Football Managers, competences & competencies

news/recent posts on 29 Nov , 2017

Can we learn anything from football about competencies?

What is all the interest in football managers? This week’s news reports that Sam Allardyce and Alan Pardew are about to move to new clubs. What it is that managers offer?

Pundits have a distasteful obsession the waxing and waning of football managers’ careers. Sports writers speculate about who will be next to be sacked and who is being appointed?  This seems to be something like a merry-go-round. Claudio Ranieri wins the premiership for Leicester City before being rejected half-way through the next season. His successor, Craig Shakespeare, takes on the role and signs a 3-year contract on 8th June only to exit on 17th October. This is a job that has had 3 holders in just 8 months.

(Short Term) Performance Management

Football is about short-term performance; the last few results of their team. Managers must be troubled by the visibility of what are said to be their mistakes. Football managers operate under with a sword hanging over them.


The recruitment practices for selecting football managers must be worth some thought. Just how good are they are at predicting who will do a good job. What does a good job look like? If you were brought in to advise a football club what would you suggest?

Competence & Competencies

One approach is to look at categorising the skills and abilities of managers. This is the point where there is a cross-over to the overall world of work. Football is an industry like any other with the clubs sharing the same issues as companies and organisations. Bluefoxhr have written on the topic of competence frameworks previously as they provide the means of describing and identifying skills and abilities. Three useful definitions can help here: –

  • Competencies (with an i) are seen as personal attributes, behaviours and technical attributes. What people bring to their jobs.
  • Competences (without an i) are what people need to do to perform. Competence links to performance.
  • A competency framework is a structure or collection of competences required by individuals in an organisation or work area.

We can only highlight here that there is whole discipline, sports science and management that is relevant here. Sports science feels new but it has its origins in the writings of Galen and Hippocrates in ancient Greece.

sports science & Greece

Competence Exercise

Thinking about competency is a useful exercise for us all. Simply listing of competences is a good place to start to thinking about a job or role. When interviewing for example it will suggest the questions and discussion to use. It will provide the structure with which to compare candidates.
Looking at our exercise, a starter for ten of the competences maybe to include for a football manager might include: –

  • Team management, individual player management and motivation
  • Succession planning
  • Communication and leadership, the ability to give instruction (including all that gesticulation from the touch-line).
  • Creative thinking
  • Performance analysis
  • Data analysis (the ability to use the data from players’ GPS vests for example)
  • Development of players; this will involve cognitive skills communication skills, spatial and psychomotor ability. (The latter refers to physical skills in terms of movement, manipulation, dexterity, strength, speed and co-ordination).
  • Organisational and time-management skills
  • Technical skills including tactics, knowledge of opponents….
  • Team Management of the ‘coaching team’. A typical sports science team will have individuals who work on performance analysis, fitness and conditioning, strength, nutrition, physiotherapy and performance psychology.

This begins to illustrate the range and complexities of this job. It is not as simple as fans might think when venting their frustrations. To make a competence framework requires a good understanding of the full range of activities. The person specification is another framework to use. In our example the individual qualities to look at will include the ability to multi-task in a fast-paced ever-changing environment. Being calm under pressure and having a hands-on approach with a can-do attitude come to mind. The ability to work effectively under own initiative and also as a member of a team. The list and content will go on.

We can appreciate that skills of football managers are not simple. Thinking about their skills and competencies provides a useful model.

Conclusion & Hope

What else do we learn from this? Football managers operate under unrelenting stress with no second chances. But hold on there is hope. The merry-go-round returns. Claudio Ranieri for example is now manager at Nantes in the French Ligue 1 (fifth in the table as this is written).

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