In July 1946, Brooklyn Dodgers’ baseball team manager Leo Durocher famously quipped about the New York Giants Team’s decency, coining the phrase “nice guys finish last.” This adage has endured across various domains, including sports, politics, business, and life itself. The belief that success often requires a more ruthless approach has persisted.
It is early days in his reign in North London, but the initial signs are that Ange Postecoglou, Tottenham Hotspur’s manager, is challenging this notion, signalling that nice guys can indeed succeed. Key to how he is doing so is his unique, open and clear approach to communications.
Getting the Job
In July this year, Postecoglou took charge of Spurs, one of the Premier League’s most high-profile clubs, at its lowest ebb in more than a decade. The team had just finished eighth, its lowest position since 2008.
The club remained without a manager for over two months, with several top candidates reportedly declining the position. To add to the predicament, star striker Harry Kane, star of the team for several years, was set to depart.
Postecoglou walked into this environment, initially seen by some as a budget-friendly ‘yes man.’ While he later admitted that he got the job after being “the last man standing,” it was immediately clear that the Australian coach was no pushover.
He stated: “I felt the club was ready for that, they were seeking a change. There was no point appointing me otherwise. In the discussions we had, I told them this is what I was going to do, and I wasn’t going to compromise that.”
What a good decision it has so far turned out to be. Under Postecoglou’s guidance, Spurs have undergone a significant transformation in just a few months and, at the time of publishing this blog, sit atop of England’s Premier League.
Postecoglou’s distinctive communication style has been instrumental in transforming the team’s performance, culture, and identity both on and off the field. As manager, he has introduced a refreshing and progressive approach to communication, effectively revitalising a club in need of change.
‘Nice Guy’ Communication
Postecoglou’s journey to Tottenham showcases his unwavering belief in his footballing philosophy and his ability to convey his vision. Now in his late 50s, he managed in various parts of the world, including Japan, his native Australia, and even the Greek third division.
Despite his relatively low-profile achievements in football terms, one consistent theme throughout his career has been his unwavering focus on winning. He’s known for saying, ‘[Winning is] all I’ve done my whole career,’ dismissing critiques based on where he achieved it.
Yet it’s not just his winning mentality but also his unique communication style that sets him apart.
His communication style is characterised by its transparency, vision, and forward-looking approach. He is candid and forthright, discussing the team’s challenges openly. He effectively conveys his vision of an attractive, attacking approach and sets clear goals and expectations.
He engages in ‘cathedral thinking,’ thinking long term in a short-term world. His open and consistent articulation of his footballing philosophy has connected with players, supporters, and other clubs, fostering a perception of him as a fundamentally decent, ‘nice guy.’
“I have always made decisions against the backdrop I will be here forever, knowing full well I won’t be…there is always going to be this clock ticking against your tenure and if you let that drive you, you will go mad. I have never seen it work. I have always looked at it thinking ‘I will be here for 10 years’ and I have never been anywhere more than three years” – Postecoglou in a recent BBC interview.
He has also worked hard with his communications to rejuvenate and refresh the club’s identity and culture and has actively sought to connect with the Spurs fan community. Historically, the club’s supporters have always valued attacking, progressive football – arguably at the expense of results at times – so his preferred style is naturally aligned to that fan base.
This open and consistent articulation of his footballing vision and philosophy has given supporters a clear understanding of what to expect from their team.
The other significant culture change that has been consistently communicated is one of empathy – with players, wider staff, and supporters. He’s known to take time to build personal relationships with his squad, understanding their backgrounds and individual circumstances. Compared to previous managers, wider staff at the club are now given working rosters for weeks at a time, to allow them to incorporate family commitments alongside their roles at the club.
On the field, he encourages his players to express themselves and take risks, a stark departure from rigid systems of old. His instructions are said to be clear but not stifling, empowering and encouraging his players to make decisions on the field and adapt to changing circumstances during matches. This fluidity on the pitch has made Spurs a more adaptable and dynamic team.
A Resurgent Spurs
Postecoglou’s short tenure at Spurs has – so far – undeniably transformed the club, both on and off the pitch, revitalising the team’s playing style, culture, and identity.
A clear, consistent, and authentic approach has resonated with key audiences, including the fan base, boardroom, and the media.
With a blistering start in the Premier League, Postecoglou’s communication skills are the key tools in his armoury that may just lead to something special.
Gerard works with corporate and consumer clients to deliver integrated, results-driven public affairs and communications campaigns. Before 360, he worked at JUUL Labs, Ryanair, and KPMG. Gerard is also a qualified tax advisor. In 2019, he won the Best Supporting Actor Award at the All-Ireland Drama Finals.