My first season as CEO of a professional football club is in the books. It ended on a somewhat somber note as we gave up a 3-0 halftime lead to draw with Minerva Punjab 4-4, in a match where our opponents literally scored in the last second of the game. While I was disappointed that we couldn’t end the season on a high with a dominating win at home, the frustration didn’t last nearly as long as it would have if this match was earlier in the year - this is all thanks to my on the job growth as a young football executive.
This season was truly an emotional roller coaster. We had some highs in the form of a 5-0 win at home against Mumbai FC in the Maha Derby and a 0-1 win away against Kolkata giants Kingfisher East Bengal. Some of the lows consisted of a few injuries to some key players and losing 10 points by giving up goals in the last 5 minutes of 7 matches. Overall, though, I’m pleased with the fact that we stuck with our vision as a youth development focused club by providing the opportunity for 12 Academy graduates to make their debut in the I-League – some even scoring goals or ensuring clean sheets.
So rather than summarising the entire season, I’ve created a list of the 5 key learnings from my first season as CEO of a professional football club in India (in no particular order):
- Have the patience to stay true to one’s vision and strategic direction even at times when there is immense pressure to grow bigger faster in order to compete with some top global and domestic sports brands
- The supporters are the lifeblood of the club and it's highly important to make them feel like part of your family - for most supporters a little respect and a listening ear goes a long way
- Since watching your team lose (or not win) from the stands is a frustratingly helpless feeling, make best efforts to spend time with the technical staff post matches to understand why the desired result was not achieved – logic and objectivity has an incredible way of reducing the sting caused by the defeat
- Take time to play football or engage in fun activities with your administrative staff. At the end of the day, football is meant to be enjoyable and it's important to remind everyone about this point from time to time
- Be available to the players during the low times as that is when they need management’s encouragement the most
I will not lie to the readers of this blog and say that I closely followed each of the above. It is only now when I look back at the entire season and assess my contribution to the club beyond the meetings I led or myriad of power point presentations, excel sheets and word documents I created, that I wish I would have spent more time doing the above as each of these make a difference. And I know that most of these learnings are either common sense or can be found in many professional self-help books however sometimes you need to experience things first before understanding what’s truly important.