According to FIFA statistics, there are more than 300,000 football clubs (amateur and professional) in the world, and slightly over 100,000 professional football players globally. If we conservatively estimate that a professional club has 25 professional players, that means that in the world there are at least 4,000 professional clubs, of which the majority are physically located in Europe. UEFA’s annual club licensing report talks of around 750 clubs on the continent playing in the various top national divisions from Albania to Wales.
On one hand, it does seem like a very large number, but on the other, if compared with the number of private businesses or even specific organisations like cinemas, it is rather small, and, as with any small samples in statistics, not very apt for generalisations.
All this means that it is very difficult to talk about standard approaches in anything to do with football clubs and their organisation. Of course, clubs may be similar in that they all have the same general functions (football team and backroom staff, specific infrastructure), but there are many organisational models used that are down to domestic or international legal requirements, traditions or ownership decisions, and which may include different approaches to leadership, decision making or operations.
Some common themes for clubs are the position of the football department in relation to the overall structure, as well as the decision-making process in respect of football matters. Very schematically, it is possible to talk about football clubs being built on three pillars of sport, business and community, with an internal operational environment around them, a further external environment and an important strategy function that gives sense and direction to the way the organisation develops in the medium to long-term:
ECA Club Management Guide [Olivier Jarosz, Konstantin Kornakov, Sten Soderman]
Another consideration must be that most professional football clubs in Europe are relatively old establishments: for example, in the English Premier League all the clubs playing in season 2016/17 are more than 100 years old. Even if you take countries with a less-developed football tradition, clubs in the top division will tend to be quite old compared to the average age of businesses there. All of this gives clubs their uniqueness, through the weight of history and the layers of governance that each individual club has gone through over the years.
On the other hand, it is possible to generalise about the developmental process that clubs typically undertake in their history, and which brings increasing complexity to the organisation:
In the weeks and months ahead we will be using this section to talk about the various component parts that constitute a football club, how they interrelate and how the club itself interacts with its internal and external environment.