Connect in the back of the net
Taken from Cormac Devlin

We see many cases of bad chairmanship in football every season, as well as cases where we believe the club that holds our passion is being mismanaged even when it is not. We have seen the success obsessed clubs fall short of hopes and almost disappear from existence and we have seen the fruits of meticulous planning and frugality ripen into unbeaten seasons.

Of course, we see everything in between those contrasting fates every season too, but that does not grab headlines. What you are about to read is a five point manual for which I believe a good chairman will need to not just run a club, but run it and  be successful.

1. Financial sustainability

Boring yes, but vital. In England, the two highest profile examples of flouncing rule No. 1 belong to the former owners of Portsmouth and Leeds Utd. Leeds achieved a respectable semi final finish in the Champions League in 2003, but had overspent ridiculously in the pursuit of further glory and had to sell their best and brightest players to rivals in an attempt to avoid liquidation. Leeds were subsequently ruined financially and have not recovered fully.

A similar story exists for Portsmouth, who at this point still exist, but may not for much longer after slipping into the third tier of English football. 

Taken from Zimbio

The successful chairman is entrusted with securing the club’s future by not overestimating what can be spent on players and their insane contracts. With particular emphasis on sponsorships, television rights and prize money, the chairman must forecast accurately what money will come in and when.

It is also imperative that ticket and merchandise sales cover the vast majority of costs (something I suspect is not the case at two particular Premier League clubs right now). 

In any case, money generated through the club, by the supporters mostly, should always be reinvested in the club, either to improve the infrastructure or to strengthen the squad.

2. Identity

The club’s finances are secure and the infrastructure is in place. But do you have the fans and a recognizable “brand?” I know a “franchise” tag is primarily an American idiom but it exists at almost every club across the world. When you see Barcelona, what do you think? What about Real Madrid and their Galacticos? Or Milan, Ajax and Stoke?

Each club has a unique identity as well as their own fans. The Ultras of Italy, Eastern Europe and South America will attest to that rather loudly. Essentially, football is about the fans so they are the ones who will tell you if the direction you are taking the club is right or not.

Stoke fans expect the club to be in the Premiership, if the team has to bully their way through each game to achieve that, so what? Real Madrid were happy to lose Fabio Capello despite winning the league twice on the bounce because of his style of play. 

It just was not Real’s way. Athletic Bilbao will not sign a player that does not have Basque blood, and the fans’ and player’s passion appear to compensate for the reduced market of players.

Bilbao…. Basque identity. (Taken from 380mcdigitalworld3)

So, after financial security and upon discovering what in the name of football your club will stand for, what is next?

3. Choose the right manager

Generally, you cannot expect stability or success while swapping managers in a short space of time (although curiously both times Abramovich’s Chelsea made the Champions League final a caretaker manager was at the helm). You need to have total faith in the manager’s ability to do his job.

The chairman should not look to involve themselves in any manager related task unless specifically asked and, if possible without risking financial security, the manager’s requests for new players really should be granted. 

The ultimate aim, in my opinion, is to provide a good manager with a chance to create a dynasty, such as Sir Alex Ferguson has done incredibly successfully at Manchester Utd.

This opportunity seems to be the dream for many managers, which would suggest the chairman will have a lot of job applications for the position. In this instance, it is imperative that the chairman does not rush the appointment process in order to fully gauge the suitability of the applicant.

A little known Frenchman took the job at a distinctly anglicised Arsenal and revolutionised the club, turning it into an internationally renowned team.

Taken from First Post

Arsene Wenger would not have been so successful or such a long serving manager without an astounding amount of freedom to perform his duties.

4. Youth 

To mould a youth team into the mature senior squad and experience success has not been done for decades, mainly due to the new nature of global football and expansive scouting networks. 

But perhaps the case that suits my argument most would be Manchester United’s “Golden Generation” of Gary and Phil Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, David Beckham and Ryan Giggs. 

Manchester United’s “Golden Generation” in 1995 (Taken from The Sun)

Alex Ferguson had spent enough time at the club to realise that these young players (nearly twenty years ago!) had something special about them. But they were still six players and more were needed, and subsequently signed.

The point is, youth development is vital because you can get some absolute gems out of it to help build a footballing institution, but you get a decent return on investment through selling those youth players who will not be featuring in your manager’s plans. 

Arsenal, Chelsea and both Manchester clubs provide the leagues with a startling amount of players and, in doing so, pay the costs of the development scheme, as does every “super club” across the world.

A side effect of creating a team with a large amount of youth graduates is a stronger sense of loyalty (in most cases) and generally the player is more likely to accept lesser terms on your contract offer than offers from elsewhere (but do not take this for granted).

5. Patience

The single most underrated virtue a chairman can have. It must be used wisely. No point holding on to an under-performing manager throughout a season, only to drop them in February once the transfer window has passed. You will almost certainly be stuck with the assistant manager as careaker for the remainder because no manager relishes the prospect of being unable to make what are probably much needed changes.

Keep that chap until the season’s end, drop, and begin a lengthy new search for the perfect replacement (unless your caretaker wins you the Champions League, then the candidate really speaks for itself, right Mr Abramovich?). But seriously, removing a manager midway through a campaign, whether necessary or not, shows that you as chairman have not done your job well enough when picking your manager.

By this point the chairman should know the direction the club will be taking in footballing terms, the infrastructure is complete and there should be a budget to use. With all that sorted there should be a list of managers looking to take up position in your club, which puts the power in your hands. Ask the right questions, demand the right short term achievements all with the goal of finding the right man to lead your club to success.

So, although this is broad and it is obviously harder to achieve in the real world, it is a good start. Look after the budget, provide what is needed for the infrastructure and youth development and keep the fans onside. Get the manager to run the team. 

If the chairman can achieve all those things then surely success on the pitch is next? And by success I do not necessarily mean Premier League titles, Scudettos or Champions League trophies. This formula can work at all levels of football.

There are glitteringly successful non-league teams, whose fan base and resources inhibit growth into clubs with 60,000 seater stadiums with top internationals in the squad. Success in the eyes of those clubs will be different, regional cup competitions and things like that. 

They are worth as much to those small clubs as Champions League trophies are to the elite level teams. But with this brief overview of a successful model all levels of football club can achieve their own version of success.

Written by Alex Phillips
Follow me on Twitter @alexthenac

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