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Dr Dan Parnell

FOOTBALL, SPORT, SOCIAL CHANGE, POLICY, MANAGEMENT

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Management

Challenging football’s old boys’ network

Article was originally published on The Training Ground Guru – found here.

FOOTBALL clubs need to start using fair, transparent recruitment processes instead of relying on existing social relationships, argue Dr Dan Parnell and Dr Paul Widdop. Otherwise they risk missing out on new ideas, insights and information and holding back their businesses.


RECRUITMENT in football often seems to be based more on social relationships than on making the best rational economic decisions.

By social relationships we mean friends, family, past colleagues and historical trusted connections. Every season many football appointments are made in which there is a social relationship between the recruiter and the recruited.

Often there hasn’t been what we would consider a proper and transparent recruitment process – with a clear job description advertised, applications invited and interviews held.

These are some recent appointments in which there was a social relationship between a powerbroker and the person recruited. The recruitment process was not clear:

  • Dougie Freedman appointed Sporting Director at Crystal Palace. Was this based on a transparent process or his relationship with CEO Steve Parish? Freedman had not held this type of role before.
  • Daniel Talbot’s appointment as senior/ European Scout at Fulham. Was this based on merit or the fact his father Brian Talbot is the Assistant Head of Football Operations at the club? Talbot has no previous experience of scouting in an official capacity. [Head of Football Operations Tony Khan told TGG this was a “straightforward hire”, but the process behind it still remains unclear].
  • The double appointment of Chris Badlan, Head of European Scouting, and Kieran Scott, Head of Domestic Scouting, at Norwich. Were they the best talent identified through a clear process, or was the fact they had worked with Sporting Director Stuart Webber at Wolves before key?
  • Recruitment of Nuno Espirito Santo as manager at Wolves. What role did super agent Jorge Mendes play in the appointment?

This is not to question the merits of individuals involved – it is to question the process that led to their appointments. This approach, of surrounding yourself with trusted and like-minded people, might appear prudent, but research suggests more diverse connections can be more beneficial to football clubs.

The work of Economic Sociologist Mark Granovetter can help us explain why. Firstly, Granovetter put forward the principle of the quite contradictory idea of the strength of weak ties, arguing that connections with diverse groups of people are more beneficial than strong bonds with a few in many business scenarios.

Whilst strong bonds with people create a culture of trust and shared behaviours, it is the weak ties that bridge across a network allowing access to information or resources people may not otherwise have had access to.

Secondly, and relatedly, he put forward the notion of embeddedness, arguing that all economic action was rooted in social relationships. The Embeddedness framework has many implications for the general traditional economic view of football business, one being that the market doesn’t operate as a free market with perfect competition, and all people (buyers, sellers, recruiters etc) don’t have access to all the same information.

 

This is an excerpt of a piece of research from another prominent academic, Charles Tilly, in which you can easily substitute the word ‘society’ with the words ‘the football business’:

“It is through personal networks that society is structured and individuals integrated into society. Daily life proceeds through personal ties: workers recruit in-laws and cousins for jobs on a new construction site; parents choose their children’s paediatricians on the basis of personal recommendation; and investors get tips from their tennis partners. All through life, the facts, fictions, and arguments we hear from kin and friends are the ones that influence our actions most. Reciprocally, most people affect their society only through personal influences on those around them.”

Individuals who share strong connections to one another tend to be very similar in nature (which is termed homology). While some may argue this is important, especially for trust and shared culture, the downside is it can also create the dreaded ‘yes man’, or at least a blinkered view of the world, which may not see dangers looming or innovations happening elsewhere.

The network can become one of people who see the same things, think the same way and share the same information. If a group shares strong relationships and all the individuals are relatively similar, there will be many redundant connections regurgitating the same information, which stifles creativity and innovation.

Many leaders in football are overlooking a (perhaps better) wealth of talent that could be identified through a transparent and professional recruitment and due diligence process. Instead, they are turning to their closest network to make appointments.

To tackle this natural bias, leaders in football must develop and utilise a broader network of connections and undertake a transparent recruitment process. More diverse connections bridge networks of people and in turn introduce new ideas, insights and information that would otherwise be unknown.

Only then can football clubs be confident they’ve got the best man, or woman, for the job.

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De Boer welcomes Freedman appointment – Expert Analysis

This article was originally published on the Training Ground Guru (see here) with the below expert analysis.

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Austerity, policy and sport participation in England

Widdop, P., King, N., Parnell, D., Cutts, D., & Millward, P. (2017). Austerity, policy and sport participation in EnglandInternational Journal of Sport Policy and Politics. Online. 

Open access found on the above embedded link. Article also found in the journal here. 

