By Joanne Danehl, intercultural and language training expert, Crown World Mobility

Football clubs to spend big on foreign talent on transfer deadline day: but could turning a blind eye to Culture Shock affect their investment?

The Premier League is one of the most culturally diverse competitions in sport and clubs are set to spend huge sums on foreign talent as transfer deadline day approaches on September 1. So why is football still turning a blind eye to the effects of Culture Shock on its treasured new signings?

Last year £835 million – a record – was spent by Premier League teams in the summer transfer market, £530 million on players from abroad. This year, spending passed £600 million in mid-August – at least 75 per cent of it on foreign talent – and there is a long list of big-money deals still in the pipeline ahead of the 6pm deadline next Tuesday.

But amazingly, unlike big business, football clubs often fail to protect that investment by providing the cultural tools needed for new signings to survive and perform to their full potential in a different country. They seem to work instead on the principle that football is a global language and that providing players are ‘looked after’ off the pitch they will settle in eventually.

Evidence suggests it is not always the case. Angel Di Maria, a British record signing for Manchester United at £59.7 million has headed to Paris just a year after arriving in England, for instance. Kevin de Bruyne, said to be a £50 million target for Manchester City on deadline day, previously endured a difficult and unproductive spell at Chelsea when he failed to perform despite his obvious talent.

So could cultural difficulties be one of the reasons that he – like so many before him – failed to make the impact expected?

Big business has recognised the issue. The belief in many major corporations is that if a relocation fails it is normally because someone can’t cope with navigating a new cultural territory – and so cultural training is a major part of any move. In fact in some companies it is mandatory.

I’m convinced cultural training could help improve performance for many teams in the Premier League too – but in all my years in the business I’ve never heard of a football club using it. Not even de Bruyne’s club Wolfsburg – which is owned by car manufacturer Volskwagen where cultural training is regularly utilised in its business arm!

That’s strange because a lot of research has been done into ‘Culture Shock’ – defined as a phased negative reaction to working in a new cultural environment – and its effect on performance.

We can even predict exactly when it is likely to hit – and for players signing on transfer deadline day, the natural ‘lows’ will come at crucial times in the season – October, December and March.

These include:

  • After 4-6 weeks (October): After an initial excitement, the first low can hit when the ‘holiday’ feeling dwindles and performance dips with it.
  • After 12-16 weeks (December): At this stage people may experience cultural frustration – perhaps brought on by something as simple as getting lost or not being able to do something they do at home. It can cause a mini meltdown.
  • After 24-28 weeks (March 2016): Now the symptoms can be more profound, leading to frustration and depression. The issues will revolve around values being challenged, and by players asking ‘why can’t I understand this culture, why can’t I make friends, why aren’t I valued?’ It’s as if your ability to succeed is at risk.I am now based in the US and although we share so much history, even here the differences are big. For instance the US doesn’t really respect hierarchy – the UK does. In the US people are direct – in the UK they are indirect. That communication difficulty can be amplified for other cultures. Americans will say ‘pass the salt’, English people will say ‘would you possibly mind passing the salt’. The Japanese would go through a complicated assessment of your age, stature and gender before even deciding whether to ask for the salt. Imagine now a club in England with players from all over the world, many of them just arrived and learning the language. How could their performances not be affected by dealing with some of these differences? Ends
  • It’s time that football woke up to the issue. After all, Culture Shock can affect anyone; even big-name signings arriving for eye-watering fees on transfer deadline day.
  • It makes sense that sporting differences also exist. In the US, for example, winning is everything. They don’t understand fair play awards. Why would you be rewarded for anything other than winning? It’s alien to them.
  • Part of the problem, I think, is the mentality in England that ‘Britishness’ is a completely accessible culture that needs little introduction. In reality, ‘Britishness’ is very hard to understand. As an example, people from abroad find it tough to understand why in England people are so reserved, why they don’t like change, how they work out status and why they are so hierarchical.

Premier League spending in the summer transfer market over the last 10 years

2006-7: £320m

2007-8: £645m

2008-9: £670m

2009-10: £480m

2010-11: £590m

2011-12: £545m

2012-13: £610m

2013-14: £760m

2014-15: £835m

2015-6: ??


Cultural diversity in football

Number of countries represented in major leagues last season

English Championship: 77

French Ligue 1: 66

Premier League: 61

Serie A: 58

Bundesliga: 57

La Liga: 54


About the author:

Joanne Danehl is an expert in cross cultural training and a Global Practice Leader for Crown World Mobility, a company that helps corporations manage global talent and helps talented individuals perform on the world stage.

Originally from the UK – Joanne is a Southampton fan – she has spent most of her career in commercial training. She now lives in Chicago, in the United States.

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