Article: Waka Waka! Top management takeaways from FIFA World Cup

Sports, Books & Movies

Waka Waka! Top management takeaways from FIFA World Cup

The world's biggest sporting occasion is a celebration of teamwork and human competitive spirit. People Matters looks at World Cup 2010 and highlights the top organizational and management takeaways from the sporting carnival
Waka Waka! Top management takeaways from FIFA World Cup

A decade after sweeping systemic changes for producing young players, Germany has the youngest World Cup squad in 75 years


Coaches who stand up and face the media tend to take the pressure off key players before big games


The world’s biggest sporting occasion is a celebration of teamwork and human competitive spirit. People Matters looks at World Cup 2010 and highlights the top organizational and management takeaways from the sporting carnival

Theme#1: Investing in Talent

1998 was a washout year in German football. The team had been thrashed 3-0 by outsiders Croatia in the World Cup Quarterfinals and it was plain to see that not enough talent was coming through the ranks of Germany’s supposedly well-oiled football machinery.

The influx of East German professionals that was supposed to make "Germany unbeatable for years to come" (Franz Beckenbauer after winning the World Cup in 1990) had dried up. In the Bundesliga (German league), the percentage of foreigner players had risen to 50 percent by 2000.

The German football association (FA) realized something needed to be done. In May 1999, FA vice president Beckenbauer and his team presented a new concept for producing young German footballers. It was decided that all across the country, 121 national talent centers would be built to help 10-17 year olds with technical practice. Each center would employ two full-time coaches at a cost of $15.6 million over five years. The second key point was a new requirement for all 36 professional clubs in Bundesliga and Bundesliga-2 to build youth academies.

Crucially, the FA's initiative coincided with the liberalization of the citizenship laws and a willingness to integrate young footballers with migratory background into the Germany setup.

Two years later, the TV conglomerate that had bankrolled the previous Bundesliga boom collapsed, leaving the clubs in severe financial difficulties. Faced with huge, unsustainable wage bills, they found that the easiest way to cope was to release well-paid but mediocre foreigners and replace them with young, cheaper recruits from their own youth teams. The Bundesliga found that fostering talents was not only good for the balance sheet but also for the brand. Fans flocked to the stadiums to see home-grown players with whom they could identify.

It's then no coincidence that the 2010 World Cup is the youngest German team since 1934. Coach Joachim Löew has had more good, young players to choose from than any other in the last two decades. The changes that were introduced 10 years ago have paid dividends. In the last two years, Germany have won the European championship at U-17, U-19 and U-21 level…and came up with spirited, inspiring performances in their third place World Cup finish.

Ground level innovations combined with a strong financial and ideological commitment at the top have put German soccer in a position where it can look optimistically towards the future – a shining example for organizations in the long-term benefits of well-intentioned and planned talent development initiatives.

Theme#2: All work and no play…

Of all the football leagues around the world, the English Premier League (EPL) is, by far, the most popular, glamorous and financially successful. The quality of the league can be measured by the fact that it provided the highest number of players to World Cup 2010 - 119 EPL players followed by 84 from the German Bundesliga, 80 from Italy’s Serie A and 59 from the Spanish La Liga. The order remains the same when only the foreign players in the leagues are counted - England 96, Germany 61, Italy 57, Spain 39.

The performance of players from the EPL, however, has been in sharp contrast to the league’s fearsome reputation. The English themselves had a disastrous campaign, with pedestrian displays against lower ranked teams, before capitulating 4-1 to Germany. Other teams loaded with EPL players too had a disappointing campaign – notably Ivory Coast, France and Nigeria.

While there could be a million reasons for these failures, one such reason sees the EPL take the blame, for tiring players too greatly with its all-action style, cluttered fixture schedule and lack of a winter break. The EPL has the highest number of matches compared to any other league (a staggering maximum of 51) and more importantly, is the only league with no winter break.

Indeed, performance suggests there may be some truth to claims of the EPL sapping players. Many EPL players have underperformed in South Africa, and those who haven't — Carlos Tevez, Robin van Persie, Park Ji-Sung — all had time off (injury-enforced or otherwise) during last season. The tournament's biggest 'flop' Fernando Torres, is still recovering from his own injury struggles, just as England's great hope, Wayne Rooney, seemed to be.

And Torres seems in little doubt where the problem lies. “This is my third season and I’m still amazed," the Liverpool striker noted on the eve of the World Cup. "The English league really wears down a player. I just can’t imagine what state I’ll be in within five or six years if I continue to play here.”

Other players like New Zealand and Blackburn Rovers captain Ryan Nelsen agree, as he said recently "Many players will never admit it, but it is mentally and physically the hardest league in the world. It is so draining. Inevitably, all the players around the world that have come down with injuries are generally Premier League players."

While it is obviously dangerous to make too many concrete conclusions from such select data, there seems to be evidence here for employers and employees alike in favour of a better worklife balance.

Theme#3: Will the real boss please stand up?

The cult of personality is definitely growing in football – and for once it is off the pitch. With every World Cup, the role and prominence of the team’s coach/manager has only increased. Many commentators of the game believe the month of the World Cup is all about man management; and coaches who are able to keep their teams united and players motivated are all the more likely to succeed.

Coaches who come out and face the media and stand by their players, tend to take the spotlight on themselves and pressure off their players. Dunga, Maradona and Joachim Loew all enjoy a personal relationship with their stars by eliminating cronies and face the media – praise and flak alike, thereby diverting attention before key games on to themselves and helping their players relax.

It is a trend that emphasises the role of the coach as mentor, manager, strategist and leader during the sporting world’s most memorable month every four years.

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Topics: Sports, Books & Movies

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