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Monday, May 23, 2011

Perhaps the game is not so beautiful after all. Communication skills in the sacking of Avram Grant and Carlo Ancelotti at West Ham and Chelsea.

Sir Alan Sugar’s recent BBC documentary on the plight of soccer’s premier league, highlighted its precarious financial position. This is a business where normal commercial criteria do not seem to apply. Here is an industry seeking quick fixes rather than more evolutionary, sustained and organic routes to success. We can’t wait for the youth teams to come through – success has to be imported. Results, sponsorship and media income are what it is all about. This is spectacle for Match of the Day.

Not surprising then, that there are some casualties and top of the list are human relationships. With failure on the pitch comes the search for scapegoats – this is a blame culture.

Such can be seen this week with the allegedly rather unedifying spectacle of the sacking of the West Ham and Chelsea managers. In the roundabout world of football management, these guys will soon find another slot and the compensation packages deaden the sense of hurt.

True leadership is exemplified by the way bad news is communicated. We are talking of timing, venue and style. These seem to be lacking as the season closed. Avram Grant was given his marching orders in the tunnel at Wigan and Carlo Ancelotti was dismissed as he left the post-match media fest at Everton. Why the haste? Is it a clumsy way of diverting attention? For sure, the people at the top did not look statesmen-like. Decisions are not of the best when the adrenaline is running high.

Reactive decision-making and curt manners seem the order of the day. One can only wonder as to what other poor communication processes lie elsewhere in a club. Relationships between owners, chief execs and managers are copied by others further down the pecking order.

It will be a remarkable manager who does not translate the way he has been treated to how he works with those below. He may take those very practices and apply them to training, loaning, selection and his communication style. How does the wider pool of players stay motivated when not chosen for the game? Many a player must be asking: “What’s in it for me?” It’s a culture thing. No wonder there is such a high churn rate in the industry and the agents look on.

The mainstream commercial world cannot look on with any sense of superiority. Witness the manner in which those flagged for redundancy, may hear the news with little warning and, without returning to their desk, be escorted to reception.

How we communicate bad news tells us volumes about the health of an organisation. Sadly there are too many that are hospital cases. Perhaps the game is not so beautiful after all. This goes on in the media spotlight and, unsurprisingly, the rest of society watches and imitates.

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