With the football World Cup upon us, we thought we’d look at things a little differently this week. Whether you’re a football fan or not, the next month or so will be the stage for a very public human drama – and we’re not talking about the players or even the games themselves.

Instead, at Holborn Assets we’re going to be closely watching the managers – because they are leaders who carry an enormous weight of expectation on their shoulders. How different personalities handle this pressure, on the most public of stages, is always fascinating – and so we thought we’d take look at a couple of managers, one very successful, and one not so, to see what lessons we can take from them as business leaders.

The winner: Sir Alex Ferguson

We’re going to start with a manager who never actually lead a team to the World Cup, but who is widely recognised as one of the most successful managers in football history. Love him or hate him, Ferguson was a serial winner. Over 26 seasons at Manchester United, he won 13 league titles plus 25 other domestic and international trophies.

His unprecedented success as a manager has led him to become an inspiration to many other leaders, in football or otherwise. No less venerable institution than the Harvard Business School itself made him the object of a study back in 2012, finding that there were a number of fundamental principles that he built his success on. Here’s just a pick of a few the most important ones.

The first was to start with the foundation – he was obsessed with investing in young talent and developing it for the benefit of the club’s long-term future. Of course, he was also very adept at recruiting famous names to the team, and wasn’t afraid to spend big when he needed to. But this kind of inward investment was always built on a strong internal foundation.

Secondly, he wasn’t afraid to re-build when he needed to either. Football teams, like businesses, go through different phases of success and decline, and Ferguson was always quick to recognise when one era had ended and a new one needed to start. He was ruthless when he had to be – even with players he had bought himself, or had known since they were kids. The team, and the club, always came first.

Thirdly, he set high standards, lived them himself, and demanded everyone else did too. The final point is around control. Ferguson once said: “If any players want to take me on, to challenge my authority and control, I deal with them.” Arguably, Ferguson could be a dictator sometimes, but the lesson that the team at Harvard drew from him was to act quickly to deal with things, before personnel issues get out of control.

The loser – Raymond Domenech

In 1998, France had won the World Cup, in Paris, for the first time. They did it with a talented, multicultural and diverse team of stars, led by their captain Zinedine Zidane. Zidane went on to be a serial winner with Real Madrid, as a player and a manager – but that 1998 campaign stands in stark contrast to the debacle of France’s 2010 World Cup tournament.

That time, it was a team that resembled a clown car packed with gigantic, feuding egos – driven by a manager in Raymond Domenech who seemed to have little idea how to lead. It ended in disaster, as these things inevitably do, with a collection of individuals blaming each other for the shortcomings of the team.

The lessons for us all, as business leaders with our own teams, is to understand that egos do exist – but to also understand that we need to manage them properly. Domenech – according to influential players like William Gallas – demanded that they leave their egos behind, but then forgot to do the same himself.

Ultimately, the whole enterprise became a battle of wills, with a fundamental lack of team spirit, no focus and no shared purpose – basic mistakes we should all avoid if we want to be successful leaders, in sport or in business.