Wolves faced a leadership dilemma over Mick McCarthy: what might the board have done differently?

February 25, 2012

Terry Connor


One of the most difficult dilemmas facing a sporting business occurs if the board decides that a leadership change is necessary. Wolves FC serves as a case study.

The pressures on the board at Wolves FC mounted as the team struggled to escape relegation [Jan 2012]. Mick McCarthy as head coach bore the brunt of the anger from frustrated fans. The board decides to fire McCarthy. After some delay the chairman announces the appointment of Terry Connor, McCarthy’s assistant

The dilemma: terms of engagement

The difficulties facing the board must have been relatively easy to simplify into finding a decisive course of action to kick-start a reversal of fortunes. Firing McCarthy and bringing in a new chief coach would offer the prospects of radical change. On the other hand, firing McCarthy would leave the club with the possibility that any high-calibre manager would be in a strong position to negotiate advantageous terms.

Intended and unintended consequences

The intended consequences of firing McCarthy would be renewed support from the fans and players alike. The unintended consequences included the possibility that no deal could be brokered. Also, as McCarthy argued, he had several exceptional seasons at Wolves working with limited resources. His dismissal would have sent warning signals to prospective managers

The fall-back position

Under such circumstances, a board needs some holding position. Wolves first indicated their intention of finding an experienced replacement for McCarthy. It seems several such candidates were approached. Eventually the club announced an interim appointment. McCarthy’s deputy Terry Connor would be promoted with the possibility of a full-time contract, according to results.

Just like the appointment of Stuart Pearce by the FA?

There appear to be some similarities to the position facing the English FA recently [2012] as the contract with current manager Fabio Capello approaches its termination date. There has been media clamour for appointment of Tottenham’s Harry Redknapp. The FA decided to go for a holding position, appointing Steward Pearce as an interim manager.

When the two cases are compared, it is seem that the FA could (for once) be seen as avoiding a tricky premature decision. Redknapp has shown interest in taking a part-time appointment. And there is some evidence of longer-term planning. Pearce as youth team coach has been seen as being groomed as a possible future England manager. On the other hand, Connor’s interim appointment could have been made immediately as the unfortunate McCarthy was being relieved of his duties. It appeared to follow failed attempts by the board to attract an experienced manager to the club.

Leadership issues

The case raises interesting issues. There is the tricky question of promoting someone who was himself appointed by the manager that had just been fired. There is the issue of the ways in which a change can appear to have been mishandled. This is where students of leadership may find it useful to think themselves in the minds of the board and assess the likely dilemmas they faced.
An additional issue: The appointment of a black manager to Premier League football is surely worthy of comment. The press broadly avoided comment on the story. Which maybe itself is worth a little reflection..


Breaking News: English Football isolated from Jose Mourinho

December 14, 2007

isolation.jpg

This was the week that Jose Mourinho was not appointed manager of the England football team. ITV ran an interesting and intelligent report on the special one. It concentrated on his charismatic leadership style as much as on his achievements.

The TV report was mostly confirmation of a much-told story. One or two of the anecdotes were new to me, and rather striking in their demonstration of a leadrship style that deserves study for its more general description of a charismatic in action.

To put the leadership aspects in context I will draw on the notions of charisma from the monumental studies of Max Weber, as interpreted as a contibution to new leadership research by Alan Bryman, and later by Rickards and Clark.

Weber in translation

Weber was not the first or last German scholar to write in a complex and unforgiving style. His name is frequently mentioned as the father of sociological thinking on charisma. It may be realistic to assume that his ideas might have lost something as they have become distilled into Anglo-American academic folk-lore.

As Bryman noted:

Weber’s writings [on charisma] are highly diffuse, sometimes contradictory, and often [lack] definitive exposition

Weber’s ideas imply that charismatic leadership is an ancient mode of social dominance. The charismatic leader wins power and authority through exceptional personal characteristics. He is indeed the special one, maybe the chosen one. At the extreme, cult leaders are ‘pure’ examples. Followers are also believers. The special one has powers of revelation. He displays symbolic evidence of his unique gifts. He is likely to have been also ‘blessed’ with hypnotising personal presence.