City Talk: Sporting Directors

Delighted to join Steve Hothersall on City Talk to discuss on research and education programmes surrounding the Sporting Director role. Here is a link to the interview.

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Chelsea loan players to 87 clubs in five seasons

CHELSEA have sent players out on loan to 87 different clubs in the last five seasons, with destinations ranging from Club Universidad in Chile to the Metropolitan Police.

Vitesse Arnhem, who have had a close relationship with the Blues for several seasons now, are the leading destination, with 17 loanees going there. Next up is Middlesbrough, with six, and then Reading and Belgian Pro Division side Sint-Truidense with four each.

 

Courtesy of Dr Paul Widdop and Dr Dan Parnell

Courtesy of Dr Paul Widdop and Dr Dan Parnell

As things stand, 38 Chelsea players will be on loan at the start of the 2018/19 season. The above ‘ego network’ shows the destinations of Chelsea players during the last five seasons – starting in 2013/14 through to the upcoming season.

 

It was produced by Dr Paul Widdop of Leeds Beckett University and Dr Dan Parnell of Manchester Metropolitan University. The teams closest to the centre received the most players on loan.

 

Sporting Director: Football’s most misunderstood job?

What exactly does a Sporting Director do? And why does the role arouse suspicion and even hostility in this country?

 

Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo (above), better known as Monchi, is revered in Seville. English football has never had a Sporting Director who comes close to him in terms of public affection. We asked Dr Dan Parnell, who leads research on the Master of Sport Directorship course at Manchester Metropolitan University, for his lowdown on the role…

 

The full article is available on The Training Ground Guru, found here.

Is austerity the biggest threat to sport of our time?

This article was originally published on Connect Sport here.

This is a short research note prepared by Dr Dan Parnell and Dr Peter Millward, of ConnectSport, which offers an insight into a recent special issue on sport management in an era of austerity, published in the European Sport Management Quarterly journal.

The research note is based on a special issue edited by Dr Dan Parnell, Professor Karl Spracklen and Dr Peter Millward, which can be found here: Parnell, D., Spracklen, K., & Millward, P. (2016). Special Issue Introduction: Sport management issues in an era of austerity. European Sport Management Quarterly.

What is austerity?

Following Blyth’s (2013, p.2) description, we see austerity as: ‘a form of voluntary deflation in which the economy adjusts through the reduction of wages, prices and public spending to restore competitiveness which is [supposedly] best achieved by cutting the state’s budget, debts and deficits’.

Why is this an issue for sport?

The impact of the economic crisis which has engulfed Europe since 2008 and the subsequent ‘austerity measures’ which have reduced local and national spending on many public services focused on the practices of sport management, has received only scant scholarly attention.

A previous ConnectSport article sheds some light on how austerity can impact sport. There is no doubt public, private and third sector organisations, from grassroots to elite levels have faced challenges as a result of austerity (Parnell, Widdop and King, 2015).

Reduced finances and significant changes to public funding has meant many within sport are being challenged to deliver more, with limited resources and evidence their successes. Indeed, the search (and scrutiny) for value for money is definitely on! As a result, the special issue is very timely for sport practitioners and policy-makers.

What does the special issue cover?

This special issue provides insights on the impacts of policy in an era of austerity utilising case studies from two sporting organisations in two different European countries.

The first paper, ‘Implications of austerity measures on National Sport Federations: The case of Greece’ by Chrysostomos Giannoulakis, Dimitra Papadimitriou, Konstantinos Alexandris and Shea Brgoch discusses the consequences of forced austerity measures, and the implications of having to cut jobs in order to help their heavily indebted economies.

In the second article, by Catherine Walker and John Hayton overview the situation of a third sector disability sport organisation in the United Kingdom (UK), describing how this organisation has navigated austerity by adjusting management practices.

The issues raised in these two contributions present a wide range of challenges and questions for those who research in, and on the impact of austerity in sport management.

The biggest threat of our time?

Some might reasonably argue that austerity-driven policy measures offer the key challenge to the sport disciplinary area so far in the 21st century – and yet, thus far, a clear gap in research around the issue exists.  Our scholarly and intellectual aim in collating this special issue is to trigger ideas, debate and interest with a view to filling this space.

How do we in community sport and research move forward?

Of particular interest, a non-exhaustive list of research ideas in this area might include:

   – Further empirical research on the impacts of austerity measures on sport policy cuts: There is a shortfall of quantitative and qualitative research that explores the physical impacts of austerity cuts to sport policy budgets across Europe.  The Continent has various levels of quality data which exist on this, but in countries such as England seemingly robust data of this nature exists in the Active People Survey.  Data of this nature needs to be utilised and mined to draw up a localised picture of whether or not – or to what extent – sport policy cuts have reduced sport participation at a grassroots level.

