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Louis Saha: On the power of the right partner

Football star Louis Saha knows a thing or two about partnerships on the pitch. But what about in business?

Credit: Louis Saha

By Louis Saha

On pitch partnerships are essential in football – Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole were one of the best at Manchester United! I was fortunate to have been part of some great pairings during my career. I loved playing with Wayne Rooney at Manchester United. He often did the running for me, leaving me to be able to score the goals. You need to feel confident in your own ability but also respect and recognise the ability of your partner. Accepting that we can’t do everything ourselves makes partnerships stronger. 

Wayne was the complete player. He easily adapts and makes you confident because you are playing to your strengths. That’s such a special ability to make your partner look good. It was the same with Tim Cahill at Everton and Barry Hayles at Fulham. Great leaders in companies should aim to do that too. The partnership combination is key, for example I played less well with Thierry Henry for France as we had a similar style and he was more in sync naturally with David Trezeguet.

Paul Scholes was an amazing reader of his teammates, we used to call him Sat Nav.

The key attributes of a good partnership are for both parties to be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses and for some of those strengths and weaknesses to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. Having a good level of understanding between each other is key. Paul Scholes was an amazing reader of his teammates, we used to call him Sat Nav as he could cross a ball the length of the pitch and always find us. He didn’t even need to look in the direction he was going – he had the most amazing panoramic view. Not everyone has that level of skill or prediction, but it is key in any partnership to have a connection where you are both working towards the same goal – either literally or metaphorically!

I didn’t just have great partnerships on the pitch, there were other key people who understood how to get the best from me such as Sir Alex Ferguson. A good partnership is about support but you don’t have to agree all the time. Sir Alex often really challenged me, but it came from a place of recognising my potential and helped me to become a better player. In my second match for Manchester United against Everton, I remember coming in at half time 3-0 up, I’d scored 2 goals and was feeling good. I became aware that Sir Alex was shouting at someone and then I realised it was me! He was so annoyed that I had missed two other open goals which were opportunities to kill the game – it was a shock as we were winning but he was right as the second half was tough and we only just managed to scrape a 4-3 win.

I had my fair share of injuries during my career too and people like Danny Donachie (or Guru as I call him) at Everton, were instrumental in supporting me through those hard times of rehab. Great partners don’t let you give up and help you to stay motivated. It’s especially necessary when things are tough, they are here to tell you what is probably hard to take, but truth is key in partnerships.

Partnerships in business

I have talked about partners on the football pitch that complement your skills, motivate you, help you stay focused and support you. But what about off the pitch? 

The truth is that most pro athletes really struggle to find the right people. They have been encouraged all their lives to focus on their talent and hand over all other aspects of their career to advisers. When managing their affairs or looking for a new post-sport career, it can be hard for them to know who to turn to and who to trust. And there are some bad actors out there looking to take advantage. 

Sometimes I learnt the hard way.

Myself, as I moved into the world of business, I had to learn how to identify and collaborate with the right people. Sometimes I learnt the hard way. In football it’s the manager’s job to identify the respective talents of players and piece the team together – it can be hard to recognise as the player yourself. But now it’s no longer just about being aware of my own strengths, weaknesses and what I’m looking for but also those of the company overall.

This is part of the reason why I and my co-founder Kate Hamer developed AxisStars, to provide a pool of vetted experts for athletes and entertainers to choose from. The idea is that it can help these people with legitimate businesses or quality advisers who want to offer them opportunities. With any luck, people can find the same calibre of partners to work in business as they have in other areas of their careers. 

We’ve created an Admissions & Ethics Committee for AxisStars which is a panel made up of a wide range of experts in different fields and with different experience. They help us to identify good companies to bring into the community but also bring new perspectives to the business overall. It’s really important to have a diverse set of people to bring different opinions and challenge our thinking. I’m loving the opportunity to learn from them all and love even more the idea of creating the most trusted platform with all this expertise easily accessible in a safe place. I’m sure we will continue to miss some sitters or even score some own goals, but having the right players on the pitch and a strong support team on the touchline sets us up in the best possible way.

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Sang Nkhwazi
Sang Nkhwazi

Interesting, but it’s a difficult gig considering most pro-athletes come out of the sports world they’ve mostly known with little experience in much else, but with significant resources at their disposal. Obviously there will be some schoolboy errors.
But maybe what Sports teams should also do in future is to also invest in some sort of tertiary education provision side by side with the training etc. with the aim of … supporting athletes and helping plug the gaps in knowledge. I’m not saying this will solve all the potential problems, but you have to start somewhere. https://sanrixa.co.uk/blog/