One of the top colleges in Delhi NCR, Ishan, has endeavoured to offer students unique business lessons from non-profit enterprises and other unorthodox verticals. Given that sports has witnesses unprecedented commercialization and a new wave of professionalism has created a major impact on sports like cricket and football. While south Asia is largely under a perpetual and eternal grip of cricket, it makes enormous good sense to assert that as an industry vertical football has the market value, offers some of the highest pay packages and rewards to sportsmen and boasts of record transfers and signings that tend to rewrite records every year. There are reasons behind bracketing Ishan under the top colleges in Delhi NCR. Our tryst with sports management and efforts to extract business lessons initiated with the lectures on strategy. It helped that two students had gifted one of the faculty members a copy of the autobiography of Sir Alex Ferguson, the legendary manager of Manchester United, “Managing My Life”. The 18th batch continued with the efforts with some students occasionally asking for the copy of the book for self study and raised genuine questions on sports management on the floor of the classroom. The 19th batch of took it a step forward by offering a presentation based on extensive research on the World Cup winning team of Germany (2014). Finally the efforts bore fruits in the 20th batch with the coverage of a fully fledged case study on Sir Alex Ferguson published by Harvard Business Review. In this piece we take a look at some of the major takeaways from Sir Alex Ferguson’s career with Manchester United. Take a look.
Build a Grassroots Level Talent Development System
It was 1986 when Sir Alex Ferguson first joined Manchester United. One of the first things he did was to initiate two centres of excellence dedicated to the youth. His definition of youth was as young as nine years of age. To streamline his efforts to build the grassroots level program he recruited many scouts whose job was to spot and identify top football talent in schools, localities and clubs and report their findings to Ferguson, brief him and initiated proceedings for trials at the centres of excellence. This led to some major talent developments. David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Garry Neville were among some of his early finds who later became top performers for Manchester United and England. At that time many had questioned the rationale behind such steps but the results paid put the questions with time. There are two lessons. Create the ambience of being back in school. Enable top young talent to learn from a very young age and pool them together so that they learn about each other’s game and grow up being part of a cohesive unit before joining the senior team.
Rebuild the Team to Maintain the Competitive Advantage
Even at the peak of the team’s success Sir Alex Ferguson continued to streamline his search for top talent. All the players available with the club were categorized into three demographic levels: above 30, 23 years to 30 years and the young ones who fell into the age bracket below 23 years of age. Players falling under the age group of above 30 years of age were assigned the task of leading the team, setting examples in the training session, working with the manager on strategy and tactics for matches and share their experience with the young players below 23 years of age and groom them on and off the pitch. The players in the age group of 23 years to 30 years were assigned tasks of performance on the pitch, maintaining discipline in the club in practice sessions, gym session and relief and rehabilitation sessions. The young players were put to test in the practice and occasionally used as substitutes for the senior players in matches. Ferguson’ assessment was that a team’s cycle lasted for 4 years and hence it was imperative to maintain a portfolio of talent on these lines and match roles and responsibilities to the stage of the team life cycle the concerned player was going through. It was in a sense very similar to the inventory based approach to human resource retention.
Total Quality Management On and Off the Pitch
Ferguson was the ultimate total quality management freak in football. He never allowed a single bad training session during his entire tenure at the club. More than sharpening the technical skills of the players at Manchester United, he was more concerned about the players not giving in. Attitude formation was given due importance and discipline was chosen over motivation. Work ethic and sustainable high energy levels were stresses upon in training with the single minded logic that what is produced in training gets manifested on the field. Ferguson recruited what he called “bad losers”. These were players who were great on dedication, work ethic and talent and yet may have lost some golden opportunities at the junior level. Each of his training sessions was based on development of intensity, speed, focus and a high level of performance. There was not a single day when Ferguson allowed any player, not even the great players like Beckham, Ronaldo, Rooney, Scholes or Nistelrooy to get away with a half hearted or less than 100% commitment at training. This showed in the games that Manchester United played. Such was the impact that these great players would practice for hours at a stretch so much so that Ferguson would have to actually chase them in from practice to prevent exhaustion.
Being in Charge and in Control
Ferguson kept things simple and in control. Right from the first day when he took charge at Manchester United he was high on self belief that if he had to transform Manchester United into one of the best in the business he had to do things his way not the players’ way. For that to happen he had to be in control of the tactics, strategy, discipline, training sessions, off days and recruitment. His personality was higher and bigger than that of the players. That allowed him to earn the respect of the players and everybody else at the club. Not for a single day was indiscipline tolerated. For example when Nistelrooy disgruntled in public he was promptly transferred to Real Madrid. When Roy Keane publicly criticized his team mates his contract was terminated. These actions sent out a message that it was the manager of Manchester United who was in command and not anybody else.
Timing the Communication
Nobody likes to be criticized and especially not the superstars of football. There has to be a courage, honesty, politeness and firmness in the way a manager says no to players. The manager needs to have these elements in him to be able to match the message to the moment. This is especially needed in situations when players had to be rested, substituted or axed from the team. Ferguson combined the roles of a doctor, teacher, parent and critic as a manager and his boys knew that he meant business. There was no messing around with him once a message had been delivered. A no nonsense approach improved the longevity of the team along with that of Ferguson and the players. No big player created at Manchester United ever wanted to leave the club because they knew that the opportunities for self development at the club were immense. This was in part a result of the communication that Ferguson committed himself to.
Play to Win
Managers talk of being flexible and situational. There are three coordinates for any situation in business and sport: time, space and scale. To play to win teams have to learn to prepare to win. A great part of that preparation need to be streamlined across these three coordinates of time, space and scale. That meant that Ferguson had to build and develop tactics, strategy, intensity and above all the technical and analytical skills in players separately for these three coordinates of time, space and scale. Manchester United practiced separately for a situation when they were going down 0-1 with 45 minutes, 30 minutes, 15 minutes, 10 minutes and 5 minutes of play left. The efforts reflected in the results on the field with Manchester United winning many close matches during Ferguson’s tenure. Also the team practiced very differently for away matches and home matches. The third check point in training sessions was that of scale. Ferguson prepared his players to repeat performances time and again and that was done keeping in mind the long schedules of the EPL and the UEFA.
At the top colleges in Delhi NCR like Ishan we pick up business lessons just like that from every nook and cranny possible to bring you of the box insights on business. The piece above is based on the efforts of the students of the college to bring high quality discussions and academic issues in management to the floor of the classroom. The top college in Delhi NCR acknowledges the efforts of Binay Kumar Singh and Subhash Yadav from 17th batch , Uttam Singh Rajput and Zeeshan Khan, Abhishek Kumar Singh and Bipin Srivastava from 19th batch, Pawan Sinha, Utsav Kundu, Samir Akhtar and Alka Mishra from the 20th batch.