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The Business Of The Football Business

The Business Of The Football Business

Over the last few weeks The Sunday Times have been publishing the yearly list of best companies. There are lists for small companies, medium companies and big companies. There`s no football club listed. That`s despite clubs in England alone employing over 4,000 players, 20,000 coaches (including part time and casual) and even more support staff including kit men, groundsmen, physios, directors, admin staff, cleaning staff, match day staff ... the list goes on.

One can argue that it`s an unfair criticism. A company has to apply to be listed, so it may be no clubs have done. Also, football is in a brutal world, where endless numbers of players have to be released at a young age.

However, if no club does apply what does that say about their priorities? Staff welfare and being a good place to work is obviously way down the list. A number of colleges are listed. Colleges that have to tell great swathes of students that they either can`t come in, can`t progress a year, or must leave before they`ve gained any qualifications.

It would be interesting to see just how clubs would perform if they were listed. The award is split in categories including the following:


This is how people feel about those running the organisation; the owners. At each Manchester United game this season there have been mass protests against the Glazers putting up the millions of pounds worth of debts it took to buy the club up against the club itself. If they hit a rocky patch the Americans can walk away debt free and leave the fans dealing with a near bankrupt institution.

At Chelsea the fans have been delighted with Abramovich`s spending, but Carlo Ancelotti is rumoured to be on the verge of walking out of the club due to his role being undermined. If he did he`d join a growing list. At Newcastle protests against Mike Ashley are the done thing. Liverpool sold the club to whoever they could find to get rid of their previous owners. Whilst at Arsenal the decisions are taken democratically and professionally, in the board room, by a board of Directors who have the club, the company and its financial health at the centre of that process.

My Manager:

When Kolo Toure was found to have drugs in his system he was distraught, devastated that his career could be over. The first person he spoke to wasn`t his current manager, Roberto Mancini, but Arsene Wenger, the man who sold him. Many have left Arsenal over the years; many talk about the man with reverence, like a second father.

My Company:

Famous Arsenal fans include, Emmanuel Petit, Thierry Henry and Sol Campbell; all players who were sold by the club. Henry has regularly spoken about being 'once a Gunner, always a Gunner.` Dennis Bergkamp stayed with the club for 11 years until retirement, even when he was warming the bench. He never complained, never caused a fuss. He is a foreign man who had no connection to the club, and was even a Tottenham fan as a youngster. Yet in his later years he sat watching the team from the side as if he were a 17 year old been asked to fill a squad space for his boyhood heroes. This is a club that treats its players with respect, and is repaid with loyalty, a scare commodity in today`s football world.

Personal Growth:

Whilst it may have led to criticism of Wenger, his loyalty towards his players is a value backed strongly by the club and is extended to all staff. Arsenal`s opponents at the weekend, West Brom are no great choppers and changers, yet they have a regular starting XI that has an average service of 2 years and 7 months. That`s in contrast to 6 years and 2 months at Arsenal, and that despite the club operating a strict wage cap that saw Arshavin having turn down much more money at Tottenham to join the club. The coaching staff is another level up. The average service of the first team support staff is 13 years. In context, the average tenure for a football manager today is less than 2 years, and when he`s fired it often leads to an en masse removal of his colleagues. The average service of the highest performing college in the Best Companies list (Oldham 6th form) is 13 years. That was a major factor in it being rated the top 6th form in the country to work in, and also the award of 'Best Leader` to its Principal. Personal growth is also taken into consideration, with Arsenal employing ex players such as Pat Rice, Steve Bould, Gilles Grimandi and Liam Brady in their coaching staff. Pat Rice has risen from a youth coach to assistant manager and Steve Bould from a similar position to Academy Director.

Football today has seen loyalty become simply a suffix to payment. Arsenal may not have won a trophy since 2005, and they may not even win one this year, but go beyond the medals and the players and you can see a club is propped up by workers that need a long career to pay their mortgages, not just a week. At Arsenal these people, as well as the players, are given loyalty and return it in droves. That`s something another £10,000 can never buy.


Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

Writer:Lewis Wright
Date:Friday March 18 2011
Time: 4:30PM

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Nice article and interesting themes. I can imagine clubs might not want to be seen as successful businesses. Often they are scorned by supporters for focussing on such matters. Ask Portsmouth supporters whether a run in the PL and an FA Cup instead of yo-yoing between the leagues was worth all the commercial distress of the last few years and a good many will be sure to claim it was. The fact is though, now more than ever you need to be a successful business in order to enjoy and longevity as a successful club.
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