David Parkin on cracking the code between business and sport

WHEN eminent sports lawyer Richard Cramer phoned me and asked if I thought three weeks was too short notice to invite people to listen to a question and answer session with a leading sports coach I told him I was confident he would get a good audience.

Richard, who runs Leeds-based Front Row Legal, said the speaker was Michael Cheika, the Australian coach of the Argentinian rugby union team.

Even with my limited knowledge of Cheika’s background, I felt sure he would have a great story to tell.

Having been fortunate enough to host the Q&A with him at the event at the Odeon Deluxe cinema at Thorpe Park this week, it attracted a really high level audience made up of Richard’s clients, contacts and friends including rugby league great Ellery Handley, Leeds Rhinos coach Rohan Smith alongside successful entrepreneurs and business executives.

What I learned was that Michael Cheika is an articulate, deep thinking but down to earth individual whose views are definitely not just of interest to sports fans.

If you could take some of his words and bottle them, they would be a great gift for anyone in business, in their working career – or for life in general.

“Work hard off the ball and good things will happen,” is the advice Cheika gave to one audience member to pass on to his son who is playing in trials for the Yorkshire rugby union team this weekend.

And when you apply that approach to life and work it makes sense too.

I’ve always found that the harder I work the more opportunities are created.

And that isn’t always directly from the work I’m putting in, but sometimes from completely unexpected leftfield places too.

I don’t know why it works like that, but it does.

Whenever I’m in the working doldrums – and events is very up and down – if I get my head down and graft or get out there and talk to people – something good tends to come along.

Another fascinating area Cheika talked about was coaching and dealing with different types of people in the same team.

He said there are various personalities that make up a team and while all have the same goal of wanting to achieve success, he doesn’t manage the different types of people in the team in the same way.

He told the audience that there will be players in the team who will respond to him banging his chest and shouting in the dressing room before a match to pump them up readiy for the game.

“But there will be players in the team that don’t respond to that approach. So I make sure that I take them aside before the match and explain that I’m not doing it for them, I’m doing it for the guys that need it.

“ I say to them: ‘Zone out, ignore me while I’m speaking, do what you need to do,, it is not for you but the others need it.”

A fascinating and revealing insight into a small part of the approach of a very talented coach.

When I asked Cheika about the highlight of his successful coaching career, he said he would like to think it lay in the future.

And that’s from a man who already boasts a strong CV in both sport and business.

He grew up in Sydney playing rugby league but moved to union because he admitted it gave more opportunities to travel.

He played club rugby in Australia and then moved to play in France and Italy where he learned the language of each country.

He has coached clubs in Italy, Australia, Ireland and France and is currently director of rugby for the Green Rockets in Japan as well as head coach of Argentina.

He is leading them into the 2023 Rugby Union World Cup and this year they have already beaten Scotland twice, Australia, the All Blacks and England.

Not only that but he has done it at the same time as holding down another head coach role in a different sport.

Michael is head coach of the Lebanon rugby league team – the country of his parents’ birth – where he led them to the quarter finals of the Rugby League World Cup.

Lebanon played Australia on a Friday night in Huddersfield in the Rugby League World Cup earlier this month losing to the eventual champions and on the Sunday Michael was at Twickenham where Argentina, The Pumas, beat England, coached by his former team-mate Eddie Jones.

It is a quite incredible achievement which, he explained, only came about because the Rugby League World Cup was delayed by a year by the Covid pandemic.

He said he had brought the two teams – Argentina and Lebanon – together in Manchester while they were both playing in this country and the players enjoyed dinner together which he said was a nice combination of cuisine from both nations – meze from the Middle East for the starter and steak, a South American favourite, for the main course.

Michael coached the Wallabies, the Australian rugby union team for five years but resigned after they were defeated by England in the quarter finals of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

You can imagine the opprobrium dropped on him by the Aussie media in the wake of that loss and when I asked him if there is unfinished business with Australia, he didn’t say no.

But then his achievements with both Argentina and Lebanon mean he is being talked about in elite coaching circles and is very likely to have his pick of jobs – whether in the NRL in club rugby league in Australia or as an international coach in rugby union.

Michael talked about some of the coaches who he has learned from, something picked up by talented freelance sports journalist Ross Heppenstall and reported in an article in The Times yesterday.

Cheika said that England football coach Gareth Southgate is a contact of his and he will tap into his knowledge ahead of the Rugby World Cup next year.

But he said that in his view Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp is peerless in the world of elite coaches.

Ross quoted Michael saying that he met Southgate at a coaching conference in America and Cheika plans to catch up with him when England’s World Cup campaign in Qatar is over.

“I met Gareth at a Leaders in Sport summit over in the US and there were about 10 to 12 coaches from different sports there,” the Pumas head coach told The Times.

“We went and watched the Super Bowl and shared some time together talking about different things.

“Gareth was very clear in what he already knew and what he wanted to know in order to make England better.

“After his World Cup experience now, I’d definitely love to catch up with him and see how he found it. He’s a really good fella so it would be fantastic to see him succeed. I’ll definitely look to pick his brains ahead of the Rugby World Cup next year.”

Ross went on to write: “Klopp, though, is a man Cheika sees as a standard bearer for coaches for his success in returning Liverpool to the summit of domestic and European football.

“Despite their struggles this season, Cheika said: ‘Klopp took a club with a huge history and tradition, which brings a huge responsibility as well, and turned their fortunes very much in the right direction.

“‘I look around the world and see a coach like Craig Bellamy at Melbourne Storm, and the consistency he’s had in his teams, he knows how to win.

“‘I know Liverpool have faltered a bit this season but Klopp has pretty much had them firing in all competitions over the past four or five years.’”

What I also found fascinating from the discussion with Michael Cheika is his very successful business career.

He freely admits that he loves coaching sport and it isn’t a job, so much so that he doesn’t count the money he earns from it.

That is probably helped by the highly successful fashion distribution business he runs with a business partner and which is based in Shoreditch in London.

Choosing my words carefully, I said that the teak-tough Cheika doesn’t, at first glance, look like a man who would be involved in haute couture.

Fortunately he didn’t take it badly and explained that after the end of his playing career he needed a job and because he spoke French and Italian fluently was introduced to celebrated Australian fashion designer Colette Dinnigan who he worked for as business manager before starting a multi-million dollar fashion business of his own.

There are many sports coaches who try and apply their approach to the world of business when speaking to a corporate audience.

There are very few who have actually achieved success in sport and in the business arena too.


FEEDBACK from Wednesday’s event was very positive for Richard Cramer and his team at Front Row Legal.

I even managed to gain a couple of plaudits myself.

Lawyer Andrew Boyde described the event as “effortlessly MC’d by David Parkin”.

I replied that I hope that meant that I made it look effortless – rather than putting no effort in!

And insolvency specialist David Wilson posted on Linkedin: “A fabulous and inspiring event well done Richard.

“Parkin at his best and great jacket and riveting discussion with Cheika, one of rugby’s greatest coaches.”

Never mind the praise for Cheika, I was basking in the praise for my jacket, bought on a recent trip to Florence.

Richard Cramer replied: “Thank you – glad you enjoyed it – I agree with your assessment on Michael, I think one day he will be a World Cup winner.”

But what about my jacket Richard???

Have a great weekend.

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