If you’re not a diehard soccer-head, you could be forgiven if you haven’t been following every match of this year’s World Cup. Tragically, the U.S. Men’s National Team is sitting this one out owing to systemic gross incompetence. It can be hard as a result for the more casual fan to get into the tourney (and to be honest, I can’t really blame them — there’s a spate of sports I care nothing about until the Olympics roll around). But even if you haven’t been following the World Cup closely, here is one amazing play that can teach you an incredibly valuable business lesson for use in your daily professional life.
One of the primary detractions I hear from casual/non-fans is how few goals are scored in soccer. I’d counter with ‘hockey has about as many scoring plays in a game,’ but that’s neither here nor there. While that may be true factually, it doesn’t really satisfy viewers who want more scoring plays in sports period. But there’s a good reason why there aren’t usually a ton of goals scored in a soccer game between high-quality opponents — it takes a lot of things to go very right in order to score. And to win? You not only need a ton of things to go right, you need to prevent the other team from doing those things themselves (I know that sounds somewhat self evident, but it bears mentioning).
For instance, here is one of the best goal-scoring plays of the tournament that won the game for Belgium over Japan in the 94th minute:
Look at the number of things Belgium had to get right to score! The goalie has to come off his line correctly and catch the ball in traffic. All the Belgium players have to sprint out on the counterattack to give him an outlet. De Bruyne, number 7, has to dribble like a fiend, at full speed, down the middle of the field eating up space, and then slow down at the right time to draw in the defense. Lukaku, number 9, practically gallops across the path of De Bruyne drawing two defenders with him, which opens up the right side of the field for the winger to take the pass from De Bruyne (who had to put it in the correct place). Then Lukaku, number 9, loops his run back around to receive the return pass from his winger and then dummies the shot to pull the final defender and the goalie out of position, allowing Chadli to essentially pass the ball into the open net behind him. If at any point in time any of those things don’t happen exactly that way? You don’t score. That’s why soccer is so hard!
The same is true of business. When it comes to running a successful business, serving your clients and customers well, and charting a course for year-over-year growth, it takes a lot of things going right in unison to achieve it. Every person on your staff has to be pulling their weight, even when it might seem thankless (Lukaku didn’t touch the ball on that goal, but he basically scored it). You have to keep people motivated and unified, working together to achieve a common goal, or you’re never going to score; and you can’t win if you don’t score.
Soccer is a weak link sport; unlike basketball, where the best player can have an outsized influence on the outcome (think LeBron dragging a washed Cleveland team to the finals this year basically by himself), in soccer, teams are often only as good as their weakest link. Christiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi don’t have World Cup finals victories to their names for a reason — their team isn’t elite top to bottom. Now, sheer brilliance can take you a long way (Messi did drag them to the finals in Brazil 2014), but you can’t just have one talismanic genius with a bunch of average players — it requires a team working in beautiful harmony to achieve the ultimate prize. The same is also true of business. I would wager almost any business is a weak link sport; you’re not the best only because you have the best CEO — you have to have primetime players up and down the ranks to really break through.
We could all learn a little something from that beautiful Belgian goal.
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