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Sep 04

It’s A Funny Old Business

TMFDPost a comment • 388 views

Whether it’s a silly season story or not, the credibility of the Woodward to football rumours demonstrates yet another way in which ‘sound business principles’ are making their way into football. The objectification of management – the idea that managing a company involves a set of transferable skills, rather than more specialist industry knowledge – turned from business fad into accepted common sense years ago. It moved into football at the boardroom and executive level, as the idea of a chairman as monied lifelong fan became more diluted.

It was only a matter of time before somebody decided to apply the concept to managing the playing staff: if not Woodward now, then another talented ‘man-manager’ later. It seems apt that it’s Rupert Lowe promoting this idea – his guiding principle seems to be that Southampton be run as a business in more than just the financial sense, that the gap between on-pitch tactics and business strategy is smaller than people think and that a sufficiently talented CEO (i.e. him) is all that’s needed.

You can catch a whiff of objective management in Lowe’s comments in the BBC story. “If we can learn from him about…becoming world-class” – this is management theory in a nutshell, quality as a skill-set to be learned, not from experienced specialists but from Homo Managerius, the businessman for whom success is a golden touch. Management theory sees success as something which can be conferred upon any business by getting the right men at the top: industry knowledge is often seen as a hindrance, a legacy quality that inherently resists change.

It’s interesting that so little of the comment on the Woodward notion asks what the players might think of him. The company I work for has embraced management theory eagerly, importing a strata of ‘business development’ professionals whose lack of interest – or open contempt – for what the firm actually does is barely disguised. The result is a delighted boardroom, happy to be embracing ‘fresh thinking’, and increasing resentment all the way down the rest of the company, where respect for what these people have achieved is turning quickly to frustration. If football is just another business, might the same thing not happen with the Southampton – or England – team?

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