What small businesses can learn from Premier League managers

Posted on May 13th, 2016 | Running a business

From August until May, teams across England battle it out in the Premier League, all vying for the coveted title and the chance to bring in millions of pounds for their club. With the 2015/16 season drawing to a close this weekend, we take a look at what parallels can be drawn between Premier League managers and micro-business owners.

Playing in the Premier League is ruthless. Win matches and you’ll continue to play in the most-watched league in the world. Lose or draw, and you could see yourself relegated to a lower division of English football. Essentially, running a Premier League club is like running a business. Do well, you make money – do not so well… you get the picture.

Behind every Premier League club, and every small business, there’s someone in charge. In the Premier League, a man (yes, sadly still always a man) oversees the team, inspires, leads, and motivates – each with their own methodologies and tactics.

Claudio Ranieri (Leicester City)

Credit: Nazionale Calcio
Credit: Nazionale Calcio

The former Italian player turned manager came to Leicester City at the start of the 2015/16 season. Prior to this, he was leading the Greek national team without much success. Managing Leicester City isn’t Ranieri’s first stint in the Premier League – he also managed Chelsea from 2000-2004.

Initially, Ranieri’s return to the Premier League was met with scepticism. Andy Hunter, sports writer at the Guardian, stated, “How Claudio Ranieri continues to land good jobs is a mystery.”

Marcus Christenson, also at the Guardian, quipped, “If Leicester wanted someone nice, they’ve got him. If they wanted someone to keep them in the Premier League, then they may have gone for the wrong guy.”

Cultivate relationships

Ranieri disproved the notion that ‘nice guys finish last’ by winning the Premier League title with two matches to spare. His success could be attributed to how he approached being Leicester City’s new boss. Ranieri spent time cultivating relationships with his team and realising that players needed more time to rest and recuperate after the gruelling and highly physical Premier League matches. He was quoted as saying:

“I always thought the most important thing a good coach must do is to build the team around the characteristics of his players. So I told the players that I trusted them and would speak very little of tactics.”

When you’re a new boss, it can be tempting to go in all guns blazing and try to fulfil people’s high expectations instantaneously. Biding your time and getting to know the team – their strengths, weaknesses, and motivations – can put you on better footing in the long run and help you and your business achieve greater success.

Arsene Wenger (Arsenal)

Credit: Ronnie Macdonald

Something of a Premier League stalwart, Arsene Wenger has been the manager of Arsenal since 1996. He famously won the Premiership in 2003/4 without losing a single match.

Colloquially known as “Le Professeur”, the Frenchman is renowned for his stern demeanour and intelligence – possibly being the only Premier League manager to ever hold an MA in Economics. Wenger is a calm figure on the often frantic Arsenal bench, and when it comes to football he is analytical and tactical, not to mention a well-established face in the Premier League.

Develop in-house talent

Arsene Wenger’s management style shows a more serious approach than some of his counterparts. His economic background means little money is spent on expensive new talent. Wenger prefers to buy in youth players and develop them “in-house”, with an aim that the players will remain loyal to the club that gave them their big break.

Arsene’s ideas will strike a chord with many business owners – should you hire talent or experience? When asked about his strategy, he said:

“If you have a child who is a good musician, what is your first reaction? It is to put them into a good music school, not in an average one. So why should that not happen in football?”

Some have questioned Arsene’s longevity with Arsenal, asking whether the boss of twenty years should make room for someone else to have a go at holding the reins? Given that Arsenal are without a Premier League title in the past twelve years it might be time for Wenger to move onto pastures new.

Holding onto a dream for too long can have major setbacks, especially in business. It might be tempting to plough on through and try repeatedly to achieve success with the same tactics year on year, but if you’re afraid to let go when the time is right, it could spell further failure for your venture.

Louis van Gaal (Manchester United)

Van Gaal
Credit: Global Panorama

Before taking over at Manchester United, Louis van Gaal was previously managing the Dutch national team. He was appointed after the club found themselves languishing mid-table under the direction of David Moyes in their first season since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.

The Dutchman knows a thing or two about football. People who have worked alongside van Gaal prior to his appointment at Manchester United have gone on to manage Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Ajax, and PSV Eindhoven. Does this make van Gaal a more viable successor to Sir Alex – who lead Manchester United for 27 years won league title 13 times – than David Moyes was?

Succeeding as a successor

Coming in as a successor is challenging. Employees, shareholders, and customers are used to a certain style of management and leadership. Displaying an awareness of this can pay dividends when getting the company onside (no pun intended). While it’s important to show some authority – something van Gaal did by immediately axing ‘dead wood’ in the form of Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez and Shinji Kawaga – try not to tread on anyone’s toes.

Success might not be instant, but displaying your passion alongside your knowledge is imperative. Louis van Gaal’s Dutch tactics may not have been to every Manchester United player’s taste. However, after a shaky start, United are still in contention for fourth place.

Ranieri, Wenger, and van Gaal have all had a taste of success and worked hard to achieve their plaudits. Each have their own strengths and weaknesses – and micro-business owners can take lessons from them all.

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Written by Claire Beveridge

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