Two hats, only one shirt

The Rise of the Player Manager
August 29, 2003

Football aficionados are only too familiar with the "player manager", from Peter Reid, formerly of Manchester City, in the early 1990s to Gianluca Vialli of Chelsea in the late 1990s. The authors of this book, however, are taking the concept of player manager from sport to business, professional services and the public sector, and are attempting to assess whether or not the rise of this class of manager is actually a good thing.

The book is extremely well written in a "war stories" genre, which is not surprising given that one author is a former investment banker and the other a consultant working in the coaching field. It is broken down into three sections: the rise of the player manager, player managers at work and the invisible manager.

The opening chapters explain how the down-sizing, "de-layering" mentality of British industry over the past decade has led to smaller and flatter organisations that have created the foundations for the player manager. The second section highlights some of their dilemmas, with chapter titles such as "Looking both ways", "Introducing the player managers', "The rookie", "The players' player".

These are all easily identifiable football metaphors. The issue of being neither "fish nor fowl" is emphasised, with managers expected to be outstanding "people managers" as well as personally delivering to the bottom line.

In Something's Happened, Joseph Heller illustrates this dilemma with his player manager in an insurance company sales force: "Kagle is not comfortable with people on his own level or higher. He tends to sweat on his forehead and upper lip, and to bubble in the corner of his mouth. He feels he doesn't belong with them. He is not much at ease with people who work for him. He tries to pass himself off as one of them. This is a gross mistake, for his salesmen and branch managers don't want him to identify with them. To them, he is management; and they know that they are nearly wholly at his mercy."

In their final chapter, "Double jeopardy", the authors contend that the player manager concept is not of itself a problem but in today's short-termist, bottom-line business environment, it is a human resources issue because top management does not understand the conflicts associated with the duality of these roles.

This is an easy book to read, full of wonderful case studies; and it is a contribution to the debate about the quality of working life in Britain today.

Cary L. Cooper is professor of organisational psychology and health, University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology.

The Rise of the Player Manager: How Professionals Manage While They Work

Author - Philip Augar and Joy Palmer
ISBN - 0 140 28665 9
Publisher - Penguin
Price - £14.99
Pages - 309

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