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First Cohort Of Sporting Directors Set For Graduation Ceremony

Tue 11th Jul 2017 | Football Club Management

FIFA’s pro-licence is well established as the blue-chip qualification for soccer coaches around the world - now the first formally qualified Sporting Directors are set to graduate with a Masters Degree after two years of gruelling study.

A galaxy of industry professionals with an appetite to elevate their career from the playing field or training ground to strategic leadership in the boardroom celebrate their success this month in traditional academic cap and gown at Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall.

Aston Villa’s Director of Football, Steve Round; Leicester City assistant boss, Michael Appleton, Manchester United Academy Operations Manager, Nick Cox and Ashley Giles Sporting director at Warwickshire CCC, are but a few of the names to have negotiated the rigours of the Masters Degree in Sporting Directorship devised by VSI and taught in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University.

It is a qualification that has captured the industry’s imagination and is quickly becoming recognised as the benchmark for franchises and governing bodies recruiting what is now widely seen as a key role in their corporate structure.

The position is one of the most hotly debated in the sporting world and fcbusiness has spoken at length for the first time to visionary programme founder Tony Faulkner, a former footballer who’s playing career was cut cruelly short by a crippling back injury sustained at the tender age of 19 while on loan at Bristol City.  

Like so many young players with shattered dreams, he confesses to floundering helplessly for a period before taking inspiration from friend and former Manchester United and Northern Ireland International, Norman Whiteside who had qualified as a physiotherapist when he had also been forced to quit the game prematurely.

“It was time to stop feeling sorry for myself,” he admitted. "I managed to qualify as a physio and return to Manchester City’s academy but I needed more and was fascinated by all aspects of performance and in particular understanding how the brain drives performance.

“The study of neuroscience became an obsession and I eventually ended up at Blackburn Rovers before once again returning to City as a performance consultant.”

During that time he witnessed the exponential financial growth across a range of sports, notably in the Premier League and the NBA and NFL in the US. It was his view that the stateside franchises handled their sporting operations far more successfully than the UK soccer industry that too often showed little regard for long term strategy.

Faulkner saw at first-hand how football managers struggled to cope with the weight of responsibility as staffing levels in all areas multiplied with fresh departments emerging to deal with the new world of analytics and psychology. 

He added: “The football revolution happened so quickly but the game was slow to adjust. I was working in America and it was evident that they were at a more mature point in their evolution.

“I conducted some fairly extensive research in this country to try and understand why the position of Sporting Director, which was becoming common on the continent, was not favoured here.

“Some owners and chief executives reported resistance from their managers to such change but interestingly most recognised the need for a highly qualified individual who could sit in the boardroom and head-up their sporting operations.

“They wanted an industry professional capable of managing the medium and long term strategy on the playing side of the club with many valuing the idea of that person recruiting the first team coach, an individual they acknowledged would, in the modern game, have a limited shelf life.

“The days, they said, of a Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger coaching the first team for two decades were over.”

Tony also explored the world of cricket, rugby league and rugby union. The story was the same.

“There was a limited pool of talented individuals with the playing or coaching backgrounds who also had the formal qualifications to sit in the boardroom alongside an owner or chief executive and work with them to create the club’s strategy and implement it on the playing, medical, academy, analytics and sports science departments of the club.” 

Tony set about filling that talent pool by devising an academic programme that would be the exclusive domain of industry professionals, would be post-graduate and would embrace and recognise individual’s talent and experience and not penalise them for a lack of A levels or a first degree.

He wanted to create a movement of individuals with sport cut in their DNA and a desire to lead and deliver a lasting legacy. His course was not intended to be a traditional ivory tower academic course but a vocational one that equipped individuals for real jobs at sport’s top tables.

"My colleague, Andrew McIntyre, had a long-term friendship with Professor Karen Moore, Registrar and Clerk to the Board of Governors at Manchester Metropolitan University,” Tony revealed. “She introduced us to the Business School and we worked together to accredit our content.

“We have run the programme for three years with MMU and it has been hugely successful and I am so proud to see the first cohort graduate and look forward to cohorts two and three enjoying similar success.

"The likes of former England manger, Steve McLaren, head up a powerful group yet to qualify and it will be a proud moment when they follow in the footsteps of the first cohort."

For more information on Executive Education programmes in sport contact: www.vsiee.com  or email: tony@vsiee.com

Posted by: Aaron Gourley 

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