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Recruitment in elite football: a network approach

Parnell, Daniel, Bond, Alexander John, Widdop, Paul, Groom, Ryan and Cockayne, David (2021) Recruitment in elite football: a network approach. European Sport Management Quarterly. pp. 1-17. ISSN 1618-4742

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Abstract

Research Question Contemporary football (soccer) is a competitive industry. Some football clubs have enacted new roles, such as the Sporting Director, to gain a competitive advantage through effective recruitment of non-playing staff. This qualitative research examines the recruitment strategies of Sporting Directors through the lens of network theory. Research Methods An empirical qualitative study was conducted, involving semi-structured interviews with 25 Sporting Directors in football clubs in England (English Premier League n=12; English Championship, n=13). The qualitative data was thematically analysed. Results and Findings The study contributes novel evidence on recruitment in elite-level football, revealing the theoretical underpinnings and practical nature of this marketplace unique to the football industry. The evidence shows that whilst normally in recruitment weak ties are essential for getting a job, in football, trust and knowing people is the most critical aspect in recruitment, and recruiters rely on strong ties. This homophily creates several unintended implications for business and performance. Conclusions This study responds to a gap in our theoretical and practical understanding of recruitment in elite-level football. The findings raise important questions for those managers and leaders involved in securing talent, as the over-reliance on closed networks may constrain the flow of information and innovation and ultimately limit the potential performance of the organisation. Homophily in recruitment processes may have unintended consequences that require further research, notably for player welfare, inequalities and performance.

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