Monday, March 11, 2013

How to motivate pro footballers in Premier League when they don't give a shit

Last updated: 12 Mar. 2013
An Irish friend (@ChelsSince1970) quite rightly pointed out that the blog ignores the roles of managing men and leadership. See Addendum below.
This blog is a mini-rant on the notion that millionaire professional football players need a manager to motivate them. It derives from tweets about Chelsea FC's interim manager Rafa Benitez and how former manager José Mourinho, now at Real Madrid, would be so much better. 

In the past, when working at real jobs*, I never needed anyone to motivate me to do a good job  and protect patient safety, whether it was testing donated blood, 'crossmatching' donor and patient blood prior to transfusion, or teaching students the theory and practice of transfusion science and immunohematology.

*First as a medical laboratory technologist with Canada's national blood supplier (then Can. Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service, now Canadian Blood Services), and later as a clinical instructor and transfusion science instructor / professor in the Med Lab Science program at the University of Alberta.
When first starting out, I was paid poorly but eventually adequately, at least sufficiently for my needs. Money was not a motivator, supervisors could not motivate with criticism, praise, or promise of promotion

Whatever made me work hard, keep up-to-date, and try to excel came from within, was intrinsic. It was partly self-respect, partly because I wanted the respect of colleagues and students, and partly because errors in the jobs I had could directly lead to a person's death. The last is not that different than individuals who work as auto and airline mechanics, bus drivers, electricians, etc.

Which is why I'm amazed that apparently millionaire football players need to be motivated by managers to give their best. 

Excuse me? These young men earn mega-bucks, live a fantasy lifestyle with adoring fans, and are attractive to others even if they have ordinary looks. Reporters, service people in restaurants, young women in bars, you name it, fawn all over these guys. They have it made by any of society's standards of success.

Yet the poor dears need a manager to rouse them to greater efforts before and during games?

Of course, these young men, like all youth, have limited life experience. They may have overcome poverty, a disruptive home life, or not. Most are not well educated, at least not formally, as they went into football at a very young age. If lucky, they have supportive families who provide good financial and social advice.

What can motivate young men who have it all?

Harry Redknapp in a March 2012 article claimed it was only cash.

I'm skeptical about money as a motivator.

Average Premier League wages are ~ £22,353 a week before bonuses or £1.16 million/year (more than $1.7 million US). And top players earn much more, e.g., Lionel Messi 31million/yr (more than $40 million US).

To me the huge wages are almost FU money. These young dudes can pretty much do as they like, and do.

Only real outliers can wreck their careers with repetitive bad behavior, e.g.,  'Super Mario' Balotelli at Manchester City.

But even 'Super Mario', given his talent, has landed on his feet at AC Milan for another chance at glory.

2. FEAR?
On Twitter some Chelsea fans think fear of the manager can motivate, a reason to dream of 
José Mourinho's return. In games where CFC plays poorly they tweet that Jose wouldn't have put up with that mediocre performance.

What would he have done? Ranted and scared the bejesus out of the under-performing millionaires by the sheer strength of his personality?

Possible only if a manager has total control of the club. Can that be true for any Chelsea manager, given Roman Abramovich's hands-on approach, albeit via behind-the-scenes puppeteering, and his record of sacking managers

Can 20-something millionaires be inspired by a manager's rhetoric? #Rafaout fans think that 
José is a genius who can inspire players to greater heights with sheer charisma and rhetoric. To me that may work for awestruck teenagers, not guys in their 20s with FU $$$$.

Also, it may work when players have grown up with a club and English football, where a club's history is heartfelt and ingrained into ones bone marrow at an early age.

Inspiring a largely foreign group of players is another matter. As Redknapp said, to them club history means nil. In Chelsea's current squad I count only 4 regular English starters.

In general, some people are motivated by threats ('big stick') and others by a promise of something desirable. 

What big stick do managers have? The most obvious stick is benching a player for poor play, threatening them with whatever the manager knows they fear.

But what's the carrot? Simply getting to start games or being a regular substitute?

Sooner or later players given the stick will opt to be transferred and sold to teams where they'll get to play regularly.

