the windscreen). Big fast objects have a lot of momentum, small slow-moving ones a lot less. Momentum at the point of impact helps sport scientists explain golf swings, tennis serves, Grand Prix shunts and a host more consequences of impact incidents.

Psychological momentum

If we take this week’s sporting stories we see the term used to imply psychological momentum, often in its consequences for teams and their leaders. In Australia, the Aussies were said to have so much momentum after winning back the Ashes that they were expected to crash through any opposition. As a matter of record, that is just what seems to be happening, after two days of the fourth cricket test.

Going back to Chelsea, the team ‘only’ managed a draw against newly-promoted Reading. Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho says that the team has a short-term problem. Its defense has been severely damaged by the losses of Cech and more recently to their inspirational captain Terry. Yet, strictly speaking, a loss of momentum in their bid to retain their title would be reflected in a sudden dip in form, and failure to regain that form. They have suffered important injuries. Yet, over the last few weeks, the results have remained good enough to retain their lead over all the clubs below them and even reduce the gap between themselves and league-toppers Manchester United. Even in adversity they have had players to rescue them from dropping points. Last-minute winners are not a sign of a side that has lost momentum. It is more likely a sign of on-field players showing leadership qualities.

A considrable body of largely untested theory has been assembled around the idea of leadership influence. Psychologist Willi Railo wrote a book about it with former English coach Sven Göran Eriksson. The theory suggests that social groups cohere into high peformance units through social architects. Early in his regime, Sven’s successes were lnked to his application of the theory. See the transcript of a BBC Horizon programme for more information.

Leadership and momentum

So where does leadership come into this? The owners of football clubs seem to believe in the importance of both concepts. The chief coach or manager can help a club develop momentum, or can dissipate it. If the latter, a change of managerial leadership will fix it. Can it really be as simple as that? For a more academic analysis see the article in Athletic Insight by UK researchers Crust and Lawrence

More generally, are there lessons to be learned from the experiences of political and business leaders?