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The Rise of the Football Strategy Manager

Introduction

Organisational structures in football are continually evolving and adapting to new challenges, with the roles, responsibilities and functions contained within them shifting over time based on changes in market conditions, trends in working practices, and sporting or commercial demands.

20 years ago it was almost unheard of for a Premier League team to employ a Sporting Director. Today, in such a complex and demanding operational landscape, it is almost unthinkable that an elite club would be without that role, or at least some equivalent of it.

Creating a function for long-term thinking

At Sportsology Group we regularly work with clubs to help them evaluate their operating models and assess the division of roles and responsibilities across different departments. Through this work, one of the trends we have witnessed in recent years has been the rise of the designated Football Strategy Manager.

Despite mirroring a role that has been relatively common in some American sports for a long time (i.e. Chief of Staff, Head of Strategy), the Strategy Manager role is still in its infancy in football. However, the role is gradually gaining traction across a number of high-profile clubs around Europe. According to our research, 40% of Premier League clubs now feature the role (or close equivalent) as a part of their football structure.

The ideation and execution of medium and long-term strategy in football has historically been difficult due to fears around underperformance and relegation, and the reality that many senior sporting leaders have to keep a large proportion of their focus on events from week-to-week, or from one transfer window to the next.

The purpose of the Football Strategy Manager role is to embed an internal resource that is given the freedom to think long-term and responsibility to execute on strategic projects (with buy-in and guidance from senior leaders) across the various facets of football operations. The role can also be instrumental in the codification of a club’s ‘DNA’, ensuring that IP doesn’t leave the organisation when key individuals do.

The key functions of the Football Strategy Manager

From our observations in the market and our conversations with clubs that have made this role a part of their structure, the Football Strategy Manager has five primary functions that enable it to deliver value within a club’s structure:

1. Increased capacity for longer-term focus

The inherent focus on results in football can make it difficult for senior sporting leaders to spend as much time as they would ideally like on projects that create the conditions for long-term success. The role of the Football Strategy Manager is to oversee those strategic projects and ensure that the organisation is able to commit focused resources to the initiatives that can deliver significant value of a longer horizon.

2. Knowledge and resource management

Football clubs contain a wealth of expertise across all facets of sporting and commercial operations. However, it is common for this knowledge and experience to be siloed and not harnessed as effectively as it could be. One of the key functions of a Football Strategy Manager is to be across the organisation’s IP, aligning departments to ensure that IP is deployed, connected and communicated to maximise its impact.

3. Insulation from short-term change

Short-term change is an inevitable feature of even the most well-run sports organisations, but change in personnel shouldn’t precipitate an overhaul of a club’s long-term strategy. By hiring a Football Strategy Manager, clubs are creating continuity around long-term priorities and insulating that focus from the potential disruption of personnel change.

4. Professionalised project management

Effective project management is a significant time commitment, particularly for sporting-side staff who have numerous other demands on their time. A major function of the Football Strategy Manager is to act as an in-house project lead, taking responsibility for the day-to-day management of strategic projects and ensuring that sporting staff can maximise their impact when required to engage.

5. Sounding board for senior leadership

In an ideal structure the position of the Football Strategy Manager is relatively independent of internal politics and departmental bias. As such, individuals in the role can be a useful sounding board for senior sporting leadership as they work through future planning and engage with strategic decisions.

As clubs at the highest level of the game continue to grow in terms of the sophistication of their strategic planning and execution, our view is that the role of the Football Strategy Manager will continue to proliferate across the sport and expand in terms of its remit and level of responsibility over the coming years.

Chris M

By Chris Mann

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