World Cup, a classroom for business leaders
Over the 20 editions of the Fifa World Cup, there have been teams that have flattered to deceive with one flashy win or one great performance, but on the road to the pinnacle, only consistency counts
India may not have qualified for the finals of the 2018 Fifa World Cup but a strong contingent of Indian spectators will be there in Russia for the month-long carnival of football. Among them a whole host of Indian business leaders, there to savour the on-field action, soak in the atmosphere and in general, enjoy themselves. But it needn’t be all play and no work for them. The grand stage of the world’s most popular sport is also a good place to pick up a few lessons in running companies. Here’s a cheat sheet of five possible takeaways:
There are no shortcuts to success: Over the 20 editions of the world cup, there have been teams that have flattered to deceive with one flashy win or one great performance. But on the road to the pinnacle, only consistency counts. The winning teams prepare for the long haul, never mind the skirmishes on the way. In 2010, Spain lost its first pool game to outsider Switzerland. Yet, it went on to win the tournament. By contrast, North Korea created a sensation by beating Italy in a group game at the 1966 World Cup, as did Cameroon in 1990 when it beat Argentina but neither team went on to win the tournament.
Solo performers may win kudos but it is the teams that lift the trophies: Diego Maradona’s goals against England and Belgium in 1986 may have mesmerized spectators but what won Argentina its second title was his pin-point pass to Jorge Burruchaga in the finals for the winning goal. It is the reason why the world’s top two players, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, stay empty handed at the World Cup. Spain and Germany, the winners in 2010 and 2014, were well-rounded combinations of players, each of who knew exactly what his role was and excelled at that. By contrast, Hungary, because of its over-reliance on Ferenc Puskas lost the 1954 finals despite being the overwhelming favourites. No wonder that Louis van Gaal who coached the Netherlands to a third place finish in 2014, initially refused to select the country’s best-known player Wesley Sneijder for the World Cup because he didn’t think Sneijder was in good enough shape.
Winning captains inspire their team mates to give their best: Look at the names given to them. José Nasazzi, captain of the Uruguay team which won the first World Cup in 1930 was called El Gran Mariscal, the Grand Marshal. Another Uruguayan Obdulio Varela led his team to victory in 1950 beating overwhelming favourites Brazil in Rio de Janeiro. His vital contribution was a pep talk before the finals where he encouraged his players to go on the offensive. Ask any English player of the winning 1966 squad about who was the catalyst for that win and they will point unhesitatingly to inspirational team captain Bobby Moore.
You can’t rest on your laurels: Past success isn’t insurance against future failures. Italy won the World Cup in 2006. Yet, just four years later, in the 2010 World Cup, the Azzurri flopped miserably failing to even make it out of a group comprising lightweights Paraguay, Slovakia and New Zealand. It wasn’t the end of the team’s miseries. The team continued the trend in 2014 failing to make it to the second round and has now failed to qualify for the 2018 finals.
Finally, learn some humility: You can’t win them all. That talismanic genius Roberto Baggio fluffed a penalty and sent his team out of the world cup. With minutes to go and his team down 0-1 in the finals against Germany in 2014, Messi, one of the world’s best players in dead ball situations got a free kick in a reasonable position. Sadly, his shot didn’t even test the goal keeper. The US which hosted the tournament in 1994 hasn’t made it to the 2018 finals despite being placed in an easy group. Iran, which has barely enough training grounds to practise in, did and that from a region which comprises gross domestic product (GDP) heavyweights like China and India.
Sundeep Khanna is a consulting editor at Mint and oversees the newsroom’s corporate coverage. The Corporate Outsider will look at current issues and trends in the corporate sector every week.