Football Talk: The 3 Distinctive Leadership Styles Of Mourinho, Guardiola And Conte

Nov 08, 2016 8 Min Read


Let’s break down the contrasting leadership styles of three of the Premier League’s superstar managers

The Premier League has become a proverbial ‘game of thrones’ of sorts this season. The long spoken about manager ‘merry-go-round’ has spun its recent huge spin on to the Premier League, landing some, many would argue ‘most’, of the top football managers in the world into jobs within the league.

Highly sought bosses Jürgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino are already sitting comfortably in their respective jobs in Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspurs.

Now, we have the influx of former Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, former Italy manager Antonio Conte at Chelsea and the returning José Mourinho at Manchester United, eight months after his stint at Chelsea last season ended with a capitulation of form which led to his subsequent sacking. The billing was frankly, rather spectacular, with enough intensity and personality in there to power a soap opera.


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Since the start of the season in August, all three incoming star managers have enjoyed mixed starts, with all three employing varying tactics, methods and leadership styles to impose their imprint on their respective teams. We thought it would be a great idea to distil what are some of the leadership characteristics of all three managers that has made them so successful at this high level of sportsmanship.

Here are the three key characteristics that underline each of their management philosophy.

1. The Pragmatist – José Mourinho (Manchester United)

Mourinho is obviously the one with the slight advantage, having managed Chelsea to three league titles in two separate stints. He knows how to win in this league, although he struggled incredibly last season before his aforementioned sack.

Jose Mourinho

Photo credit: Ronnie Macdonald | Flickr

Recommended reading: Leadership Lessons From The ‘Special One’

His pragmatism:

  • One size never fits all
    Mourinho’s mantra is ‘winning’. That seems rather silly considering he is a football manager but the man has made a career out of winning at all cost. If what is needed to win is a seven foot giant that would tackle the opposition’s key player out of the stadium and into the storm drain, he would do it without blinking an eye. He always has a solution for each specific problem that’s stopping him from winning.
  • Keep your real cards close to your chest
    Mourinho talks a lot. At times, you may think he could even be oversharing, but he is really just saying everything he wants you to hear. What he truly thinks is something not many people would really know. The man’s reputation as a strategic thinker goes beyond just the football field. Talks of intentional mind games and media distraction strategies have often dogged him. When they circle that much, it must be true to an extent.
  • Stand your ground
    Mourinho famously stood his ground last season, despite facing a tribunal hearing for the unfair treatment of club doctor Eva Carneiro, a revolt from some of his team’s biggest stars and his team’s humiliating form throughout the season. He refused to buck under pressure and doggedly refused to give up his position on either matter up until the day he was sacked on Dec 17.


2. The Philosopher – Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)

Guardiola comes with amazing pedigree, having forged sensationally good teams during his stints at Barcelona and Bayern Munich.


Photo credit: Thomas Rodenbücher | Flickr

His philosophy:

  • Know what you want…
    … and of course, know what you don’t want too. Not long after arriving at Manchester City, Guardiola became rather adamant that he did not want long-serving goalkeeper Joe Hart at the club. Reason? He wanted to initiate attacks from the goalkeeper and he felt Hart was just not good enough with his feet. He was subsequently loaned out to Italian club Torino as Guardiola brought in Chilean international Claudio Bravo as his replacement. It was a bold move given Hart’s stature at the club.
  • Trust the plan
    Guardiola had a set way he wanted his team to play and he was never going to deviate from it. Why should he? He has won many titles and honours in both Spain and Germany playing this brand of football. It was what attracted Manchester City to him in the first place. Not even when things were going pear-shaped in Sep/Oct, when the team was without a win in six, did he ever once doubt his philosophy.
  • Trust your people
    Since he’s been brought in, Bravo has made a string of howlers by trying to play Guardiola’s style. There have been critics who are asking questions about why Hart was dispatched so readily in light of this. Guardiola appears unshaken by these criticisms of Bravo and continues to defend him as the goalkeeper continues to play in the same way, as risky as it is.

You might like this too: 3 Amazing Lessons From An Underdog Team, Leicester City F.C.


3. The Driver – Antonio Conte (Chelsea)

Conte is the upstart, having dominated the Italian Series A with his Juventus team which led to his appointment as Italy head coach. He is untested outside of Italy.

Antonio Conte

Photo credit: Nazionale Calcio | Flickr

His drive:

  • Always ready to motivate
    Conte tends to say less after matches. Not because he has nothing to say, but because his throat would’ve taken a battering from his incessant shouting of instructions to his players from the touchline during the game. He leaves little to chance and sees himself as de facto motivator for the team, a role he seems glad to play constantly.
  • Help your people understand
    Conte has managed to successfully turn the team’s formation, tactics and training approaches on its head within a short period of time. They play the way he wants them to now. That would not have been possible without him first sitting his players down and helping them understand what he wants from them and he wants to play. The success they are currently having with the 3-4-3 formation probably started at the lunch table and not on a football pitch.
  • Be meticulous
    Some would call Conte a little extreme. Tales of how as a player, he used to painfully document every single permutation of a pass in different parts of the field and how he doesn’t really sleep much before games as a manager because he would be kept up all night thinking about tactics serves to prove this point. He is successful both as a player and now a manager because he is ridiculously meticulous about all aspects of his job. He leaves no stone unturned in his quest for success.

Concluding thoughts

Given the success that all three managers have had throughout their respective careers, there are obviously many paths one can take to achieve success. However, what is certain is that you have to first chart a path that you want to take.

Keep in mind that leadership styles may vary and not all players will agree with the manager’s style, but having ‘a’ style would certainly be a pre-requisite if one wants to lead successfully at all.

This is no different in an organisation.

A leader needs to know where he/she is going if they expect their employees to follow them.

Surely, there are going to be people who will not agree to your vision.

Historically, all three managers have famously fallen out with some of the best players in the world. It doesn’t mean they are bad managers or that those players are not up to scratch. It’s just a disagreement of working styles.

There will be times when your methods would have your whole department on point. Trust your methods especially if you’ve seen results. However, before anything else happens, think about what kind of leader you would like to be based on your personality and your strengths. It starts with that.

To give your commentary on the various styles of managing football clubs by other managers, write to us at To engage with Leaderonomics to equip you with specific skills, behaviours and attitudes necessary to achieve the desired results in your organisation, email us at For more Thought Of The Week articles, click here.



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When he is not rummaging through CD bargain bins, Adrian divides his time between managing talent for organisations, observing and commenting on human behaviour on his blog, building nonsensical music playlists and being a “kaiju” connoisseur.

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