Gill South: Win, lose or draw - World Cup offers lessons

By Gill South

The evening before England's World Cup team played Slovenia, so the story goes, manager Fabio Capello told his men they could have a beer to help them relax. But nobody dared: they were too afraid of the manager.

Capello must bear his fair share of the blame for England's loss against Germany this week, and its generally underwhelming performance in South Africa. Capello's managerial style was remote and authoritarian. As well, he did not have the talent in the team needed to get to a World Cup semifinal. By contrast, the young Germans, under manager Joachim Low, were seen by their coach as still evolving and in training. He just let them go.

Capello was not the only one with problems. French coach Raymond Domenech did little to mould his high-strung players into a coherent team.

For many New Zealanders, the World Cup in South Africa has become an obsession, particularly with the All Whites' star turn at group level. And, as ever, the teams' managers are caught in the limelight, answering the difficult questions if their teams are not performing as expected and courting adulation if things go right. Business leaders can learn a lot from the behaviour of these passionate, pacing, be-suited king-makers.

John Shackleton, sports psychologist and an executive coach working in team building, finds football and its theatrics frustrating.

Rugby players are far more intelligent and rugby is a proper team sport, he says. "I think we have a huge number of problems with soccer. If you look at rugby there are no theatrics. I think that's what's wrong with soccer."

However, the All Whites did play like a team, he allows. As many coaches tell their players: "A star team will always beat a team of stars," says Shackleton.

"NZ had very few stars - but did they work for each other under manager Ricki Herbert," says the executive coach.

Something Herbert taught business managers was not to lose focus in times of pressure, says Chris Johnson, executive coach at recruitment consultancy Kerridge & Partners and a national level sports coach.

"The coach was providing them with confidence, not bawling them out, saying: 'Hang on in there, you can do it'." Johnson lists six things managers can learn from the New Zealand team's experience.

Focus: Keep focus on the game in hand; success comes one step at a time.

Distraction: Don't get distracted by the competition; execute your plan, not the opposition's.

Back yourself: Being the underdog sometimes means you can catch out the competition.

Stick to the plan: Don't change things once you are away; follow the same routine that you normally do, unless it is a crisis.

Don't underestimate the strength of the dream.

Celebrate and have fun.

Mark Sutherland, an executive coach and Olympic gold medal coach for canoeists Paul McDonald and Ian Ferguson, was in South Africa, watching every All Whites game, among others.

He also predicted Capello's failure to get the best from his team. "He runs on fear, that's never going to work," he says. Players like Wayne Rooney need a strong leader and he has had one with Manchester United's Sir Alex Ferguson, says Sutherland. But Capello was different.

"There's leadership and then there's being a dictator."

Sutherland sings Herbert's praises. "He stayed calm, and had a great deal of clarity - he played to his strengths with players like Winston Reid, Ryan Nelson and Simon Elliott.

"His tactics were: first of all, we need not to lose, then second of all, we are going to try to win.

"The All Whites all knew their job. They knew who the boss was on the field - Nelsen in the back, Elliott going forward," he says.

"Football teams should be run by the coach and senior players - I imagine Nelsen and Herbert talked a lot. Why would you not listen to the $5 million-a-year player?"

The New Zealand manager also showed that he understood his capabilities; in business a manager has got to learn the firm's capabilities, says Sutherland. If a company tells him it wants to diversify, the executive coach will ask: "What are your capabilities?" "Most of the time, nine times out of 10, they don't know their capabilities in that area," says Sutherland.

Meanwhile, Italian coach Marcello Lippi fell on his sword and said the team's failure to get past the group stage was his fault, but Sutherland thinks this was the wrong thing to do. The highly paid Italian players were also partly responsible.

"In a company, you have got to have certain standards and expectations, and make people accountable," he says.

Diego Maradona, who may be leading Argentina to the World Cup final, makes a very emotional leader, but gets away with it because of who he is - a great in his field of expertise - says the former Olympic coach. Sutherland has been impressed with the Argentine manager's personal skills. When his team came out for a pre-game warm-up, he went round every player, talked to each one and gave them a hug. "He can get inside their heads," says Sutherland.

Like Maradona, many coaches are former players. But this isn't necessary, says Sutherland. How many CEOs have been entrepreneurs, or technical experts, he asks. Anyone can coach and they don't have to excel at that sport themselves. Sutherland has coached kayaking and can't kayak expertly himself, but he learned the physiology of the sport.

And, he says, you "become a student of the game".

"In the same way, a new CEO needs to become a student of the business. In the first 100 days they should learn everything about the company - listen to the sounds of the business, understanding the dynamics of the business - going into how these people are relating to each other."

Finally, don't hang on in a job when you have nothing more to add.

This is something to take from the experience of Domenech. He was like a business manager who hangs on and does not have empathy with his team, says Sutherland. "Nobody liked him, he was disinterested, he did not walk out to the coach's box, he did not play to his strengths."

Gill South is an Auckland freelance writer

- NZ Herald

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