Anyone in business knows research and planning is essential to success in business. Even so, I doubt many match the Manchester United manager’s preparations for a game, as reported in a recent Daily Telegraph interview?
Louis van Gaal begins with research into the opponent. “The preparation starts with the scout, Paul Brand, who is analysing the opponent, who selects all the images with Marcel Bout.”
Bout , the opposition scout, goes to watch the opponents two weeks before the game. Then assistant manager Ryan Giggs makes a presentation for the players using the selected images.
On to the planning. “Then we make a game plan. Then we discuss the game plan.” The set-plays are the subject of yet another meeting.
After that it’s presented to the players by Giggs. “They have to look. We explain,” says van Gaal. “Then we go and train the game-plan 11 against 11.”
Giggs coaches the ‘opponent’ eleven while assistant coach Albert Stuivenberg coaches the ‘Manchester United’ eleven. “Then we practise different patterns. We film the training session.”
This testing of the plan is followed by meetings with the various ‘units’- defenders, midfielders, forwards. “Albert has selected the images of the training,” explains van Gaal, “but also former matches that explain more of our game-plan.”
Then they meet with the players who have to mark the opposing players. This is followed by another meeting with the players to make sure everybody understands what they have to do. Then there are individual meetings with some of the players.
When you know what you’re doing, you’ll continue at the highest level
An important part of the preparation is this communication with what in business might be described as the front line. He makes sure his players understand what they have done and what they need to do. Interestingly van Gaal prefers knowledge to intuition. “Most players are intuitive. I want it more that they are thinking, that they can make decisions on the pitch.”
“My philosophy is, when you know what you’re doing, you’ll continue at the highest level. When you’re instinctive, you’re always dependent on the circumstances.” Not far from the 99% perspiration, 1% inspiration school of thought.
Finally it’s match day. “I don’t say anything, only one sentence before the match,” says van Gaal. “Then half-time I say what we have to change, or what we have to improve, or I don’t say anything because it was very good.”
Once it’s all over, there is the monitoring. The following day, Stuivenberg selects video clips from the match and he and van Gaal evaluate how it went. This is followed by a meeting with the players where everyone learns what went well and how they can do better next time.
I assume all top teams adopt a similar approach. The difference between a football match and a business campaign is that a business can choose which competition to avoid and which niche to operate in whereas a football team can't choose their opponents or the battlefield. Which is why a small business can be top of its field with good planning and Manchester United didn't win a single trophy this season.