Soccer matches are all about scoring goals and being winners. As a result, soccer can hold up a mirror to life since many humans also want to achieve goals and to be winners in the game of life. There is much to be learned about life in general from soccer players, managers and commentators.
When you listen to commentators on soccer matches, the key words they use again and again when teams are winning are words about character and attitude like belief, excitement, confidence, effort and so on. Soccer skills and strategies are important but mean little without the right attitude.
Team managers urge their players to show focus, determination and maximum effort. They tell them they should expect to win and not to show too much respect for their opponents no matter how famous they are.
I love listening to the comments of the great soccer managers. They have all been to hell and back. They are praised and popular when their teams win. They are criticised and even sacked when their teams fail to win. They know the heights of elation and the depths of despair. They have to find ways to deal with both and to keep motivating their teams to win.
Gordon Strachan took over as manager of Celtic, one of the top two clubs in Scotland, in 2005. It was not long before he experienced “the worst night of my life”
Bratislava beat Celtic 5-0 in the Champions league, the top European competition. His watch stopped after the match and he still wears it to remind himself that it was the worst night of his life. Celtic, the pride of Scotland, had been humiliated by a less famous team.
Other failures seemed small to him by comparison. We can all learn to deal with difficult situations by reminding ourselves of worst situations in our past or by imagining how much worse our lives could be than they actually are.
None of us knows for sure what will happen to us tomorrow. We could be seriously ill or even dead. Gordon has faced this possibility already. He told the media that on his gravestone he would like these words carved:
“This is better than that night in Bratislava.”
He uses the humour of exaggeration to deal with the criticisms of the media when things go wrong. A reporter commented when his team lost a match in Scotland:
“Bang, there goes your unbeaten run. Can you take it? ”
“No,” said Strachan. “I’m just going to crumble like a wreck. I’ll go home,
become an alcoholic and maybe jump off a bridge. Hmmm….I think I can
take it, yeah.”
He knows the importance of positive thinking if you wish to achieve success.
One reporter foolishly asked: “There’s no negative vibes or negative feelings here?”
Strachan replied: “Apart from yourself, we’re all quite positive round here.
I’m going to whack you over the head with a big stick; down negative man,
Strachan often speaks with disarming honesty and schoolboy cheek. He is ready to admit that he and his players are not always at their best. He is ready to face reality. Facing up to reality is a key characteristic of the successful.
When he managed a team in England, a reporter asked him: “So, Gordon, in what areas do you think Middlesbrough were better than you today?”
Strachan replied: “What areas? Mainly that big green one out there….”
Strachan has had his defeats but recently he has led his latest team, Celtic, to undisputed victory in the Scottish Premier League. He is widely accepted as a great manager.
Another great manager now works in the English Premier League. He is Jose Mourihno, the manager of Chelsea. He came to England in June 2004 and soon showed his confidence in himself and his players. He wants only to be judged by the results. A good manager wins. A bad one loses:
“I’m not a defender of old or new football managers. I believe in good ones and bad ones; those that achieve success and those that don’t. Please don’t call me arrogant, but I’m European champion and I think I’m a special one”
He soon proved himself to be a ‘special one’ in England as well as in Portugal, his native country. As the name ‘the special one’ suggests he believes in himself in a big way. A key factor in his success in England is his self-belief and a rich Russian backer who allows him to buy the best players in Europe. You can safely bet money that Chelsea will win almost all their matches.
The odds are not great but you could put £100 on Chelsea to win and make an easy £26 from your bet. Of course, this does not always work out. No team is perfect!
Mourinho is passionate about soccer but retains his sense of perspective and humour. Recently he was asked in London if he was concerned about losing the championship to his main rivals, Manchester United. His reply was typical of him:
“No, I’m more concerned about bird ‘flu.” The assembled press started laughing.
“Seriously; it’s that swan in Scotland that concerns me. It’s not that far from here!” (The swan was the first creature with bird ‘flu in the UK in 2006)
Over the last few weeks, his team, Chelsea, have been criticised for having players sent off for breaking the rules. When Jose was asked about his success away from home against West Brom, he commented ironically:
“Maybe we won because we played with ten men. That is our best tactic at the moment.”
However, he realises that the main reason Chelsea win so often is as follows:”We have top players and, sorry if I’m arrogant, we have a top manager.”
Public confidence is so rare in the UK that it is often mistaken for arrogance.
Jose does not believe in having favourites; he believes in the power of the team rather than the individual:
“I don’t want special relations with one of them (his players). I hate to speak about individuals. Players don’t win you trophies, teams win trophies, squads win trophies.”
Another great manager is Harry Redknapp of Portsmouth. He commented about his players in a match with Burnley which ended in a 2-2 draw:
“When the crowd was on their backs no one wanted to try anything in case they got booed. They were defensive and wanted to avoid mistakes.”
Harry understands human psychology. If we are too worried about appearing foolish or making mistakes we will fail to make things happen and we will not make full use of our abilities. We go into our shells and play safe.
I remember feeling like this when I played cricket at school. I tried to avoid being anywhere near the ball in case I dropped a catch. It was many years before I realised that I was quite good at catching!
A commentator remarked: “Harry knows how to get his teams going and how to restore their confidence. Now they expect to win at Fratton Park (the Portsmouth ground). They firmly believe they will win.” Recently they have won three games in a row and are on their way to escaping relegation to a lower division.
Another manager, Stuart Pierce, of Manchester City also knows the importance of confidence: “We need to go out and really believe we can play a bit.”
What key success lessons can we learn from the above?
Skill is important but attitude is even more important. We should expect to win and not show too much respect for the obstacles in our path whether they are human or otherwise and whether they are real or imaginary. We need to believe in our own ability and expect to win even if this makes us seem arrogant.
We should handle failures by reminding ourselves that things could be much worse. Retaining our sense of humour also helps. Teamwork is a key factor in many types of achievement. We should not be worried about making mistakes whether we are playing soccer or cricket or the game of life.
We need to face up to reality and be willing to be judged by the results we achieve as well as the effort we put in. On the whole, I think, that the effort we expend is more important. We cannot always control the results but we can control the effort we put in. The same manager can lose with one team and win with another. He is still the same person and he still made the same efforts.
I’ll leave you with a final quote from Gordon Strachan who has been both a winning and a losing manager:
A reporter asked: “Gordon, can we have a quick word?”
“Velocity”, replied Gordon as he walked off.