Under New Management

This weekend sees the start of the new Premier League football season and I, for one, can’t wait. Regular readers will know that I’m an Arsenal fan, who’s been following them home and away since my early teens. But this weekend is a little more unique. For only the 4th time in all my years of watching Arsenal they will be starting the season with a brand new manager. A couple of times they have changed manager during a season, but I have to say that during my years of support they haven’t had that many managers.

I’m not usually one for waxing lyrical about what business/HR/recruitment can learn from sport, but having done some writing and research around leadership and management recently I’m interested in the rituals and actions by which new managers establish their style and vision, and differentiate themselves from their predecessors.

Most people want to work for leaders who are accountable and honest. In the UK we also like them to be decisive. Football managers will always be accountable – to the fans and the Board who hired them. Our new manager seems like an honest guy, and has a decent record of winning at other clubs, so what’s he done so far to make an impression?

He has a plan and strategy.

He knew what had been going wrong. The new managers that I’ve seen have all come in at a time of stagnation. The team hadn’t evolved or developed over the previous few seasons. Earlier glories had not been matched. Outgoing managers hadn’t refreshed the squad, or been coaching existing players to improve performance. Individuals have been allowed to make mistakes, and abandon their responsibilities to others in their team. This summer was no exception.

For the new guy though, it seems he had already done his homework. At his interview he showed a deep knowledge of not just the more senior and experienced players, but also the younger up and coming ones. He had a plan to help experienced players improve their performance and a strategy for developing the less experienced ones. He’s let the group know what he expects from them and how he wants them to achieve it.

Previous new managers haven’t always done this. Maybe this time was a more rigorous approach to interviewing – previous newcomers had their own ideas and style, and maybe there was little focus on how they were going to improve what was already there.

He believes he can coach them and make training fun. Lots of pictures have been shared by the club of training sessions. Players are laughing. The other coaches are joining in. Everyone looks like they’re enjoying themselves. Can’t say that’s been seen in pictures from training sessions over the last few years.

Expectations are raised but not heightened to something that’s unachievable. There haven’t been any ‘statement signings’. A couple of previous new managers have gone out and broken the club’s transfer record before they’ve even managed their first game. If you take over a team, and immediately make a high profile hire – a bigger name than anyone else in the team – then you are setting expectations very high.

And it might not be you that reaps the benefit. Over a ten year period one of those statement hires (Denis Bergkamp) went on to be come one of club’s greatest ever players – but the manager who signed him only lasted a year and barely gets a mention when previous managers are discussed.

In the case of this new manager, expectations are sensible and no supporters are expecting immediate miracles. They know it may well take a couple of years or more to begin to properly move forward. They would be very mistrustful if he had came in and promised immediate results and success. Few managers are able to achieve that.

He acts like he knows what he’s doing. Actions speak louder than words. As I wrote earlier, he looks like he has a plan, and he seems confident. Often with a new manager you hear a lot about what they are going to do – this time around he seems to be just getting on with it. Individuals in the team are making the right noises about how positive they feel.

Of course in the world of football, unlike business, these things can also be short lived, and fans can be fickle. A few poor results – not uncommon with a new manager who wants his team to play differently to how they have before – coupled with some underwhelming individual performances, and I might by holding up my own #EmeryOut banner!

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