Jose as cult leader

The programme gave examples of Jose’s near mystic powers. Let’s not forget they were backed by meticulous prepararation. We know the mysterious powers of the ancient soothsayers derived from their acute observational powers, and even careful . This is an anticipation of scientific method, although with claims for a quite different epistemology.

One episode was impressively stage-managed. It took place at press conference before an important game in the European Champions League. The press were demanding something. (A sign from the special one?).

His response was startling, but in keeping with the wiles of the oracles of old. ‘You want me to name my team? I will do more than that. I will name their team.’ Which he did. With complete conviction. Live, to camera. He was to be proved completely correct.
[Students of leadership: discuss].

Playing chess with the media

In one interview he was asked if he played chess with the media. His reply indicates the care with which his performance is planned:

When I face the media … before or after the game, I feel it as part of the game. When I go to the press conference before the game, in my mind the game has already started. And when I go to the press conference after the game, the game has not finished yet.

Cult leaders and sacred texts

JM even has a secret document, which records his extended labours. A book of Jose, written by himself. It is said that no-one knows what’s in it. So secret is it that his words will go to the grave with him. Secret, and with the whiff of the supernatural associated with sacred texts which mere mortals are not permitted to see.

Paying penance

After one particularly epic performance by his team, he ordered the players to commit a highly symbolic act. They returned to the field acknowledging their legions of followers. The players removed their shirts. What or who was all that about? The religious symbolism persists. [Students of theology: discuss].

Righteous indignation

Another anecdote reveals the wrath of the special one if an acolyte falls short of expectations. He once publicly rebuked the Chelsea player Joe Cole for a lack of the dedication and work ethic expected of all acolytes. In a game shortly afterwards, Cole scored a magnificently-taken goal, JM gestured to him in agitated fashion from the touchline. When the player approached his manager, he discovered that he was not being acclaimed for the goal, but abused for his lack of commitment to defensive duties in the build-up to the move. The programme claimed that JM eventually succeeded in upping Cole’s contributions to the team ethic, where previous coaches had failed.

Trials and temptations

The program also examined the strained relationship between Mourinho and Roman Abramovitch, billionaire owner of Chelsea FC. The disputed territory appears to have been over the owner’s wish for success both in terms of results, and in terms of style of play. While Mourinho’s personality sparkled, his team failed to capture the imagination -say in the style of envied rivals Manchester United. Abramovitch had taken steps to intervene more directly, acquiring support staff and two expensive players that had not been part of Mourinho’s plans for the future of the club. Among the support staff was Abram Grant, personal friend of the owner, and who was widely accepted to have been installed as likely replacement for JM.

The programme featured a psychologist exploring the messages to be found at film of a press conference held shortly after the arrival of the two international stars Shevshenko and Ballack. His body language is distant. No eye contact left or right. The
The psychologist suggested a desire for ‘total control’ , and in this instance, partial loss of control.

A few weeks later the Special one was gone. ‘By mutual consent, and with great love’.

So much religious symbolism. In the programme, Mourinho ducked questions about his religion, but talked a lot about the importance of love. Like a true charismatic, he seems to have worked out his own ethical philosophy.

Footnote

Following McClaren’s departure, Mourinho emerged as the strong favourite for England manager in the media and among most football supporters. BBC Radio 5 Live football correspondent Mike Ingham said:

In many ways he would have been perfect ..The job is about giving players an extra 10% and I think he would have done that ..Mourinho ticked all the boxes bar one – I’m not sure how much of a diplomat he would have been.

He might had added on behalf of a minority of fans and English wannabe managers, “… pity he’s not English”.

The Guardian also considered that Mourinho was the FA’s first choice, though Soho Square sources say he was never offered the job and they clearly remained uncertain of his motives. The FA’s caution was borne out when talks between Mourinho’s agent, Jorge Mendes, and the FA director of football, Sir Trevor Brooking, ended with the Portuguese ruling himself out.

Three weeks later, and a complex deal was sealed, and another of the world’s supercoaches, Fabio Capello, was appointed England manager. The special one had just faded from the scene.

Acknowledgement

Image is: edcommunity.apple.com/…/38/isolation.jpg
with echoes in the post of the famous headline:
Fog over channel, Continent isolated

[To be continued …]