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Ben Lyttleton talks lessons business can take from football at the Emirates Festival of Literature

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Ben Lyttleton

The world of football doesn’t always seem to have a great deal of synergy with other businesses.

Living in a fantasy land of telephone number transfer fees and highly prized assets, that can be difficult to manage at the best of times, it feels a unique space.

However, according to Ben Lyttleton, there are more similarities and learnings than you might think.

Lyttleton, a British journalist, is the author of Edge: What Business Can Learn from Football – and will be talking on the subject at the Emirates Festival of Literature this Friday.

Having spoken to experts across the world of football, Lyttleton draws on a wealth of different viewpoints from some of the most experienced people in the field.

One of the areas he discusses is success – and what we consider to be success.

He names the example of the pressure Mauricio Pochettino finds himself under at Spurs – despite being well placed in the Premier League and still in the Champions league.

“Spurs is a very good example at the moment,” he said.

“If you listen to some, you have a coach who is under pressure because he hasn’t won a trophy. The questions to ask are; what is success? How do you define success? And how do you measure success?

“No one can look at the work of Pochettino and say he is not successful. You’ve got a team who have not bought a player for two windows, they have been playing away matches for two years, and somehow they are third in the table, and in the last eight in the Champions League. It’s astonishing how successful he has been.

“Only one team can win the league, and that is usually the team with the highest wage bill, or the one that is spending a fortune. The way we measure success has to be redefined as well, and I think that goes for all of us – in all our lives.

He also looks at the struggles of managing a team that is made up of people from a different generation – something that football and business has to contend with. He discussed the problems seen at Manchester United this season.

“Jose Mourinho found it very difficult to get the best out of the current group at Manchester United because a lot of people, I think unfairly, see millennials as very hard to manage,” he said. “They need to right type of environment in order to flourish. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has given them that collaborative environment, given someone like Paul Pogba that freedom to be creative.”

In business it’s not unusual to fear the loss of your very best talent – much like a football team want to keep hold of a prize striker.

Lyttleton says this mustn’t be a concern to good managers – and they much strive to give their best people the opportunity to thrive.

“The modern day coach is not just improving players by getting them to run faster and kick harder, which is essentially skills players would already have if they are at top clubs, it’s about improving the intangible qualities like resilience and creativity which are much harder to measure and improve,” he said.

“If you outgrow your professional setting you deserve a fresh opportunity to reach higher heights.

“The football ecosystem understands that and if you want to get the best out of your talent, there is no way you are going to deny them the opportunity because this player is only going to leave your club for big money if you have got the best out of them – that shouldn’t be a deterrent to developing that talent.

“One of the key element of developing talent is opportunity. There is no point having a talent if you are not going to play them. Much like in a professional environment, there is no point having a super-talent graphic designer who is a guru in the office, if you are not going to let them graphic design and do the job they are there for.

“It is very difficult in this short term society of hot-takes and if you lose you’re out, and you win you’re the hero, to have the time to develop talent and give it the time it needs to flourish.

 BEN LYTTLETON: EDGE is at the Emirates Festival of Literature on Friday 8 March, 10am-11am, Al Ras 3, InterContinental, Dubai Festival City.

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