Ramos is situational leader of the month

December 1, 2007

Update [February, 2008]

On Sunday February 24th 2008, Tottenham Hotspur won the Carling Cup Final at Wembley against a much-fancied Chelsea team. Juande Ramos received plaudits for the transformation achieved at Tottenham since his arrival earlier in the season.

Original Post:

Does a sporting leader make a difference? Sometimes. At a micro-level a coach can change the course of the game by a substitution which sets up a different pattern of play. An illustration of a positive effect can be found in the actions of new coach Juande Ramos, during the game between Tottenham Hotspur and Aalborg in the Uefa cup.

The Tottenham Aalborg match took place on Thursday 29th November, 2007. According to the BBC,

A storming second half from Tottenham overwhelmed Aalborg as Spurs put themselves on the brink of qualifying for the next stage of the Uefa Cup. Thomas Enevoldsen’s 22-yard strike put the visitors ahead before Kasper Risgard bundled in from close range. But a tactical reshuffle by Spurs boss Juande Ramos saw Dimitar Berbatov poke home and Steed Malbranque power in an angled far-post shot to level. Darren Bent grabbed the winner when he tapped in a cross from Aaron Lennon.

It was Ramos’ switch of formation and personnel, as well as his half-time team talk, which reinvigorated the hosts after they had been given an early shock as Aalborg went ahead with just two minutes gone.

The praise for the coach’s tactical changes was widespread in the post-match accounts. However, Ramos also pinpointed what his tactics had been unable to do, namely set up a team with fewer defensive frailties. He acknowledged as much in his post-match conference

“We are making mistakes that could be costly …The most important thing in the team is balance – and we are imbalanced. We are conceding too many opportunities and we have to find a solution to this, because we are not going to score three goals in every game. We have to stop the defence leaking goals. “Unfortunately a lot of the injured players we have at the moment are in the same area of the team. We have King, Gardner, Rocha out”.

In microcosm, then, a coach made a difference to the performance of the team by a tactical decision that was considered imaginative and surprising. I’d say it was a little act of creativity. It is a matter of discussion to assess what proportion of top-level coaches react as impressively, under similar circumstances.

Situational leadership

But should we also note that to make a difference, the team had to be playing less successfully before the change? In which case, the success is balanced by an earlier failure for which the coach also has some responsibility. Closer examination of the play may indicate whether the players had just failed to follow the coach’s plan. In which case, advocates of the theory of situational leadership would put it down to some mismatch between leadership and player actions and competences.

Leadership issues

The simplicity of the example makes it a useful one for study. In what ways might we borrow from the theory of situational management to help other coaches achieve better results? The theory suggests that the level of commitment and competence may vary, and the leader has to modify interventions accordingly. Tottenham’s second string defenders are not displaying the competence expected of Premier League professionals; Ramos finds a creative way of overcoming it, with the old adage that attack is the best form of defence. But the adage is not applied in an automatic way, but under specific circumstances. Ramos also intends to work at more direct ways of protecting his team from defensive errors.

Tentative conclusion

The theory of situational leadership remains controversial as research results appear to be at best inconclusive with respect to results achieved in the predicted directions applying measures of leadership (and follower) styles. Perhaps the football field will be a promising arena to study the theory, and maybe apply it in practice.


There is a wider issue that should be mentioned. The arrival of Juande Ramos, and departure of Martin Jols is a far more complicated story to untangle. It would be simplistic to suggest that the Board was correct in replacing a leader who had achieved rather unexpected success over five years at the club. That story requires a far more detailed study over a much longer time-scale than the ninety minutes of a football match.


Image from the wonderful land of New Zealand.


A Bad Week for Weakened Leaders: But how far is Paris from Agincourt?

October 19, 2007

It’s been a bad week for British leaders. A spate of sackings and resignations has occurred. The battered leaders met their nemesis after humiliating performances in sport, business and politics. But hope persists at the prospects for a great victory in the Rugby World Cup

There are so many stories. Too many for me to cover all of them in detail.

Some were easier to predict than others. Sammy Lee acquired his job at the start of the season, as manager of Bolton Wanderers FC, when the much-admired Sam Allardyce was head-hunted for Newcastle United. He stepped up from Big Sam’s shadow. But from the start he was dubbed little Sam, a painful reminder of his erstwhile stature and status. Bolton has had a dreadful start to the season. In a little league table of Premiership managers facing the sack, I had him placed second (just below Martin Jols of Tottenham). Sorry Martin. Hang in there.

Then there were the casualties from the World Cup of Rugby Football. I didn’t have a list of these. But I certainly would not have placed Graham Henry of the New Zealand All Blacks anywhere near the top. My list of managers most likely to take an early bath would have been headed by England’s Brian Ashton, about whom more later. Henry’s team had been confirming their status as the tournament favourites until the quarter finals. Until then they had outstripped opponents so thoroughly that they had hardly become match tight. They lost a tight game, playing below their potential. Exit New Zealand. Exit Henry.

