What you can learn from Jose Mourinho

And so the football season finally comes to a close. Did I hear ‘and not before time’ anywhere? Only in my own living room…

Roberto Mancini is victorious, Sir Alex is beaten, Arsene Wenger clings on to third and Alan Pardew is rightly named Manager of the Year. Over in Spain Pep Guardiola decides enough is enough after four years: Jose Mourinho steers Real Madrid to the title and comes out and bows before his players.

Can we learn anything from all this? Is there any similarity between a football manager and a manager in business? Or an entrepreneur running his own company and struggling to keep his workforce motivated when he simply can’t afford to pay them any more money?

Most football managers will concede that they’re either motivators or tacticians. If you watched the excellent documentary on Queen’s Park Rangers, you’ll have heard Neil Warnock freely confess that he was a motivator – a man whose skill was getting the very best from his players. Harry Redknapp says the same. Even a manager as successful as Alex Ferguson will admit that he’s a motivator first, a tactician second.

Roy Hodgson, the new manager of England is probably first and foremost a tactician. (Let’s hope so anyway.) So are a lot of successful continental managers.

But the number of managers who are first rate motivators and outstanding tacticians is very small – and those managers (Mourinho, Guardiola) tend to be very successful.

Is that where the similarity with the manager in business ends? Because if you’re running your own company then you have no choice – you have to be both tactician and motivator. You have to devise and implement long term plans, make the necessary short term adjustments and get the very best out of your workforce.

If you’re an Alternative Board member, then you know where to come for long term planning. The football analogy works perfectly – your colleagues round the TAB table are your board of directors (although hopefully rather more knowledgeable than the average director of a football club is rumoured to be…)

But what about motivating your staff? There, you’re on your own. You can take advice, but you can’t take your TAB colleagues with you. You’re the motivator, the one who has to get the very best from what’s now depressingly called your ‘human capital.’

Which brings us back to Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola – and Ulrich von Lichtenstein.

Ulrich isn’t the new manager of Dinamo Zagreb, he’s the central character in the truly awesome film, A Knight’s Tale – one that I love watching with the boys.

At one point Ulrich is in the stocks. The Black Prince walks up and sets him free with one of my favourite movie lines: Your men love you. If I knew nothing else about you, that would be enough.

It’s the same with Mourinho and Guardiola – their men unquestionably love them. I was watching Sky on Sunday night. Real Madrid had just beaten Mallorca and were being presented with the trophy for La Liga in front of 85,000 adoring Madridistas. The squad were introduced one by one. Last out was Jose Mourinho. Brought in to end the dominance of Barcelona he had done precisely that – and with a record number of points and a record number of goals. Here was a man entitled to lap up the adulation. What did he do? Watch the video. He got down on his knees and bowed before his players. ‘The credit is all yours’ he was saying.

I thought of an old quotation from Ronald Reagan: There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.

And that was exactly what Mourinho was doing: publicly giving the credit to his players, as well as publicly saying ‘thank you.’ As good a piece of man management as I’ve seen in sport. And every bit as relevant in all our businesses.



  1. Jo Clarkson · May 18, 2012

    Great analogy Ed – and result by ‘the special one’ – it’s easy to be magnanimous in defeat, in victory it’s arguably even more powerful. And he has a few other attributes worth a mention but perhaps this isn’t the place…!

    • edreidyork · May 18, 2012

      Oh dear Jo – an excellent initial comment, somewhat undermined by what I can only assume is a smutty reference…don’t see it myself!

  2. Steven Partridge · May 18, 2012

    Quite right and very topical, Ed.

  3. Dick Jennings · May 18, 2012

    Now that’s the right way to show humility without undermining your position as boss. Do it while 85,000 adoring fans are cheering you to the rooftops, and just after you’ve been introduced by an announcer so excited at the thought of your name as to be heading for on-air melt-down.

    Any ideas how to arrange all that?

    • edreidyork · May 18, 2012

      It happens for me every time I go networking Dick! Thanks for a great response, as ever.

  4. Simon Hudson · May 18, 2012

    As a self avowed football philistine,I don’t understand the football stuff, but Ulrich von Lichtenstein is spot on. And he was an entrepreneur, who saw an opportunity (his boss died), took chances, identified a competitive advantage (lightweight steel armour) and invested heart and soul. My kind of guy.

    • edreidyork · May 18, 2012

      It’s an interesting model to try and replicate isn’t it, Simon? Good luck with the time travel…

  5. Andy Gambles (@andygambles) · May 18, 2012

    A Knights Tale – Good escuse to listen to a bit of Queen!

    • edreidyork · May 18, 2012

      And let’s face it Andy; you do need an excuse for that kind of behaviour!

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