Antonio Conte’s drawn-out departure from Chelsea is a perfect example of how not to operate an elite-level sports club, says one of the UK’s leading psychologists.
Conte led Chelsea to Premier League glory in his first season in charge, but the club’s title defence was quickly undermined by speculation over his future and his exit was finally confirmed on July 13, after preparations for the 2018-19 campaign had begun.
Chelsea’s FA Cup win in May was mere consolation as they failed to qualify for the Champions League, and Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology at Manchester University, believes doubts over Conte were reflected in the players’ sub-standard performances last season.
“Having uncertainty like that is not good,” Cooper said. “It should have been sorted professionally. It’s not a smart move by the club’s senior management.
“The players don’t know who they’re going to get. Will he stay? Can he stay? He’s probably leaving. All that uncertainty is not good for anything. Look at Brexit.
“People don’t know where they are and the same thing applies in this context. It’s not a smart way of doing it.”
There are plenty more high-profile instances of clubs’ performance levels dropping after the pending departure of their manager or head coach had been announced.
Sir Alex Ferguson later admitted he made the biggest mistake of his career when announcing in the summer of 2001 that the following season would be his last in charge of Manchester United.
Ferguson’s U-turn came too late to rescue that season. His side, chasing an unprecedented fourth successive English league title, went on to finish third in the Premier League, 10 points behind winners Arsenal.
“Coaches in sport are really important people. People perform for them,” Cooper said.
“They’re like a surrogate parent figure, like a father or mother who is encouraging you.
“A good coach, like a Sir Alex Ferguson, takes that role on and becomes the father figure for the whole team and when that person leaves, you’re almost homeless.
“That parent figure you valued, who nurtured you and who you wanted to please has gone and there is less motivation to perform.”