By the Blouin News Business staff

Three lessons for business from top-level soccer

by in Global Economy.

Arsenal FC training session in China

Wenger man manages his young multi-cultural stars. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Lintao Zhang

That top pro sports coaches have much to teach the business world is a truism, at this point — and trotted out recently by Arsène Wenger, French coach of the English Premier league club Arsenal. This is not to say that Wenger was wrong to do so. The coach, who has a degree in economics and is known as “The Professor” for his bookish looks and thoughtful approach to the game, spoke on this familiar but still-compelling theme in front of an audience of Japanese businessman in Saitama during his club’s pre-season tour of Asia. He highlighted three areas of similarity between management in top-level business and top-level soccer. (Hat-tip to John Cross of The Mirror for the edited transcript of Wenger’s remarks.)

  • To succeed in a highly competitive, globalized market, look for people who are not just motivated but have consistency in their motivation. Successful sportsmen aren’t necessarily happy people, Wenger said, but they are demanding with themselves and each other for a long time. “Consistent motivation is applicable to football, business, anything you do in life.”
  • Look for talent all over the world. Let young people you recruit know they will have a chance to become a star performer. Let the stars known that you are capable of making them the player they want to be and the team around them able to help them be successful. The key ingredient of a winning team is not having any weak positions.
  • Create a culture of your own, especially if you have a multicultural staff. “Identify how you want to behave. That way,” Wenger said, “when someone steps out of line, you can say, ‘Look, my friend, that’s not what we said.'”

There are, of course, many differences between sports team and business management. The main one, Wenger said, is that that most of the time in business, you manage people who have maturity. In football, you manage the young, wealthy and adulated. “I’m not sure how I would have responded to it if I was 20, rich, famous and a big star” he says.

Nor are preparation and accountability equivalent. Business teams, after all, don’t practice together regularly and repetitively. Underperformers in business don’t get dropped from the starting team in the way soccer players do — though that practice comes with its own set of management problems. “We have 25 people who fight to play on Saturday and on Friday night we have 14 who are unemployed, ” Wenger says. “We tell them on Monday, ‘Let’s start again. You have another chance.’ That’s the difficulty with our job.”