The FIFA World Cup will start later this week and as usual the favorites to win the title come either from Europe with European Champions Spain, World Cup defending champions Italy, the offensively very strong Dutch, strong-when-it-counts Germany and the well coached English or South America where the two big nations of Brazil and Argentina will try to capture the cup.
Historically, Brazil has been known as the team of those two that stood for a flamboyant, artistic style of soccer, while Argentina stood more for tactical discipline and physical strengths (maybe with the exception of the 1980’s). Argentina is a rather untypical team from South America, their style is more European than that of their neighbors, kind of reminding of the likes of Italy and Germany. Argentina aren’t the good guys of soccer, they can play a hard and result oriented style – which may be a reason why so many Argentinian players were very successful in the Italian league.
While the team is coached by national hero Diego Maradona, the general manager of the “Albicileste” is the man who used to coach Maradona and his team mates in 1986, when Argentina last captured the title: “El Narigón”, the big nose, Carlos Bilardo. That Carlos Bilardo gave a quite remarkable interview a few days ago, and if you are easily offended by explicit language, please stop reading this post now.
You’re still around? Okay. So here’s a quote from that interview:
“If Argentina win the World Cup I’ll let whoever scores the winning goal do me up the arse.”
I frankly can’t imagine a lot of high level executives from National soccer federations to come up with a line like this one. By the way: Bilardo, who also used to work as a gynecologist, was also coaching clubs in Argentina, Spain, Colombia and: Libya.
So we found the black sheep in Argentinian soccer? Don’t rush it, how about the coach? I wrote about Maradona extensively in an earlier post, so you know that prior to this World Cup he asked journalists to “suck it and carry on sucking it”. Bilardo 1 – Maradona 1.
Just a few days ago, Diego took the lead when he ran over a journalist after a training session and instead of getting off the car to check if the may was doing okay, he just opened the window and shouted: “What an Asshole you are! How can you put your leg there where it can get run over?”
Last Friday, the team finally travelled to South Africa. On the same plane: A group of Argentine hooligans. How those guys infamous for their violence were able to pay the long trip to Africa is a miracle to many, and rumors that the Argentinian soccer association (AFA) and the duo Bilardo/ Maradona had been involved financially came up just to be denied by an AFA spokesman shortly after.
Argentina – the bad boys?!
That’s quite surprising, as the team is made up of some of the most gifted players on the planet. While in defense with Walter Samuel and Martín Demichelis two players that just met in the Champions League final will play side by side, the midfield contains star players like Javier Mascherano, Maxi Rodríguez or young talent Ángel Di María. The choice Maradona has in forwards is unmatched: Lionel Messi, Carlos Tévez, Kun Agüero and Diego Milito, to name just some of them.
There is no way this team can not be mentioned among the top favorites. Why do they need a bad boy image?
Let’s look at the past four years. At the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the team was probably the strongest in the tournament on a head-to-head basis. They dropped out in a thrilling quarter final in a penalty shoot out against the hosts, which was a huge disappointment and even lead o a brawl on the pitch after the final whistle.
In the following qualification round for the 2010 tournament, Argentina played very disappointing and just made the cut. The country is concerned and many believe the players need a wakeup call and get themselves together. It seems like Bilardo and Maradona are trying to send that call out as loud as they can. Maradona is probably not the best expert in tactics on this planet, but he is extremely emotional and passionate. And here’s where the link to your office kicks in.
How much harmony is needed to perform? Or, if you are looking for outstanding performance, do you need some bad boys on your team?
That’s a tough question and I’ve heard answers to it going in all directions. What’s pretty obvious and scientifically proven by a lot of social psychologists is that when a group separates from other, the bonds within the group grow stronger. Having a joint concept of the enemy can help to enhance the performance of a group. What we often tend to forget: This works in both ways: Us the good – them the bad as well as us the bad – them the good.
Bilardo and Maradona – the Sith Lords of soccer that use the dark side of the force? I don’t want to overdo the caricature here, as there’s more to it. I recall being in a business meeting where one of the participants replied to others that complained about his behavior: “It’s good to have tensions. If there weren’t any, we could never perform at 100%”.
The word “tension” instantly caught my attention. Many agree that a certain tension may be helpful to deliver peak performances. Maybe Maradona and Bilardo feel that the tension is missing in their team?
Some of you reading up to this point might feel that this is all crap as a World Cup puts so much pressure on all players anyway that no additional tension is required.
And that’s exactly where I think the point is here. We are talking about leadership. My feeling is that this is a great example of leaders taking away pressure from their team. Bilardo and Maradona are both in the game for ages, so they should know the mechanisms in place. When launching their comments they knew they would get beaten up by the press. But they also knew that while they get all the press attention their players could train in full concentration and relaxation.
Maybe in your job you don’t necessarily have to use words as strong as the two Argentinians and behave like bad boys, but stepping in when the team is under pressure and taking this pressure away by doing so is a great leadership skill.
Does it work? Well, concentrated and relaxed they seem, as only very few players commented on Bilardo’s sentence on the player scoring the decisive goal in the final. Most notable among those who did was Martín Palermo. He even showed a great sense of humor when stating: “I will score the goal and make him (Bilardo) put on a wig”. Palermo’s nickname? “El Loco” – the crazy one. A guy who really lives up to how he’s called. But that’s another story to be told…
I wish all of us a great World Cup. However don’t forget to check in here one day prior to the opening match, as I will post the final part of my play maker series this Thursday. I don’t want to betray the surprise, but I guess it’s safe to say that it will be all about a quite controversial character this time.