Research on learning and employment show that people are most motivated by being respected and receiving praise for jobs well done.

What does that mean in the context of a professional football team? Examples:

  • Encourage players to express opinions and ideas and implement good ideas, whenever possible.
  • Never insult players individually and publicly for poor play. They know better then anyone else when they've screwed up or had a bad day. Instead use errors as teachable moments for the entire club.
  • Treat players fairly, no favorites. If the owner thinks otherwise, resign immediately as to play favorites makes you lose all credibility. 
  • Don't marginalize and exclude players who are off form. If anything, make them feel even more a part of the club, valuable contributors. 
  • Discuss an individual's poor play privately. Focus on what happened rather than pejorative characterizations, e.g., 'Your pass completion was 40% and you had no shots on net. Why do you think that happened?' (Not, 'You were totally sh*t today.') Then listen. 
  • Praise more than criticize but offer praise only when valid, else it becomes meaningless.

You may think that for professional footballers 'recognition and praise' advice is namby-pamby and spineless. But these strategies apply to all humans from live-in nannies to tenured university professors to millionaire pro footballers. We're all human beings with the same vulnerabilities and desires.

Think about your own job. What most motivates you to work harder? Money? Fear? Threats? Promises? Being respected and appreciated for a job well done? Depending on your individual circumstance, I bet for most it's being respected and appreciated.

As to rich, young pro footballers needing a manager to motivate them  to play better, my gut reaction is, 'Give me an effing break.'

So long as the manager isn't part of the problem by being abusive, player performance is mostly internally motivated as it was for me - self-respect and the respect of peers. 

Of course, managers exist for more than motivation. There's tactics and strategy, analysing the opposition, creating game plans. But this blog focuses only on the manager as motivator.

And I suspect that thinking a manager can motivate millionaire young players, especially foreign ones, is a crock. 
José would be no better than Rafa. Of course, Rafa was made a eunuch by 'interim manager' designation. 

If José - or any manager - had total control (unlikely at Chelsea), perhaps it would be possible. But mainly by using fear and threats, never the best approach. 'Do it for Chelsea' is a meaningless joke to most foreign players.

In today's Premier League, Harry Redknapp is likely correct about players:

  • They don't give a shit. [At least most of them...]

My Irish buddy Vera thinks I've misrepresented José Mourinho's management style. She notes that José is acknowledged as a great manager and leader of men, the type of guy who relates to and bonds with players such that he squeezes that extra bit out of them that wins championships. She supplied this  article on Mourinho and Lampard:
And she's right. Video clips of José in Chelsea's glory days of 2005-6 show that he came close to being accepted as 'one of the lads' while remaining his superior status as the gaffer. He was even a father figure to some, e.g., Michael Essien calls him daddy

This is a tough balancing act for any manager. Because familiarity breeds contempt, there must be a distance. Yet on some level staff need to see a manager as one of them, someone who knows and empathizes with their struggles.

On the issue of José v Rafa as a leader of men, judging by achievements, it's José. Vera gives this example of how CFC players view Mourinho: 
Rafa may be a good manager. His record is not shabby. Certainly, his management style has its critics, including former players. That would be true of most managers in any profession.

But for Rafa, Chelsea was a non-starter from the start, as it would be for anyone who joined today's Chelsea: revolving door managers, even if you win the biggest club prize of all, the Champions League; Roman's circus of trained seals to front for his wishes.

When he managed Chelsea, André Villas-Boas had many skills needed in successful managers. But I thought he was a poor manager of men, that he lacked the necessary emotional intelligence to lead men. Time will tell with his career managing Tottenham Hotspurs.

BOTTOM LINE: The blog examines what motivates people and why millionaire footballers, in general, and Chelsea players, in particular, need motivating to play well. It was not meant to be about leadership and that was a serious omission. 

Perhaps José can provide the inspiration, recognition, and praise that motivates people to excel. However, being a cynic*, I'm not in the camp of those who think that José is Jesus and his second coming is imminent.

David Moyes is also a skilled manager of men. Chelsea hiring him would not be a bad thing.

Scratch any cynic and you will find a disappointed idealist. (George Carlin)