Machiavelli for Managers/Coaches.

Machiavelli for Manager and Coaches.


Machiavelli – ‘The Prince’.



Niccolo Machiavelli lived in Florence, Italy during the latter part of the fifteenth century and the early part of the sixteenth century.   At this period in European history, Italy was split into numerous city states and principalities ruled over by Kings, Dukes, Princes, Popes and other autocratic individuals.   Machavelli found himself in a position of court advisor in some of these states and was able to study the various method of leadership utilized by the leaders.

Machavelli wrote several works during this time and his most famous work, “The Prince” is a study of methods used by a number of autocratic rulers in order to retain power and survive in an era of much disruption.  Despite “The Prince” being banned by the Catholic Church at some stage of history, and despite its uncompromising approach to leadership and survival, this book is still widely read in Universities and political circles as a lesson on how to practice autocratic rule in order to survive and prosper in leadership positions.

In the context of my existentialist approach to these writings Machiavelli gives a realistic approach to how things are in reality rather than how things should be in a perfect world.

This short chapter is written with my own interpretation (Maurice Tillotson) of Machiavelli’s guidance in autocratic leadership.

A prudent man should always enter on the paths beaten by great men, and imitate those who have been most excellent, so that if his own virtue doesnt reach so far, it is at least in odor of it.

  • Basically, Machiavelli is advising the art of modeling excellence.   Looking at excellence and attempting to recreate it.
  • The football coach should study the methods of leadership employed by great managers of both the past and contemporary times.
  • It is wise to read the biographies of managers such as Ferguson, Wenger and others.   This will give insight into how these top managers have dealt with problems encountered with players, supporters, directors and other influences.   It can show how they cope with pressures which come with football management.
  • Everyone is different and there is no call for people in football management to change their personality as such, however, it can be useful, in some circumstances, where one can ask themselves “what would so and so do in such a situation?”   As Machiavelli points out, “If your own virtue doesn’t reach so far, it is at least in the odor of it.”   You may not be able to reach the heights of the top managers,’ however, you can still be guided by their experiences.

Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger.

And it should be considered that nothing is more difficult to handle, more doubtful, nor more dangerous to manage, than to put oneself at the head of introducing new orders.   For the introducer has all those who benefit from the old order as enemies, and he has lukewarm defenders in all those who might benefit from new orders.

  • This can be a situation loaded with difficulties and potential problems particularly when a manager/coach takes over at a new club.   Are you a ‘new broom, sweeping clean,’ and possibly encountering resistance from the staff who had prospered under the previous manager/coach (Brian Clough at Leeds in the 1970’s could be an example).
  • Or do you go quietly about making necessary changes over a period of time.
  • Both methods can work but as Machiavelli points out, be aware that you may encounter resistance from beneficiaries of the old system with the possibly of little support from others who have yet to benefit from your influence.

Brian Clough.

A Prince, so long as he keeps his subjects united and loyal ought not to mind the reproach of cruelty, because he will be more merciful than those who, through too much mercy, allow disorders to arise.

  • A coach should not mind being accused of hard heartedness and callousness because often acting in these ways maintains the discipline, control and orderliness needed when handling groups of players.
  • If the coach is too ‘merciful’ in the treatment of players, this can rebound badly by disorder and uncontrolled behaviours tending to creep into the team and badly disrupting the efficiency of the team.   This also does a dis-favour to the players; who can become lax and inefficient.


But when a prince who founds on people, knows how to command, and is a man full of heart.   He does not get frightened in adversity, does not fail to make other preparations, and with his spirit and his orders, keeps the generality of the people inspired.   He will never find himself deceived by them, and he will see that he has laid his foundations well.

  • A manager/coach who knows leadership skills, keeps his focus especially when things are going wrong for the team, continues to be positive, and looks to inspire his players.   He will be rewarded by the loyalty of the team.


Whether it is better to be feared than loved.   One should wish to be both, but because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved when one of the two must be dispensed with.”