Wales, Ireland and Scotland failed to make it through the first stage of the tournaments. Out went Gareth Jenkins of Wales, and Eddie O’ Sullivan, of Ireland. Only Scotland’s much-rated Frank Hadden survived.

England’s football coach Steve McClaren also seems to be surviving on borrowed time, after defeat to Russia leaves England’s qualification from the European Cup in doubt. In his case, there is a mathematical probability that England will reach the knockout stage of the European competition. This, as much as somewhat improved performances by the team, is staying the hand of the English Football Association. They had already botched the appointment of McClaren after a hasty effort and failed effort to secure Big Sam (sorry, Big Phil) Scolari during last year’s World Cup.

[Will Big Steve survive in his present coaching job longer than Big Martin Jols of Tottenham?].

In Politics

In Politics the increasingly nasty tussles between Gordon Brown and David Cameron continue in Parliamentary exchanges. Ironically, the more immediate victim of that contest was Ming Campbell of the Liberal Democrats. In a decision that caught the press unawares, Ming has his retirement announced for him by two leading Lib Dem king-makers and king -unmakers. (‘Did you wield the knife’ one reporter shouted audibly during the televised announcement. No, he resigned. Ming spoke the next day, saying he had decided that he would not be able to deflect the media from obsessing about his age, thus hindering all attempts to get across the political messages he wanted to convey.

These petty-paced political moves are arguably no more than the uncomfortable outcroppings of democracy. As I write, I learn of the real carnage within presumably an assassination attempt on Benazir Bhutto as she re-entered Pakistan after a decade of exile.

In Business

In the aftermath of the celebrated Northern Rock affair, the bank’s leaders appeared before the commons select committee that had already interviewed the leaders of the Bank of England, The treasury, and The Financial Services Authority.

Under typically robust questioning, Adam Applegarth and Matt Ridley denied that they had ‘done anything wrong’ but indicated that they would accept the judgement of their shareholders, if they were eventually forced to resign.

In the course of the questioning, it was also revealed that all the bank’s senior directors had offered to resign in the immediate aftermath of the run, but had been asked to stay on to sort out its problems.

I think they are safe for the moment, on the same grounds as Big Steve McClaren has a temporary stay of execution. [Stop press, a few hours after I posted this, Dr Ridley accepted the inevitable and resigned].

In a somewhat different story, ITV faces calls for the dismissal of various culprits in their money-making scheme based on rigged phone-in contests. The enormity of this story can be seen when it emerges that Mr Ant and Mr Dec are under threat. That’s like Santa up for shop-lifting in the Christmas Sales.

England Rugby, The World Cup and Brian Ashton

King-makers popped up to endorse Steve McClaren, and to praise and bury Ming Campbell. They even popped up to endorse coach Brian Ashton, after England’s heart-stopping Rugby Union victory over France. It could be seen as one of those endorsements which increasingly indicate that the coach is in big trouble. The denial serves to signal the presence of trouble, not its absence. This was a slightly different kind of announcement, I think. It was made on the wave of national support for the England team.

Here we have an example of the rapid swings for and against a leader. Less than a month ago, Mr Ashton was seen as credible a leader as Sir Menzies Campbell. The performances of his teams had been bitterly criticized. Now, on the eve of the 2007 final, he now stands one game short of receiving the kind of accolades showered on his predecessor Clive Woodward after his team became World Champions, four years ago. Outside of England, the suspicion is that England are serious underdogs to a South African team that beat them comprehensively in the run up to the finals. This is not a time for logic. How far is from Paris to Agincourt?

Martin Jols. A great night, but the die is cast

October 2, 2007


Martin Jols seemed to be fighting for survival as coach of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. On the club’s anniversary match, his team fall three goals behind. Then something amazing happens

Martin Jols is a much-respected football manager. Since his arrival at Tottenham in 2004, his teams have performed beyond expectations. ‘Beyond’, that is for neutral commentators.

This season, results have been bad. Very bad. Tottenham lies in the relegation role. Jols has been made one of the favourites for the next Premier League manager to lose his job. He has received a dubious public statement of support from the board.

On Monday 1st October 2007, there is a pre-match celebration at White Hart lane, in honour of the club’s one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary. In a wave of emotion, the team starts well, and scores through one of their few prized assets, Dimitar Berbatov. After that, it was the story of the season again. Opponents Aston Villa equalise, then sweep into a two goal lead at half-time.

Say Goodbye to Martin?

As in all good dramas, there is another unexpected twist. The team could not guarantee the future of Martin Jols at the club. But they could have ensured his demise. A poor second-half performance would have finished him as surely as the loss to Fiji finished the job prospects of Gareth Jenkins of Wales a few days before in Rugby’s world cup. Heads down, and the performance would be seen as irretrievable loss of confidence in the coach.

For all their renewed efforts, Tottenham fall even further behind. Four-one with fifteen minutes to go. They think it’s all over.

