The 90-Minute Manager by David Bolchover and Chris Brady

Business can learn a lot from the beautiful game
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The Independent Culture

Considering the wealth of talent on display, the quality of play in the World Cup has often been less than captivating. What is more fascinating, though, is the psychology involved. Why do teams packed with stars, such as France or England, struggle to beat less than glittering opposition? Why do so many prodigiously gifted individuals fail to make the most of this grand stage and why do so many apparently journeymen players shine? Such questions - and, in particular, football managers' roles in dealing with them - are the stuff of this book. It is hardly the first volume to draw lessons for business from the world of sport. Probably only warfare inspires more business metaphors. But by focusing on the men in the dugout it provides plenty of insights into such aspects of both football and business as dealing with pressure in the public gaze, balancing the needs of teams and individuals, and handling mavericks. As the authors point out at the outset, "Football is a model, not a metaphor, for contemporary knowledge-based businesses. As such it provides unique insights into the crucial management issues confronting the modern corporate environment." Even with increased scrutiny of corporate boards as a result of rising shareholder activism and changes in legislation, football managers - of both national and club teams - receive far more attention than their equivalents in commerce. After all, how many ordinary members of the public dial up radio phone-in shows or websites to share their views on the performance of, say, Marks & Spencer's Stuart Rose or Tesco's Sir Terry Leahy? And yet there are definitely parallels. Again, as Chris Brady and David Bolchover write early on in their book, "The role that modern business managers are increasingly being asked to play is precisely the same one that football managers have always played. They have always been the 'ringmaster' trying to channel the activities of talented individuals for the corporate good." Moreover, football managers have long been at the mercy of a variety of stakeholder demands, "not least of which have been those of the players."

Indeed, in this age of knowledge-based businesses - whether they be established, just starting out or growing - one of the key tasks of the business manager - whether at the top of the organisation or just in charge of a part - is, like the football manager, to bring out the best in individuals.

Football is littered with stories of how managers have seen in certain players qualities that were apparently invisible to others. Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is famed for his ruthlessness in getting rid of players once they have ceased to be useful to the club - as has been seen with Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole. But he also has a knack for obtaining amazing contributions from some who have defied other managers' efforts to make them into team players. The mercurial Frenchman Eric Cantona is perhaps the most obvious example of this, inspiring United to its first League Championship for 26 years and precipitating a dominance of the UK game akin to that currently enjoyed by Chelsea.

Equally, managers can have their heads turned by extravagantly gifted players who can actually be a hindrance to a team. The book quotes examples of players acquired by managers with the aim of helping their teams secure titles - only to have the opposite effect because they disrupt the rhythm of a team through their unpredictable individualism.

Perhaps less obviously, the same can be true of business. Just as in football, there is a place for flair and imagination. The trick is to recognise the factors at play and to channel that maverick aspect for the good of the organisation.

More insightful and with a longer-term view (it mentions managers and players who may be barely recognisable to some readers) than many other books of this sort, The 90-Minute Manager is much more enjoyable and rewarding than the average game of football, and the "lessons from the sharp end of management" it provides should help any reader steer a path through the minefield of individual and collective needs.

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