In this edition of Black Sea FM, Du Malone interviews Grigor Pasha, manager of Chernomorets Balchik.
Context: success on the Black Sea coast
Du Malone: Pasha has been in charge at Balchik for four seasons. In his second season, they won the Bulgarian Second League.
In the third season, when the First League split into two after the completion of the preliminary stage, Balchik qualified for the Championship Stage by virtue of finishing in the top six.
In the fourth season, they were less successful in the preliminary stage and so were shunted into the relegation league — though with enough points already to be arithmetically safe from relegation.
So Pasha is doing some thing right. In fact, he’s twice won Manager of the Year awards. Here I attempt to discover what has produced such success.
MALONE: Balchik are widely seen as a progressive club. How did you begin to progress?
PASHA: They key thing is to recognise it’s difficult to progress simply by doing things better and better, kaizen-style.
I mean you can try continually to make improvements, but to me that sounds exhausting. In any case, I’m not sure kaizen fits well into the Black Sea culture. You know, we’d rather go and rink some craft beer!
MALONE: But what’s the alternative?
PASHA: Developing positive feedback loops. That’s something I learnt from my time in the merchant navy. You achieve some success that leads to something else, something good. That something then supports further success. And so you find yourself in a positive cycle.
One thing leads to another
MALONE: For example?
PASHA: Well, the best way of course is success on the pitch. Good results lead to benefits beyond points on the table. But everyone knows that and, of course, it’s easier said than done. Which makes me interested in the role of resource management.
MALONE: You mean dosh?
PASHA: Primarily, yes. I decided very early on that I wouldn’t spend all the money that was available to me. That really took the pressure off the cash flow and the bank balance and freed up funds to invest.
MALONE: What did you do to keep below budget?
PASHA: Two things. First, I didn’t spend all the wage and transfer budget. I got the best coaches I could find, so we could develop the talent we had. And I got the best scouts I could find, so we could uncover some gems, in the form of under-priced talent. And we monitored training and searched talent databases meticulously.
MALONE: And second?
PASHA: I was sparing in our recruitment of staff. We employed only two scouts – there seemed little point in having more, even though the board would have allowed me, because we had very limited budgets for transfers and scouting trips.
We did employ a Head of Youth Development, but we employed no U19 staff. We’ve only ever contracted a very small number of youth players, so for the purposes of training we’ve been able to accommodate them within the senior squad.
Not running an U19 set-up provided a sizeable saving.
MALONE: So the surplus produces: how has the club invested it?
PASHA: Well, it’s tempting to go for such things as training facilities and youth recruitment. But they’re big ticket items. The board is unlikely to support them and anyway I wouldn’t want them to: that would simply result in pressure on the budgets for players’ wages and salaries.
So I looked levers: measures that cost little yet could produce appreciable benefits.
MALONE: And they were?
PASHA: First up, an additional physio. When the board agreed to that, I felt that that we were then bound to succeed. Obviously that’s not true, but it’s how I felt!
MALONE: Why such a positive response?
PASHA: We gained a competitive advantage. I reckon we were able to develop one of the best medical teams in the league — better than those of many bigger clubs. With good physiotherapy, you can prevent injuries and accelerate rehabilitation.
That means you can get more out of the playing talent you have. And, ultimately, it means you can get away without a large playing staff. That helps to generate a further surplus.
MALONE: And apart from physiotherapy?
PASHA: The next step was to appoint an additional coach. I brought in a second goalkeeper coach. That has produced invisible improvements in our goalkeepers.
MALONE: And then?
I started ramping up the bonuses we offer in players’ contracts. If you’re a defender here, you’ll get well rewarded for keeping a clean sheet. If you’re a forward, you’ll get well rewarded for actually scoring. And everyone, including the staff, gets ample bonuses for avoiding relegation, achieving promotion, and so on.
I love these contractual levers. The point is, of course, they only cost the club money when we succeed on the pitch, so there’a kind automatic stabiliser built in: bonus > success > more money (gate money, television coverage, sponsorship, prize money) > pays for bonuses.
We also started investing in courses (on leadership) for players and coaches. I think their leverage on performance is a bit hit-and-miss, but then they’re relatively inexpensive levers.
MALONE: Thank you, Grigor. I see our time is up. But that is fascinating: there was me thinking that football managers spent all day thinking about football!