Any advertisement for a business school or training agency is bound to throw up some common parameters. While there may be others, the most common point found more often than not is the advertisement on the credentials of the teachers / trainers. The more the degrees achieved, more prestigious the institutes studied at, or greater the corporate milestones, increases the credibility of the institute / agency employing them. But the moot point is, does a successful career ensure the person will be a successful trainer. I will take example from an unlikely source to debate this matter.

Football is the world’s most popular sport both in terms of number of people as well as countries participating seriously. In Europe, South & Central America, Africa, East & WestAsia, the sport stands number one often without any rivalry. In North America, Oceania and South Asia the sport may not be number one but has avid following. Surely this sport can teach us something about human behavior as well as training methods. Let’s take a look at some of the most successful managers / coaches at the highest level of this sport over a period of time.

Football like most sports till the 1950s had relatively little professionalization. This meant that beyond the actual playing hours, unlike the modern times, not much thought went into tactics or fitness regimes to outperform other teams. It was Vicente Feola as coach of the Brazilian national team during the 1958 World Cup who for the first time introduced certain functional tactics (to win rather than entertain), diet regimes, psychiatrist, fitness schedules and other such innovations. The 1960s were remembered as the era of BelaGuttmanand Helenio Herrera for revolutionizing how the game was approached and winning more trophies than could be offered. Herrera in fact devised the Catenacciostyle of defensive play which till today embodies the Italian approach. The 1970s saw a return to the free flowing days thanks to the Dutch coach – RinusMichels- and his impact on the sport. His system –Total Football- relied on the entire team playing in unison and swapping positions at will. The 1980s saw unparalleled success from the Englishmen – Bob Paisleyand Brian Clough. The last 2 and a half decades have seen the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, Jose MourinhoandArrigoSacchiattain yet more devastating success. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just an indicator.

Now that we have seen the list of most successful coaches / managers in football, by using the formulae of business schools and training agencies, let us analyze the playing careers of these illustrious men. Surely, if they have developed such great teams and mentored great players under their training, they must have all themselves had stellar playing careers winning trophies with top clubs and at international tournaments. How else will they train others if they aren’t successful themselves is the rhetoric any business school marketer will spout out. So let us go through their playing careers.

Vicente Feola never played professional football, he was a physical education teacher at a school. BelaGuttman had a journeyman’s career never settling in at one club long enough, playing internationally for then unfancied Hungary before his career was cut short in the 1930s because he was a Jew. World War 2 similarly impacted the career of Helenio Herrera who otherwise played for a motley of clubs in Europe and Morocco. RinusMichels had a slightly more successful career but a back injury ended his playing career at the age of 30. Brian Clough did one better by retiring at age 29 due to knee problems. Bob Paisley or Sir Alex Ferguson never played international football. ArrigoSacchi and Jose Mourinho never played professional football at any level. So by applying the business school formula, how did these failures end up so well on the other side? How is it possible that such men who have never ‘been there and done that’ mentored players with far greater talent than themselves, with proportionately high incomes / egos? How in fact did they actually instill fear which is literally how most players refer to these men?

A theory says that failure in real life prepares one to accept that different players have different skills sets or the lack of them. It builds in them patience while at the same time instilling a hunger to achieve something. Also it has been suggested that players who were themselves highly talented would expect others to execute their skill levels, which is usually not possible. The less talented ones would have greater attention to detail as they have had to struggle in their careers. Of course there are notable exceptions and there have been successful footballers like JosipGuardiola and Johan Cruyff who have gone on to become top managers. But for every such success story come 10 failures while the list of top managers usually throws up names of failed players.

What if we were to apply this same criteria to training agencies and business schools? An MBA from a tier 3 business school teaching students at an IIM? A mid-level executive who has been passed on for promotions, training managers for potential CEO position? Perhaps this may not be a great approach. But the idea behind this thought is that successful students / professionals do not in any way guarantee success as trainers. Rather it is the relatively less talented student / professional who will have empathy for the mediocre student. This category will also be able to devise the complex coaching methods and learning curve ideal for students / trainees to come up the level. Training is an independent profession in itself requiring devoted time towards analyzing exact needs of trainees. A one size fits all formula will not work especially with a diversifying economy. This further validates the requirement for ‘train the trainer’ as training or teaching are careers in themselves.

Today Sir Alex Ferguson post his retirement from one of the world’s biggest sports teams, is a lecturer at Harvard Business School where he speaks on leadership. If the football world had parameters to hire people by the same formula as today’s corporates seem to be, would he ever have even had a pot shot at the same?Probably not. But it is hoped that the students he trains at Harvard will imbibe some of that spirit and will look beyond the usual lazy selection criteria when it is their turn to hire trainers and market a training product. 

By.Aritro Dasgupta

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