The charismatic ones: football’s flamboyant managers and their fans

Klip Klopp, watch him pop. Jurgen by Shutterstock

What is charisma? It’s an elusive question; we all know charismatic people in the public eye but what are the ingredients that go into making one? As a football manager, charisma can get you a long way – and inspire the loyal following of players, fans and others. In the Europa League semi-final between Liverpool and Villareal, Jurgen Klopp was on fine form and led his team to the final on May 18 – unfortunately not to victory. But charisma comes in different shapes and size – as a look at four current and recent English premier league managers reveals.

Jurgen Klopp

“I am the normal one, I was a very very average player”. These are not words that one might expect from a top-level football manager, yet Klopp’s words exude charisma, charm and – importantly – an inner strength. Indeed humbleness has been recognised as an important component of effective leaders.

A confident smile belies the inner strength, a deeply appealing human characteristic. When he speaks, you listen, not out of fear, but from genuine interest and his apparent ability to make others feel important. It is obvious that Klopp loves football, wants to have fun, and is quick to laugh. And confidence is another key element of effective leadership.

However, Klopp still maintains discipline and a firm touch. Fun and warmth will be replaced by wrath if you anger him: “I’m a really nice guy, but if you complain in the wrong moment with the wrong words, that’s pretty sure the only possibility to get a real problem with me because it’s all about the team”, he said.

His emotional displays from the sideline further demonstrate his emotional character, he is there with the fans and players sharing in the highs and the lows.

Claudio Ranieri

“Dilly dang dilly dong” needs no introduction, “you forget you speak about blah blah – we are in the Champions League man!” … “one game at a time”. Claudio Ranieri has led Leicester City to one of the most incredible achievements in sporting history. While tactical nous and know-how are undoubtably accolades, Ranieri also has the ability to get the very best out of a squad of players.

Looking a bit serious. Shutterstock

Inspiring players to achieve beyond expectations is at the heart of transformational and charismatic leadership styles and this is undoubtedly what Ranieri has done.

Ranieri also appears happy to laugh at himself and appears not to take life too seriously. The lighthearted approach perhaps takes the pressure off the task ahead, but don’t be fooled – he is no jester – a hard serious side is present. As he put it so eloquently, he has two hands, the left is the funnier lighthearted one and the right is the strong no messing one.

Jose Mourinho

Whatevs. In Mou We Trust, CC BY-NC

The special one. “I am fast, fast like a lion … whoosh.” Mourinho is not afraid to beef up his credentials. When this Portuguese national entered the English game it had not seen the his like before. He brought a sense of humour, fun and playfulness. This was not the humility and humour of Klopp, but a bold self-proclaiming statement of: I am here.

Mourinho is known to develop intensely emotional relationships with his players – and it is an intensity that has sometimes led to outbursts. He is in there with the players, experiencing the same emotions. In some respects Mourinho may be considered as having also developed a smaller social distance between himself and his players. Mourinho clearly exudes characteristics that typify charisma including self-confidence, self-belief and risk taking.

Alex Ferguson

This no messing, working-class Glaswegian has a very different type of charisma to the other managers but charisma none the less. This isn’t to say that he didn’t enjoy a laugh and could never be lighthearted, but he comes with a little more gravitas: strong discipline and will, consistency, loyalty, a willingness to stand up for players, self-sacrifice and boldness.

You said it. Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Importantly Ferguson, considered by some to be one of the greatest managers in football, had a very strong set of values that underpinned his behaviour. Ferguson took a tough dominant approach that was masterly, combined with a caring and protective approach over his players – he provided the optimum combination of support and challenge.

All four of these football mangers possess charisma yet all expressed in very different ways. There are some similarities, of course – they are bold, take risks, and are tactically exceptional. However, in three of the examples humour appears to play an important role. Viewing characteristics in isolation – for example, humour without the discipline, challenge without support, and so on – is not enough, rather charisma seems to be born out of a combination of many different characteristics.

What is clear is that perhaps more important than what you do as a leader is that you are true to your roots. This is what gives authenticity – qualities that are vital to inspiring your team. Given that charisma is a characteristic that is bestowed on others it is perhaps best understood in terms of how charismatic leaders make you feel. And for the team and fans, these guys have it all.