01 Sep 2014


Testing your skills overseas can be both challenging, and rewarding. From Italy's style-capital to Europe's most dynamic city - via the world's culinary epicentre - the Manager learns from two people who have defined their careers following bold moves abroad...

Apart perhaps from a taste for fine dining or an appreciation of a good quality Bordeaux, today's football manager might not think he has much in common with the chef at his favourite swanky restaurant, particularly if the culinary artist creating masterpieces on a plate happens also to be French.

He might, then, be surprised to learn that many of the skills acquired by award-winning chef Olivier Limousin since he moved from Paris to London in 2006 have parallels with the career benefits a football manager can gain by taking his talents overseas.

Limousin, who heads a team of diverse and vibrant talents at the two Michelin-starred L'Atelier de Joël Rubuchon in London's Covent Garden, ventured to these shores "initially to improve my English and experience the different culture."
"But after six years," he says, "I am still discovering. I was a true traditionalist in my working and management style. Working in a city as multi-cultural as London feeds my curiosity, challenges me to be a better leader and to be more rounded in how to deal with different situations."

And, according to recruitment expert Dean Ball, the UK regional managing director for Michael Page International, a taste of working overseas, whether it involves trying to get the best out of a sous-chef or a central midfielder, brings benefits that transcend all professions.

"Whether you are in a business environment or on a sports field, leadership is all about getting the best out of people, through understanding what motivates them, what challenges them," he said.

"By working in a different culture, you open your mind to doing things differently. You learn that people in different cultures have different expectations and what drives and motivates them is not necessarily the same.

"From my own experience, moving overseas made me significantly more aware of how different factors influence different people. Before that I had a one-dimensional view based on what would get the best from British employees in the UK.

"But when you have a Spanish guy whose Latin culture is totally different to the German alongside him, who again is different to his colleague who is French, and you have to pull them all together, that is where understanding the cultural factors that affect different individuals is really important."

Olivier Limousin, his love of food inspired by his grandmother's cooking, left home at 18 and worked his way to the top of the Paris culinary scene, eventually becoming assistant to the renowned Rubuchon, who handpicked Limousin to open his London outpost.

"I was young and very excited with the opportunity," he said. "The prospect of heading and nurturing a team of my own was like a dream.

"But we are human and coming out of our comfort zone is a huge challenge. Starting life in London was a sharp learning curve to say the least, having to adapt to the preferences of the clientele in London and building the team to support me.
"London is unique with so many different influences in cuisine that you can almost taste the world in one city. In Paris, French cuisine remains the main stream so you are not exposed to the diversity of different nationalities and their cuisine like you are in London."

There are echoes of what Limousin encountered in how former England international Ray Wilkins remembers his experience of leaving Manchester United to join AC Milan as a player in 1984.

"My wife Jackie and I already loved Italian food and Italian clothes but it is not the same as living and working there so you do go with a certain amount of trepidation," he said.

"We tried to live as the local people did - and I think that's important for players coming to England too. Even things like shopping for food were difficult at the start but we wanted to be as Italian as we could be and stand on our own two feet. If you can do that it helps you develop as a person.

"The language is a problem, of course. I had a few lessons from a lady who tried to teach me properly but I needed to converse with the other players in football-speak. Other words I learned from watching cartoons on television, which always use the most simple language. I did my first interview on TV after about six months."

According to Dean Ball, Wilkins was quite right to identify 'football-speak' as key to communicating effectively, and says the same applies for managers.

"It is not just about learning the language but learning the nuances of the language," Ball said. "Motivational speaking is often about inflection and use of the right vocabulary to elicit the right response. Language is one thing but use of the language is very important.

"A lot of people in sport speak English but a lot of the phrases we use to motivate people are colloquial ones that don't resonate with other nationalities. You can learn a language from a textbook but what really helps is to learn the words that carry sentiment and feeling."

As Chelsea's coach and assistant manager over a number of years, working with managers of different nationalities in multi-cultural dressing rooms, Ray Wilkins has seen the benefits managers such as Gianluca Vialli, Luis Felipe Scolari and Carlo Ancelotti drew from working at Stamford Bridge.

He can also appreciate how Roy Hodgson, the England manager, has become a considerably more rounded leader during a career that has seen him manage in eight countries.

"I think working abroad must have helped Roy immensely and I'm sure he would say that himself," Wilkins said. "He embraced Scandinavia and had two stints at Inter-Milan and you don't get that if you are not a very good coach.

"The Swedes are different to the Brits, the Finns are different to the Brits, the Italians are different to the Brits. He will have known what our lads are all about but he knows too what players from other parts of the world are about.

"When you are preparing to face an Italian side, for example, and you know the way they think about their football and the culture they come from, it can only assist you in doing a successful job."