   – The impact of sport policy cuts on ‘hard-to-reach’ populations: Some sectors of European societies are well recognised to be ‘hard to reach’ with respect to facilitating physical activity, particularly including sport participation.  The evidence base that exists about those who have suffered through austerity measures might suggest there is overlap amongst the two groups.  Some state-resourced sport and leisure facilities have closed or had opening hours reduced as a result of reduced state resource, particularly if they are ‘committee-serving’ rather than ‘profit-making’.  We hope this special issue may support future research in listening to, and analysing the narratives of those who used those sports facilities that have closed as a result of budgetary cuts, especially if those populations are part of the ‘hard-to-reach’ populations.

   – Managerial dilemmas faced by decision-makers: The processes of gaining ‘more’ (or at least the same) for less presents real challenges for senior and middle managers of state sport facilities on all geographical levels across Europe. Yet their voices – as concerns and/or challenges – have so far not been heard.  A potential research avenue which could spring from this special issue might be to empirically and theoretically understand such dilemmas.

   – Opportunities for public-private partnerships: The reduction in public spending in areas such as sport facilities is assumed to be negative.  Yet such changes in the nature of budgets may open up possibilities for new public-private partnerships, which throw up a host of new questions for sport management scholars.  We hope this special issue might spur on future research in this area.

   – Challenges for elite sport provisions and future achievements: So far, the suggestions for further research have veered toward amateur sport participation.  Yet this is but one (sizeable) part of the web of sport in Europe.  How might budgetary cuts and changes affect elite sport provisions and impact of future achievements?  The voices of coaches and athletes need to be heard to understand this complex set of management issues.

   – Increased accountability of public resources on sport/sport-related projects: The public’s awareness of austerity measures has increased media scrutiny on the use of ever-scarcer state resources spent on sport and sport-related projects.  There have been widespread calls for ‘accountability’ of how such resources are spent.  What does this mean for those in sport management positions? Are new ‘surveillance’ measures put in place, are they helpful (and to who they are helpful/unhelpful?) and how are they managed by key stakeholders in the sport management process?

   – University and Third Sector partnerships: We suggest that this period of ‘super-austerity’ (2015–2020) (Parnell et al., 2016) could provide an opportunity or the platform for sport management to heavily influence the Third Sector sport industry. Academic institutes, particularly those in higher education, are facing their own respective challenges regarding reduced research funding and heightened need for impact. As such, universities may take opportunities to develop meaningful applied research activities and partnerships with Third Sector sport organisations (Parnell et al., 2015); developing university and Third Sector partnerships may help organisations respond to the economic downturn and in turn develop research outputs and tangible impact within the industry .

Summary

Our hope for the special issue is to trigger ideas and interest for a number of potential research contexts to develop and extend our understanding. Ultimately, we feel this important debate has just started and there is much more to add.

To do this, universities have a real opportunity to develop meaningful, collaborative, research-based partnerships that have a high probability of impact in sport-based organisations which need strategic and operational support (Parnell et al., 2015).

Finally, we challenge researchers to extend this preliminary list of ideas and take up the challenge to address this gap in academic and policy understanding.

Forthcoming conference: Readers, whether researchers, policy-makers or practitioners may be interested in the forthcoming Sport and Politics Study Group Annual Conference at FC United, hosted by Manchester Metropolitan University: Sport Policy and Politics: The Inequality Gap. Sport and Politics Study Group Annual Conference, Thursday 16 and Friday 17 March 2017 at FC United. To find out more – click here.

This research note is based on the following article: Parnell, D., Spracklen, K., & Millward, P. (2016). Special Issue Introduction: Sport management issues in an era of austerity. European Sport Management Quarterly – found here (open access is here).

Dr Dan Parnell is an active researcher and senior lecturer in Business Management at Manchester Metropolitan University. His research interests cover the sport and leisure sectors within the UK and he works globally on a number of projects, in particular the social role of sport. Contactd.parnell@mmu.ac.uk or follow @parnell_daniel on Twitter or access his research here.

Dr Peter Millward is Reader in Sociology at Liverpool John Moores University.  Many of his research interests relate to sport and he has published widely in this area.  Contactp.millward@ljmu.ac.uk or follow @PeteMillward79 on Twitter or access his research here.

Sport management issues in an era of austerity

Very pleased to present a recent research article, which introduces our special issue for the European Sport Management Quarterly. Together, with Karl Spracklen and Peter Millward we offer an insight to sport management issues in an era of austerity and an introduction to our special issue.

Read the article here and access it on academiaedu here.

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Football agents should not be sent off – they just need a better set of rules

Originally published on The Conversation.

