About Me

My photo
I'm a journalist, ex-national papers, now working in what we call "new" media.

Football clubs, like newspapers and restaurants, tend to be run as dictatorsships with a single dominant figure (the editor, the proprietor, the manager, the chariman, the chef, the owner) telling everybody else what to do and succeeding or failing based on his judgement. Kelvin Mackenzie's Sun and Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest were two examples of the same phenomenon - a driven, charismatic boss who wasnt afraid to take decisions and seemed to get things right a lot of the time.

But for every Clough or Mackenzie there has been a host of failures -men who thought they knew what they were doing but led their clubs or papers disastrously down the wrong road. I've worked for a few editors like that, men and women who were forced by the whole history and psychology of newspapers to manage by hunch, but whose hunches were wrong. As a Manchester City fan, I've observed countless managers and chairmen behave the same way.

There is another way, less glamorous, but more reliable. Use statistics, research and data to guide your decisions. Most of the business world functions like this, but football and the press have largely avoided it. I've just been reading Michael Lewis's Moneyball, in which he tells the story of how a poorly funded baseball side punched way above its weight by using statistics to identify high-performing players who had been missed by the traditional scouting system, which relied on the hunches and prejudices of former players.

I witnessed the same sort of thing when I moved from papers to online. Suddenly we knew a very great deal about what our audience was doing, what it liked to read and what it was not interested in. No way could any online site I've worked on (with audiences far bigger than any national newspaper) justify paying hundreds of thousands of pounds a year to a star columnist. Yet newspapers do this as a matter of routine, because hunch and print tradition tell them it is the right thing to do.

It's probably too late to save newspapers from the consequences of decades of accumulated wrong decisions. It may not be too late for football clubs such as Man City. I've been interested to read reports of Ray Ranson's attempted takeover of the club. Ranson says he has a new model for running football, which doesn't involve the great dictatorial manager figure. He doesn't go into detail but, as he is involved in Prozone, which provides very detailed data on players and their performance, I strongly suspect he is in the Moneyball/internet camp and I hope his bid is successful.