Scolari sacking adds support to distributed leadership theory

February 9, 2009
Phil Scolari

Phil Scolari

Chelsea FC fires Luiz Felipe Scolari after seven months in charge as head coach. One explanation for his relative lack of success at Chelsea is that leadership of a group often involves one or more unnoticed but important assistants

Today [Feb 8th 2009] two coaches of Premier League football teams were dismissed. Early in the day Tony Adams departed from Portsmouth. No great surprise, and this was considered a commercial decision based on poor results of an inexperienced manager.

Mid afternoon, and to a greater degree of general shock, Luiz Felipe Scolari was fired by Chelsea. To be sure, Scolari had failed to meet the aspirations of Chelsea’s billionaire owner Roman Abramovitch. To be sure Chelsea had drifted out of contention for winning the Premiership. The general surprise was based on a perception of Scolari as a proven world-beating manager. England had failed to secure his services at the time of the World Cup, when he had been managing the Portuguese national team. His earlier track record included winning the world-cup with his own national team Brazil. On arrival at Chelsea he had won over the Press with intelligent and amusing press conferences. So his image sustained belief in his leadership credentials after results began to dip. The financially minded had noted that Chelsea had been attempting to rein in the apparently ‘money-is-no-object’ attitude of Abramovitch. Even if there was a case for replacing Scolari, the club would eventually have to reveal the monster costs of buying out three managers in a financial year. Of these, Mourinho and Scolari were global figures with matching contracts.

How to explain what happened?

As the news was announced, a BBC reporter was put on the spot. How to explain what happened? He confessed it had been a great shock. Then, he honestly suggested that maybe the critical incident was the departure from Chelsea for West Ham of Steve Clarke. It turns out that Clarke was an outstanding assistant at Chelsea, to Jose, and that Morinho had considered him good enough to be his successor at Chelsea, recommending him to the new manager [September 2008] Gianfranco Zola at West Ham.

According to another report

Zola played with Clarke during his seven-year spell at Chelsea but has no experience of him as a coach. So he turned to Mourinho, who promoted Clarke from youth-team coach to his assistant after becoming Chelsea’s manager in June 2004. They won two Premier League titles, one FA Cup and two League Cups.
Mourinho, now at Internazionale, believes Zola would receive the same support and high-level coaching from Clarke as he enjoyed at Chelsea. Zola has told West Ham’s chief executive, Scott Duxbury, to continue the pursuit of Clarke despite the feud it has created with his former employers.
News of Mourinho’s intervention will no doubt infuriate Chelsea officials, who are making it as difficult as possible for Clarke to leave. The former full-back’s resignation was rejected on Friday before Chelsea, having agreed over the weekend to allow the 45-year-old to move, informed West Ham it will cost them £5m.
That demand has bewildered the hierarchy at Upton Park because Clarke has just two years to run on his £600,000-a-year contract and has been marginalised at Chelsea since Mourinho departed. They also see it as disrespectful to a man who has given the club almost 20 years’ service and wants a new challenge. West Ham are happy to pay compensation but are not willing to go higher than £1m and are prepared to take Chelsea to court.

The BBC reporter today pointed out that the move by coincided with a decline in performance at Chelsea, and a strengthening at West Ham over the next few months.

Distributed leadership

The point, it seems to me, is that we are still too easily swept away with the notion of leadership vested in the great leader, the special one. (I don’t just mean Jose Mourinho). So the contributions of a great number 2 get ignored. Until, that is, the facts just don’t add up anymore, and we have to find a different explanation.

And until someone comes up with a more convincing one, I’m sticking to the ideas of distributed leadership

To go more deeply

Mourino’s departure from Chelsea [Dec 2007]
Breaking news: English football isolated from Jose Mourinho

What Jose did next: How a leader can make a difference
Tactical imagination of Jose Mourinho

Fan who anticipated Scolari’s departure
One blog anticipating Scolari’s dismissal

Times account of the final blow
Luiz Felipe Scolari sacked as Chelsea manager after meeting with Roman Abramovich

Overview of Distributed Leadership
Distributed leadership