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Last Updated: Friday, 13 January 2006, 10:25 GMT
Clubs 'must protect foreign assets'
by Bill Wilson
BBC News business reporter

Bolton's Japanese international player Hidetoshi Nakata
Bolton's line up is a league-of-nations, including Japan's Nakata

Football clubs in England are failing to protect and nurture many of their prime assets - overseas players - properly, despite spending millions of pounds on them, according to research from a top business academic.

New work done at Manchester Business School shows clubs often concentrate on the physical aspects of a player without examining the cultural and sociological side.

That, says Professor Susan Cartwright, Professor of Organisational Psychology at the school, can lead to problems for players in integrating into a new country - which in turn may force clubs to offload foreign stars at a financial loss.

Like certain types of flower, they don't necessarily blossom in another climate
Professor Susan Cartwright, Manchester Business School

"Knowledge of factors preventing footballers achieving their potential could prove invaluable in a multi-million pound industry where return of investment is directly linked to players' performance," she says.

"A significant proportion of these newcomers perform poorly, prematurely end their contracts, and move away to another country or return to their home countries."

Overseas invasion

Along with colleague Isobel Donaldson, the professor looked at the ability of a players to adjust to a new culture at work and in social situations.

They looked at professional football clubs across the north-west of England, from the Manchester giants to Macclesfield, but their findings will be of interest to all major UK sides.

Former Leeds Utd and Manchester United star Eric Cantona
French star Eric Cantona adapted well to the British way of life

The English leagues have one of the highest proportions of foreign players in Europe, and the influx has been a fixture in English football since the Bosman ruling scrapped overseas "quotas" a decade ago.

For clubs, it may appear to be good business if they can get an experienced player, perhaps an internationalist, for a smaller sum in transfer fees and wages than if they bought a home based player.

However, last season Arsenal came in for great criticism for picking an entirely non-English squad for their game against Crystal Palace, with claims the foreign invasion may be stifling homegrown talent.

And, for every Eric Cantona - who settled at United with great success - there has been a David Bellion, who is on his way home to France and Nice after mediocre spells at Old Trafford, Sunderland and West Ham.

'Technically good'

From her work with other careers groups, as well as footballers, Professor Cartwright believes that a certain type of person with aptitude to work abroad can be discovered, and then helped to settle overseas.

"Previous research I did was with engineers, retailers, and managers who had gone overseas - all from large businesses which regularly send people to other countries.

"In any business, including football, people move overseas because they are technically very good.

French player David Bellion
David Bellion failed to settle after being at three English clubs

"But like certain types of flower, they don't necessarily blossom in another climate."

She has identified a very high rate of failure in people moving to work abroad, with a higher-than-expected turnover of staff.

"It is in the interest of football clubs, and other businesses, to assess in advance how well players will adjust to a new environment.

"People, including players, who are 'culturally intelligent' will do well overseas. By that I mean those that are aware of their own culture and how it might differ from others.

"Players also have to realise that doing things in a different way overseas is not odd or wrong, and they will pick up on things very quickly."

'Positive' motivation

The professor believes there are two types of players who move to England; those who have always wanted to turn out for a club here, and those who come because their agents tell them it would be a good financial deal.

"Not surprisingly, the ones who come because their agents told them to are less settled than the ones who positively want to play here," she says.

"However, when clubs are looking to buy overseas players they often seem to ignore these criteria.

"This is strange - because a player who does not settle, or a high turnover of foreign purchases, could be expensive for the club."

It is like buying anything of quality - you don't spend a lot of money on something and then neglect it
Xavier Rivoire, French football writer

She also said having a wife or girlfriend helped players settle, particularly if the partner also found an occupation in the UK.

For the clubs, the settling-in process can be hugely eased if they prepare a dossier of information for players, such as when banks open and what type of shops there are.

At Bolton, which has at least 16 nationalities on the books, there are two player liaison officers to help new purchases adjust to UK life.

They can advise on anything from food to finding a good garage, to helping with family visits from overseas.

The club also tries to buy players who are experienced professionals, perhaps with prior overseas cultural experience, and also who are looking for a new challenge - who "positively" want to come to England.

Boys from Brazil

Xavier Rivoire is a French journalist based in the UK who has written a book about the influx of French players to England in the wake of Eric Cantona's move in 1992.

He has noticed that a number of high-priced French signings have failed to settle in England, and says clubs have to do more than "just finding a house for them or paying lots of money in wages".

"It is like buying anything of quality - you don't spend a lot of money on something and then neglect it," he warns.

He cites ex-Newcastle United player Laurent Robert, now on his way to Benfica via Portsmouth, as an example of a French player - actually from the island of Reunion - who was continually unsettled at his English clubs.

In contrast, he said, French club Lyon is well-known for its efforts to make Brazilian imports feel at home.

"They have a translator, who also attends to details such as making sure the temperature in the players' houses is similar to what they are used to and that they get the sort of food they want," he says.

"As a result there has only been perhaps one Brazilian player out of about 10 who has not succeeded."

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