Does the Chelsea FC Championship win show a change of leadership can work wonders ?

The unexpected win by Chelsea FC over Barcelona in the Champions League and then their victory over Bayern Munich to win the championship has been put down to the inspirational effect of the new manager Roberto Di Matteo. According to reports from the team, and confirmed by success in the field something has definitely changed since the somewhat lacking performances before he arrived. There is significant praise for him from Frank Lampard one of the most experienced Chelsea players. “The basic skill of management involves man-management, and he has carried that out brilliantly, and you can see the whole side playing with a real confidence.” There is also a comment about Andre Villas- Boas the new young manager sacked in March implying that he spent too much time thinking about the longer term strategy and not enough on getting things right in the short term.

Clearly there is a significant difference in the team performance and what are the lessons for business ? But do the improvements come from the fact that Di Matteo is so good or the fact that he isn’t Villas-Boas ? Certainly the the relationship the previous manager had with some of the senior team members, some of whom were older than him I suspect, was not good. Also he may have gained credibility in Portugal but was that enough to build credibility at Chelsea amongst a team that was potentially much harder to lead than the ones he had led before. Clearly Matteo has changed the approach and focused on the here and now and not the longer term. But all this confirms the importance of the leader having credibility, the ability to remove immediate blockages to performance and also have a long term plan. That applies to business just as well as football. Its has worked for Di Matteo can it work in business ? For my interview with Jeff Randall on Sky about the lesson of this for business after Chelseas victory over Barcelona click here


I think it shows how big a part luck can play in organisational success.  After all, Avram Grant was within a penalty kick of guiding Chelsea to a similar Champions League success, yet few would claim that Grant is a world class manager.

I think our leaders play a much smaller part in the success of the companies they lead than they'd like us to believe.

I am an avid supporter of the non-league side Lincoln City. For half of last seaon our manager was Steve Tilson. He was a terrible manager and we were close to the bottom of our division for most of last season with a very real danger of relegation. Thanks to the pressure of supporters, most of whom hating him, he was sacked and replaced by David Holdsworth. We subsequently just managed to survive relegation by a few points. So therefore, we have conclusive proof that if you support a really bad football team, then a change of leadership will make them slightly less bad than they were before.

Excuse my tongue-in-cheek answer above. To be serious for a moment, the main problem with football in the UK (and business management in general) is a total lack of long-term strategic vision and the willingness of directors and shareholders to give managers enough time and flexibility to carry out long-term plans and make some mistakes on the way to long-term success. How many managers have Chelsea had in the last 10 years? OK, they got lucky this time, but they will still struggle to finish in the top 4 of the Premiership next year. And then yet another sacking? Yet another new manager? You can buy short-term success in football by changing your leader. It doesn't work in the long term, and it certainly doesn't work in business.

Anyone who disagrees with me, I have just three words for you: Sir Alex Ferguson.