The English Premier Leagues transfer window came to a close this week and with it, a swirl of deals were finalised, pen was put to paper and £419m worth of fee’s crossed hands. Once again, I was reminded of the synergy between Europe’s elite league and the recruitment industry at large. One of my first managers in recruitment would often relate recruitment processes to the art of football or the art of meeting an attractive girl at a bar. To be fair he knew his audience. Be it a conversation about candidate attraction strategies, managing expectations or time management I would be transported to a fictitious bar or the boardroom of a top 4 club.
I think that has stuck with me as I often find myself using a football anecdote to describe a candidate, agency or deal much to the bemusement of some of my more rugby centric candidates/clients. As follows are some of my more tried and tested short cuts that have saved me a bit of time, with a specific niche sector of candidates and clients, thankfully a large proportion of the local market is British and indulge me.
In the January 2011 transfer window, Liverpool FC smashed its club record at the time by signing the marauding Geordie Andy Carroll for a whopping £35m. Laughable now of course when that price could barely afford you Neymar Jr’s bootlace! However, that price tag hung over Andy’s head through the entirety of his career with the reds. He only lasted two years before he was loaned out and eventually sold to West Ham where he still applies his trade, when not injured. My point is if you want that extra $5-$10k in salary there is an expectation, you will perform week in week out. Bar an 86th-minute winner against Everton in the FA Cup his time at Liverpool was overshadowed by that price tag. If you want the big base then you must accept the big expectations and more importantly, live up to them.
‘Fake it till you make it’ is a term we hear a lot in recruitment. Often said to a fledgling associate to install them with confidence, it is an innocent instruction with the implication that you will indeed ‘make it’. Ali Diar was the cousin of Liberian international and former FIFA World Player of the Year, George Weah. He had footballing pedigree in his genes and also a stint at PSG to his name. His agent put a phone call into Graeme Souness, manager of Southampton FC and he was offered a month-long contract, making his first team appearance against Leeds United on 23 November 1996. The only problem was that Ali had never met George Weah, never played for PSG and his ‘agent’ was a friend from university. He lasted all of 53 minutes as he replaced fellow Channel Islander Matt Le Tissier in the 32nd minute and was hauled off in the 85th minute presumable to a barrage of questions. No industry is without its rogues but Ali’s story serves as a reminder to vet carefully who you’re asking to join your team.
There is a plethora of anecdotes that can be taken from Arsenal but I’m on thin ice as Jon Rice is a staunch Gooner so I’ll tread carefully. The tale that I trudge out in most cases is in relation to their frugal approach to the transfer market. Specifically, the potential acquisition of Mr. Luis Suarez. Luis had a buyout clause of £40,000,000, perhaps the person holding the purse strings was an Arsenal fanatic who thought that the allure of the North London Club was enough because an offer of £40,000,000 and £1 arrived at Anfield. I can imagine the faces of the Liverpool staff receiving that offer being similar to the expression of a candidate who has received an offer way below expectations. If you want the superstars you must be prepared to pay top dollar, putting an offer together that is guaranteed to underwhelm the candidate is a nail in the coffin of any deal.
Craig has had the pleasure of playing for two teams close to my heart; Liverpool & Celtic. Not satisfied with playing in front of two of the greatest supporters in the world his CV also includes stints at Norwich City, Coventry City, Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers, West Ham United, Manchester City and Cardiff City. In fact, the Welshmen holds the title for the most transferred player in the Premier League. With tenures lasting on average 2 years, he is what is commonly referred to as a journeyman. Now, Craig didn’t play for these teams in order to fill the walls of his man cave with a variety of framed jerseys, he was a talent. With any player/consultant that is gifted in their industry, there will always be demand. However, how long is it before they succumb to the siren call of another footballing institution? Are they ever really committed to the team or is one eye always on the exit? Gone are the days of a ’one-man club’ in both recruitment and football through varying factors, although it does mean I meet more Craig Bellamys than Alan Shearers.
Like over the course of a premier league season there are ups and downs and the same can be said for a financial year, agencies are susceptible to takeovers, slumps in forms, complacency with superstars and smaller clubs challenging to breakthrough and topple the ‘big boys’ it serves up curve balls (and in some cases beachballs*) and like football, recruitment is a beautiful game.