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Study discovers the skill set required for life in the football dugout

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David Weir
David Weir. Photo: Sheffield United FC

Modern day football managers face concerns far beyond the tactics board, according to ground-breaking research from the University of Stirling.

Current and aspiring football managers completing the Scottish FA UEFA Pro Licence management education course at Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence contributed to research into the issues they expect to face in such a rapidly changing football environment.

The study found it’s not just the on-pitch problems, but everything from balancing a budget to developing leadership and communication skills. “On the field of play the rules of the game are largely unaltered yet the other face is of a rapidly changing activity increasingly concerned with organisational business and financial matters,” said Stephen Morrow, who led the Carnegie Trust-funded study along with Dr Brian Howieson from the Stirling Management School.

“The football manager remains a pivotal figure and today’s managers have to be responsive to these challenges, accepting of their potential implications for the nature of their role; acquiescent to the media and public scrutiny of their performance; and at the same time cognisant of the chronic insecurity of their position.

“Ultimately the manager’s principal objective and one which he continues to be solely accountable for, remains as it always has been - winning football matches in an extraordinarily competitive environment in which there will always be many more losers than winners.

“The positive attitude and enthusiastic response of the cohort we have worked with to the management education that they have received to date, suggests that much more could, and should, be done in this area to up-skill and to educate them to better deal with the challenges that they will face as managers in the business of football.”

The management aspect of the Pro Licence - which is the highest level in UEFA’s coaching pyramid - was established at Stirling in 2006 and provides interactive sessions based around finance, communication and decision making.

Current Tottenham Hotspur Manager Andre Villas Boas was amongst the first cohort to complete it whilst Scotland Assistant National Coach and Motherwell Manager Stuart McCall completed the course in 2012, as did former Scotland international David Weir, recently named Sheffield United Manager.

Weir said: “It was a really interesting aspect to the UEFA Pro Licence and really got me thinking outside the box away from the usual football talk. It was important to start talking about the boardroom aspect and get experience of those matters.

“I’m obviously relatively new to management, but these skills were vital to me even at the job interview stage. Football on the pitch is still the most important part, but having these other skills sets you apart and gives prospective managers that edge on other candidates.

“Everyone can see how football has changed and understanding the financial side is more important than ever, with new rules such as financial fair play. As a manager, you have to understand that. The course at the University of Stirling was a great addition to the qualification and really worthwhile.”

The Scottish FA has developed an impressive programme of activities to ensure the qualification gives candidates the full skill-set required. Jim Fleeting, Scottish FA Director of Football Development, oversees the course delivery.

The full findings of the research are expected to be published shortly, part one of a study into football management, while Morrow is also working on a study of financial fair play at leading UK football clubs.

The University, along with Stirling Council, is bidding to establish the National Performance Centre for Sport on campus, which will provide an elite training base for the Scottish FA. Weir believes Stirling’s bid is the outstanding choice. He added: “Coming from Falkirk and the experiences I’ve had at the University, I would say Stirling is the perfect choice for the National Performance Centre for Sport.”

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