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7 October 2011Johnson v Capello continued

Martin Ledigo

by Martin Ledigo

At the start of the rugby World Cup I wrote a blog supporting Martin Johnson's "treat them like adults" approach to team management in comparison to Fabio Capello's "no WAGS, no alcohol, early to bed etc". In the light of events of the last few weeks I might have been tempted to eat my words and/or humble pie or maybe just delete the blog and move on quickly to comment on something where the evidence supported my views!


In case you have not been reading the sports pages (or increasingly the front pages), the England rugby team has been performing as badly off the pitch as on it. Mike Tindall (described in the Telegraph as Grandson in law to the Queen!) has been among the worst offenders (again on and off the pitch). Excessive drinking, bungee jumping, motor cycling, activities involving dwarfs and lewd comments to a chambermaid are among the many allegations in the papers.  Of course we don’t know how much press exaggeration there is here, but there seem to be some examples of professional athletes behaving badly.


The thrust of my earlier blog was that by treating people as adults they are more likely to behave that way. Clearly this has not been happening. So the theory is wrong? Should Johnson now respond with a series of rules and regulations acknowledging that they can’t be trusted and that Fabio got it right after all?  No. I believe the principle is still sound and it would be unfair on those who have not transgressed and demotivating for all if Johnson changed the approach. Work teams sometimes screw up and the reaction or possibly over reaction of the leader is critical – over the years we have seen too many sound initiatives quashed at the first sign of difficulty.  In “management language” Johnson was empowering his people by giving up his control; he was allowing freedom within a set of agreed principles, trusting the team to do the right thing. However, the other side of the coin is that the people have to take responsibility which some of the England team have clearly failed to do. We don’t know if they did establish a set of principles but if they did they certainly didn’t internalise them.


Sensing his style from TV and newspaper interviews, one suspects Johnson is reading the riot act in the privacy of the hotel (good).  One hopes re-establishing the standards required and outlining the sanctions if there are future transgressions.  I also hope that he is succeeding in channelling all their energy into their performance on the field – I can’t take any more bad starts to the weekend.

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