The war for talent is raging across the world. From Silicon Valley to Zhongguancun, organisations and institutions battle to recruit the best the world has to offer. So why is the football labour market viewed any differently to that of other industries and sectors? Surely demand for star players should be no different to the demand for product designers, data scientists and programmers.

Yet in light of the current controversies surrounding issues such as third-party ownership (TPO) and accusations of greed, and due to its mass market global appeal, football is different.

It seems strange then, that so little is known about the inner workings of the football machine – and in particular, those mysterious agents who grease the wheels, move the cogs and, apparently, make vast sums of money in the process.

Agent Jorge Mendes (left) on the red carpet. PA

Football agents make some of the biggest deals in football, sometimes profiting hugely from the talents of their superstar clients. Their role can be defined as “representing clubs and players within the context of contracts or transfer negotiations”.

Essentially, they are middlemen. But their role is increasingly growing to include responsibilities traditionally undertaken by the football club, such as being sold to another team. This raises the significant possibility of conflict of interest, when agents and clubs disagree about the player’s career path. Muddying the waters further is a hierarchy of power and division of labour within the role of agent so that some smaller agents work under the orders of the more powerful few.

So where do these agents come from? In a report on the big five leagues, just over half of agents had already worked in the football industry. Of these, 23% had a playing career, 13% scouted for players, 7.5% worked as a football manager and, 5.5% were sporting directors.

At the top of the profession, are the powerful few described by the media as “super agents”. Jorge Mendes is considered by many to be top of the pile, with clients including Cristiano Ronaldo, Diego Costa and Jose Mourinho among the £625m worth of contracts he has secured.

But given the current lack of transparency and regulation, all the agents and their dealings are difficult to identify, although they are viewed as the most powerful men in football.

Despite the significant number of people registered as agents in professional football, their presence is not evenly spread. A recent report highlights that representation in Europe’s five big leagues (England, Spain, France, Germany and Italy) is so highly concentrated that half of those leagues’ footballers are managed by only 83 football agents or agencies.

These increasingly powerful upper hierarchy of agents operate globallyacross divisions, leagues and continents.

Agent Jorge Mendes and the number of his transfers (thickness of lines) between clubs (circles), up until June 2016Widdop, Parnell and Asghar, Author provided

Public and industry opinion towards football agents remains hostile – Napoli’s owner, Aurelio de Laurentis, has described them as the “cancer of our world”. The media frenzy often directed at agents is adding pressure across the football industry to better regulate them. But football intermediary Jonathan Booker claims that it is those in football leadership, not the agents themselves, who have stood by and let this status quo continue.

And what about the agents themselves? Despite the fact that they should have a key voice in the debate about their role, you rarely hear from them. As part of our research we have interviewed football agents and intermediaries operating across the UK, Europe and beyond.

One of them explained that TPO has become common practice as a direct result of the economic recession, which led to financial institutions withholding loans, overdrafts and other financial benefits to clubs. He also argued that “the advantages [of TPO] can be multilateral”, explaining:

The buying club can obtain a player who will make their team better without having to pay the full amount the selling club is asking for. And the investor, whether that is an agent or consultant or company, will look for a return on that investment.

Addressing concerns about the impact of agent deregulation by FIFA in April 2015, he continued: “What does football expect? To become a coach in a professional club you need a relevant, often nationally accepted qualification. To become an agent you need to simply pay a small [£500] fee. This has created a context whereby a huge influx of agents have appeared, lacking due knowledge of regulation and impacting upon the system by continually approaching players with misplaced promises whilst trying to gain a living.

“It has opened the gate to the rogue agents that give all agents a bad name.”

FA as agents of change?

In the UK, the picture appears bleak, contradictory and dominated by big money. While we have strong calls by the FA for tighter local regulation, the Premier League is pushing for an easing in youth (aged 14-15) player regulation. This will no doubt heat up the chase for younger and cheaper players and will open up the disturbing reality of child trafficking and exploitation, when agents arrange ownership of very young players from developing countries. There’s no suggestion that the Premier League condones trafficking or exploitation of young players.

While agents call for global leadership and governance from FIFA to get rid of the rogue elements from their industry, many observers (and insiders) are treating this is a long-term aspiration (given they have enough to deal with already!). In the interim, the FA has an opportunity to lead and demonstrate a gold standard of practice, by heading up a coalition of stakeholders including the Association of Football Agents, the Premier League, English Football Championship and leagues, Players Football Association and government.

Complete transparency on all transfer and financial sensitivities, a formal and enhanced accreditation process and a national programme of education and training would allow the FA to protect its assets, repair its integrity, and position itself as a leader in football regulation.

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