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German British Forum

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What do business and football have in common?

By Bob Bischof, chairman German British Forum

This article was sent to The Daily Mail for publication on July 20, 2014.

With Germany and Britain seemingly on diverging paths regarding their national football,it may be useful to have a look at what makes Germany tick and kick rather well  these days.

Firstly, it seems that personal involvement and private ownership matter on the field and off. Germany’s success as an industrial powerhouse is to a large extent due to its privately owned so-called Mittelstand and the huge companies that have grown organically from those roots.

German football clubs like Bayern Munich, Schalke and Borussia Dortmund are owned by its local members and fans and are run often by former football stars like Beckenbauer, Rummenigge etc, who are all fiercely tribal as far as their clubs are concerned, but equally keen on seeing the national team do well.

Secondly, it is interesting to have a look at the footballers themselves. As in business it matters whether your workforce is well trained, skilled and motivated. Out of the 13 German players directly involved in winning the world cup eight finished school with an A-level equivalent (Goetze, Hummels, Hoewedes, Schuerle, Merteseker, Mueller, Neuer and Podolski) and five with GCSE eqivialent (Klose, Khadeira, Ozil, Lahm and Schweinsteiger), with two of them also serving apprenticeships ( Klose as carpenter and Schweinsteiger as commercial clerk).

Serving apprenticeships alongside football  is not new and was even more popular in former successful teams; Klinsmann (baker), Beckenbauer (Insurance) Rudi Voeller (office clerk), Lothar Matthaeus (Interior Design)

An education may not help you to kick the ball better, but it will help in appreciating and understanding tactics, working in groups, building team spirit and developing discipline. And an education gives you so much more: it gives confidence to carry on with life after football and helps the many that do not make it to the very top or those whose careers are cut short for other reasons.

Personally speaking, I find the absence of tattoos refreshing as well. All of the 13 players mentioned above speak at least two languages, quite a few three, which makes them not only more rounded and self-confident it also gives them better international mobility. Ashley Cole hit the nail on the head, when he said that English players are afraid of going abroad. So are actually British youngsters in general.

No language skills means low mobility; low skills also means less mobility. As the whole world speaks English, footballers from abroad as well as all those thousands of youngsters serving in British restaurants and hotels find it easy to acclimatise here. I don’t think I have been served by a British waiter on the continent, nor does a top English player play in the Bundesliga – after Hargreaves.

Thirdly, long-term strategy and a proper structure are the two key elements that make businesses successful.  Apart from the youth work that is going on at club level, the DFB, Germany’s FA  together with the heads of the German Clubs decided that they had enough of watching the national team not winning any trophies and have set up a boarding college for talented youngsters. Here they will be coached in football first but also educated to a good standard.

As we have seen, this long term strategy has paid off. Like Britain, when it was decided to hold the Olympics in London, invested in talent and got the results in a never seen before haul of medals. The talent is no doubt there but it clearly needs structure and a long term plan to develop it.

Long term versus short term – in business as in football.

Selling British businesses for short-term shareholder value to foreign predators does as  little for the “national game” as foreign owners of British clubs or an over-supply of foreign players. If the UK wants to develop and grow its own talent pool of youngsters and entrepreneurs equally, then she needs to find a way of allowing the key elements of success to flourish

Supporting private ownership featuring self interest combined with social responsibility, which means the development of a skilled and motivated work force and structure that allows for a long-term strategy of developing  people, products and markets.

In other words growing SMEs into JCBs by remembering the words of Lord Bamford – “if he or his dad had gone to the stock market, JCB would not be around anymore”. When will government and the establishment in the UK wake up and allow British business and the English football team to flourish.