But the team fought back ferociously. Two goals in ten minutes. Four-three. The clock runs down. In extra time, a corner-kick to Tottenham. Nervous defending and Younes Kaboul scrambles the ball into the net, maybe from an offside position. The game is saved.

The players rush to their coach, celebrating in delight. Player-power may have rescued Martin Jols for the moment.

It’s only a matter of time

It’s only a matter of time for any Premier League manager before he faces the sack. The process seems to work in this way. A board of directors, or in football, the powerful chairman, believes that his social identity is threatened through disappointments on the field. Regardless of the competence of the manager, or availability of a better replacement, the die is cast. [Coincidentally, Aston Villa until recently had a chairman in this mould].

The even-more celebrated demise of Jose Mourinho seems a notable example from earlier in the month.

The decision to axe the manager becomes public following a particularly humiliating critical incident for chairman and club. A bad loss is seized upon. (‘A decisive decision’ was how it was described over the weekend.

Protesting fans may be used as evidence to justify such a decision. This is a matter of judgement. Most fans believe they actions sing their team to victory, and settle the fate of their managers. I’m not sure it works that way. In this instance, it rather confirms a contrary view. It seems to be more plausible that the players screwed up big-time, then redoubled their efforts for fifteen minutes. That lifted the crowd. The result stayed the hand of the board.

For the moment.

Well done Martin Jols.

And good luck in your future career.

Bear Stearns and the art of making money in tough times

September 13, 2007

joseph-and-his-amazing-wastecoat.jpgTough times bring with them opportunities. Hardly surprising, then, that entrepreneurs invest where and when more cautious souls are scrabbling to escape. Joseph Lewis and his investment in Bear Stearns is a recent example


[An update can be found [March 17th 2008] to the following post]

Doom and gloom in the world’s financial markets. At the core of the problems are those institutes in the so-called sub-prime markets. At the core of the sub-prime business are the American investment and banking giants such as Bear Stearns.

But the principles of entrepreneurship hold. One of these is a calculated approach to risk-taking. Which appears to be what British entrepreneur did recently in investing in Bear Stearns.

Those of us outside the collective frenzy of the trading rooms have to reply on the indicators of expert opinion. The most immediate indicators are that the mighty Bear Stearns organization has been having a particularly tough time. Losses in two large funds seem to have prompted leadership changes.

According to a Bloomberg report

Bear Stearns triggered a decline in the credit markets in June after two of its hedge funds faltered as default rates on home loans to people with poor credit rose. For subprime mortgages turned into securities, defaults hit a 10-year high. The company pledged $1.3 billion to help stem losses in the funds. They filed for bankruptcy protection on July 31, two weeks after Bear Stearns told investors they would get little, if any, money back.

This was followed the removal of senior figures including one of the joint Presidents, Warren Spector, leaving Alan Schwartz, 57, as sole president. Spector was regarded as being groomed to take over from 73 year old James Cayne as CEO. The leadership moves have been seen as attempts by Mr Cayne to reassure markets.

Get out of that place

As a leadership watcher, my impressions recently have been that Credit Markets are a bad place to be in. And Bear Stearns a particularly bad place to be invested in. [Background music of I gotta get out of that place].

But such pessimism swamps awareness of opportunities to be made out of adversity. Step forward the fearless entrepreneur.

This week we learn that Billionaire British investor Joseph Lewis has invested over £400 million to acquire a 7% stake in Bear Stearns

Joseph Lewis. Who he?

A good starting point for billionaire bulletins is the Forbes Rich-List

Turns out that Mr Lewis is a self-made billionaire now happily located in Bahamas, gainfully employed through his Tavistock investment apparatus. There he is also busy building a nice little golfing set-up around the corner with his golfing chums Mr T. Woods and Mr E. Els.

Pausing one day, maybe on a newly leveled tee, he is unable to resist setting up a birdie chance. His route may skirt dangerous ground, but there’s no gain without risk. He makes his selection. A beautiful swing. Faint, Muppet-like cry of ‘in the hole’ from an admiring spectator …

Enough of this golfing metaphor. According to the BBC
Mr Lewis has bought the shares over the past two months through his Florida-based investment firm Tavistock, according to a filing to the US financial watchdog, the Securities and Exchange Commission. It makes him Bear Stearns’ largest individual investor… His other investments include minority stakes in Tottenham Hotspur and Glasgow Rangers football clubs.

To boldly go

What’s the leadership angle? The entrepreneur seems to me to capture the archetype of the heroic leader. In mythology, the hero leaves the everyday world and sets out on a lonely and courageous adventure. Along the way he (usually he) encounters the greatest and most fearful of hazards, before overcoming them, and eventually returning home. In most fairytales the hero is reunited with his love, and they live happily ever after. This seems to be the story of the entrepreneur-hero. Which is also pretty much the case for the business leader-hero, whose courage gains its deserved rewards.

The Greeks tended to include in the story such wrinkles as the way that the hero’s achievements are temporary blips in a final outcome determined by fate, the Gods, or whatever.

In either case, the hero-figure boldly goes where most of us fear to travel.

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.