The month-long soccer fest is over. But was it all a complete waste of time? Not at all – there are four important lessons from this tournament that we can apply to our businesses and other parts of our lives.
Germany are home with the Jules Rimet Trophy, Argentina are licking their wounds, and while the cleaners pick up litter from the party on Rio’s Copacabana Beach, their countrymen are wondering what on earth happened? Wasn’t this supposed to be Brazil’s year, at home, in front of 200 million delirious fans? How did it all happen?
Lesson No. 1 – Trust your people
The decision by German coach, Jogi Löw, to bring Mario Götze on in the second half of the 2014 World Cup Final was inspired. In the dying moments of extra time, Götze scored the match-winning goal to end Argentina’s dreams and give his team their fourth World Cup.
But Götze has not been an easy man to back. At €37m, the price of his transfer from Borussia Dortmund to Bayern Munich, he was for a while Germany’s most expensive player. However, his form drifted and then he drifted out of the Bayern starting line-up onto the substitute’s bench, where he also found himself on Sunday evening for the national team.
Löw, however, has watched Götze from his early days as a member of Dortmund’s youth academy and knows his talent. As he sent him into battle, the coach whispered in the young player’s ear to show that he was better than Argentine superstar Lionel Messi and win the cup. Götze duly obliged, carving himself and coach Löw a place in the history books.
Talent will out. If you’ve done your homework and selected the right people, give them your full backing. You’re unlikely to be disappointed.
Lesson No. 2 – Don’t run on old dreams
Brazil’s World Cup-winning side of 1970 is ranked among the greatest of all time. Just to list some of the names is to evoke the legends: Pelé, Rivelino, Jairzinho, Gérson, Tostao, Brito and skipper Carlos Alberto, whose goal in the final against Italy in Mexico City is considered one of the very best ever scored in a World Cup tournament. Pelé became the only player to win three World Cups, and Mario Zagallo the first to win as a player (1958) and then as coach 12 years later.
Fast forward 44 years to the disaster of Belo Horizonte – Germany 7, Brazil 1. There were no legends on display that evening – at least none wearing Brazilian colours. Their young star Neymar had been injured in a previous game and skipper Thiago Silva was suspended after an inexplicable foul on Colombia’s goalie in the previous game. This was Brazil playing lacklustre, unimaginative football. Brazilian fans’ hearts still call their brand of soccer o jogo bonito – the beautiful game – but in their heads would they seriously compare lumbering forwards Fred and Hulk with the likes of Pelé or even stars of later years like Ronaldinho and Ronaldo?
What’s happened is that the essence of that 1970 squad – its strategic core – has been distilled again and again, repeated and refined to its core components – a rock steady defence and a star striker. But this process has not intensified the flavours, nor made them richer; instead, it has stripped those things away, weakening the original. In defence, rock-steady has come to mean brittle, whitened like an old bone, as well as niggling and ankle-biting. The star striker has become a single player on whose fragile back rested the hopes of an entire nation. Neutralise him and, as we saw, there was nothing left.
The Germans exposed the Brazilian dream for what it was: a clutch of faded memories, hanging in the air like a puff of stale smoke.
Businesses are the same. The strategy that took you there 20 or 30 years ago is unlikely to keep you there forever. If you insist on trying, you’ll find your own team just going through the motions and the opposition blasting your revenues and profits off the field.
Lesson No. 3 - Marshal your resources
He might have won the award for Best Player at the 2014 World Cup, but Argentina’s Lionel Messi was far from his best. For most of the time, he walked flat-footed around the centre of the field, displaying none of his match-winning electricity. As a captain, he appeared disinterested, leaving the direction of play to Javier Mascherano. An occasional spark of genius flickered, like lightning on the horizon of a Brazlian thunderstorm, but little more.
Why? The answer according to Messi’s father is simple: he’s exhausted. He may be the best player to pull on a pair of football boots this century, perhaps even the best ever, but just like the rest of us, if you over-extend him, he’ll burn out. Too many matches, appearances, endorsements, commercials – there are only 24 hours in a day.
Don’t forget Messi has been looking jaded all season for Barcelona – just the way so many of his Spanish colleagues looked for a very disappointing Spain, the World Cup holders who crashed out in such dismal fashion in the Group stages. Spain, Barcelona and, to a lesser extent, Real Madrid, have been invincible since around 2008. They have all been riding a fantastic, exhilarating but exhausting wave. Not any more.
Victory, in business as in sport, takes a toll. Key players, whether they have the best left-foot in the world, or they’re a member of your C-Suite or head up your R&D or sales teams, need rest, recuperation and relaxation. A pay cheque with lots of zeroes is no substitute.
Lesson No. 4 - Have a plan, execute well
After Germany’s disastrous appearance in the Euro 2000 Finals, they went back to the drawing board. Young German players would be brought through the ranks, properly coached and supported, and the big clubs would be encouraged to play them first at junior and then at senior level. (Read more about the plan here:http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/worldcup2014/article-2691435/Germany-dominate-decade-World-Cup-win-just-start-golden-period-Joachim-Lows-young-guns.html)
The big clubs bought into the plan, the youth academies – like the one referred to above at Borussia Dortmund – were fired up and a steady stream of youngsters have appeared ever since. In essence, this was the plan which won the 2014 FIFA World Cup for Germany.
A plan is nothing, though, without the ability and the will to execute it. In this instance, the German Football League (DFB) had to do a little leaning in the shape of some new rules about eligibility at junior level, but once it started to bear fruit, the buy-in becomes a self-reinforcing system.
Businesses spend many million in consultancy fees and wasted hours developing Strategic Plans which are then either filed or aborted when the execution is less than flawless. There’s no point in aspiring to put a man on the moon if you don’t have the capacity to develop the right technology and employ the right people.
A final thought
When a plan – like Germany’s development plan – works, it’s on public display. Everyone concerned can see the success and have confidence. That confidence is what gives a key senior manager – Jogi Löw in this case – the ability to look at a young player like Mario Götze and send him on, safe in the knowledge that he’ll succeed.
The right plan, properly executed, and the right people, carefully nursed and looked after – that’s how you win a World Cup and win in business.
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