  • Machiavelli observes that men are ungrateful, fickle, false and cowardly.   As long as you are succeeding and winning they are with you.   However, they have less scruple in offending someone who is beloved than someone that they fear!   Affection will be broken if it advantages themselves, but fear of punishment is a strong deterrent.
  • He goes on to say that obligation links a person to love and that can easily be broken if things go against a person’s own interests.   Fear of punishment preserves the manager/coach more effectively.


 The first opinion which one forms of a Prince is by observing the men he has around him.   When they are capable and faithful he may be considered wise, because he has known how to recognize the capable, and keep them faithful.


  • The wise manager/coach surrounds himself with people of ability and who are loyal to him. This loyalty has to be earned by the coach, for example, this quote by Roy Keane of Manchester United regarding his manager Alex Ferguson.
  • “When he talks about character, hunger and pride, about courage and loyalty, he is the embodiment of those values himself.   He has been loyal to all of us at different times, in different ways.”
  • The manager/coach appears wise because he has recognized and surrounded himself with people of character.   Anyone looking at the situation from the outside assumes that if the manager/coach is able to gain the trust and respect of quality people in his “team,” he must therefore possess these qualities himself.


But when they are otherwise one cannot form a good opinion of him, for the prime error which he made was choosing them.

  • When there is much disruption within the managerial, coaching and playing staff then the coach is considered unwise, because the staff has been recruited by him in the first place.   If this is the case then he can use some of the measures recommended by Machiavelli in order to retrieve the situation (get rid of them).


But to enable a Prince to form an opinion of his servant, there is one test that never fails: when you see the servant thinking more of his own interests than of yours, and seeking inwardly his own profit in everything, such a man will never make a good servant, nor will you ever be able to trust him; because he who has the state of another in his hands ought never to think of himself, but always of his Prince, and never pay attention to matters which the Prince is not concerned.

  • The manager/coach should be aware of his coaching staff and assistants who may try to undermine him in order to take over his position.   The coach should be vigilant in observing how much his assistant is looking for his own self-interest rather than the interests of the coach.
  • An assistant to the coach should dedicate himself to serving only the coach.   If the coach detects that this is not the case he should relieve him of his duties before the disloyalty festers too deeply.


On the other hand to keep his servant honest, the Prince ought to study him, honoring him, enriching him, doing him kindness, sharing with him the honors and the cares, and at the same time let him see that he cannot stand alone.

  • The wise manager/coach will ensure that his assistants are given credit for any success achieved by the club.   He will ensure that they are well compensated for their contribution and guarantee that they are publicly praised for the part that they have played in the overall scheme of things.
  • However, the coach should let his staff realize that without him they would not succeed.


A Prince must lay solid foundations since otherwise he will inevitably be destroyed.   The arms with wherein a Prince defends his state are either his own subjects, mercenaries, auxiliaries, or partly one or the other.   Native troops are the best, mixed troops (partly native and partly mercenary) are superior to the other two.”


  • It could be argued that the manager/coach who develops players through a development scheme, at his club, is laying solid foundations.   He is more likely to gain loyalty from ‘home grown talent’ than bringing in players from outside.
  • Manchester United are a good example of this policy with players such as Scholes, Giggs, Neville and many others giving long term service to the club.   Liverpool can point to Gerrard and Carragher as long term home grown talent.
  • Athletico Bilbao have a policy of only signing players from the Basque region.
  • However, in more recent times, manager/coaches have recognised that in order to gain success in top level competitions, a combination of ‘native troops and mercenaries’ are necessary.

Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.

A prince should know how to play both the beast and the man.   A prudent ruler should never observe faith when such observance would be to his disadvantage or when the reasons which made him promise no longer exist. If all men were good, this principle would not be good, but since men by their nature are bad and would not keep faith with the prince, he is not bound to keep faith with them.


  • In order for the manager/coach to remain in football over a period of many years he should know how to treat his players with respect, but he should also know how to be unscrupulous, when the occasion arises.
  • Machiavelli’s Prince is wary that men are ‘self-seeking’ and he has no hesitation in breaking confidences if his men are disloyal.
  • Experienced manager/coaches are well aware that some players will be disloyal in some shape or form.   That being the case the managercoach owes them nothing and he is “not bound to keep faith with them.”