"Trust and knowing people" are the most critical aspects in recruitment in football

Do you ever wonder how Sporting directors,  senior and executive leaders in football clubs recruit middle-management-level positions in leading football institutions?

A recent study titled ‘Recruitment in elite football: a network approach’ shows that whilst normally in recruitment weak ties are essential for getting a job, in football, trust and knowing people are the most critical aspects in recruitment, and recruiters rely on strong ties. 

The study is concerned with non-playing staff who assume middle-management positions, i.e. heads of departments and the research addresses this need and expands beyond previous studies offering a qualitative perspective with executive-level practitioners from elite professional football clubs in England.

The 4 main findings of the study are:

Embeddedness – closure: the importance of ‘knowing’ someone

The study illustrates that trust is a crucial component of corporate culture within the football industry and that this influences the forms of recruitment practiced by Sporting Directors

Strength of weak ties: using your network to your advantage

The study points out that engagement with weak ties both within and outside the football industry help to develop a list of potential candidates. Therefore, it is not necessarily the ‘strong ties’ within professional networks (i.e. the closest, most trusted connection) but the ‘weak ties’ (i.e. more removed connections) that lead to success in job searches and recruitment.

“Knowing someone you trust and who, in return, trusts another to do a required role reduces uncertainty and risk in the marketplace. Importantly, it is the weak ties here rather than the strong ties found in closed networks that are important. Weak ties bring new ways of working, innovation, access to new markets and technology whilst reducing inequality in the group,” the study found out. 

Structural holes: winning by filling

Structural holes work on the premise that an actor (i.e. agent or loan manager) bridging a structural hole can broker between two parties; that is, they can introduce people or organisations together, share and direct information (such as opportunities). However, they can also conversely leverage their position, create tension between two parties or control the information and message – either way, structural holes give those who fill it a competitive advantage.

Temporal embeddedness: the dynamic fluidity of football networks

The temporal dimensions have huge implications for the management strategy of football clubs, including the recruitment of corporate actors. Time shares a correlation to power; as time sifts, so too does network power; as demonstrated in the transfer market.

The empirical qualitative study was undertaken by Daniel Parnell , Alexander John Bond, Paul Widdop, Ryan Groom and David Cockaynea involving semi-structured interviews with 25 Sporting Directors in football clubs in England . The qualitative data was thematically analysed.

The study further highlights the importance of networking to secure a job and how the ties among actors in a social system interact and comprise the broader contexts that can affect perceptions, beliefs, emotions, attitudes, and ultimately, actions of individuals and groups, subsequently recreating the structure and culture of the industry.

Click here to read the full study.