It’s Not Just a Game!

The Morningmare… 

I had an unusual start to the day.  Actually the arrival of the dawn was as usual – my eyes popped open at 7am, the school-goodbye of my big baby boy, chitchat with mom, cup of tea with wife, the regular natural chores, and at 8am my home gym greeted me with clockwork precision.  The only out-of-order inaction was an arm-length distance from my email and whatsapp – I was not gonna let some wise spoilsport dilute my excitement.  You see, the control freak in me had precisely timed the kick-start of my excitement as well!  The clash of the titans had been set to record on Tata-Sky the previous night.  What followed was 90 minutes of horrifying fascination that had been preceded by billions just a few hours before my day had begun!  7-1. That can’t happen to Brazil! Such fictitious odds don’t exist in the betting world.  The Germans are great, but surely not 7-fold greater!  The outcome was uncanny.   Something terrible had happened.  There has to be some serious business learning here…

Fortunately, this turned out to be one of the simplest business case studies to crack.  Brazil played without its two leaders – their main striker Neymar (because of injury) and their captain Thiego (because of yellow-card breaches).  The exclusion of their key leaders is the only tangible difference and logical explanation that one can conjure to explain the fiasco.  The headless team was completely demoralized, it was no longer a well-knit unit that could regroup and rally back after early setbacks in the game.  A perfect illustration of how things can go wrong when you don’t have strong leadership and a well-knit team.

Case closed!  Or is it?  Did the Brazilian collapse happen because of lack of leadership or too much leadership?  You see, the team was so used to its leaders being around that they were unable to deliver when left on their own!  The next question is, was it the lack of team comrades’ or too much of it?  The failure of a few defense players, and their resulting demotivation, rubbed off onto the entire team. What better example of a team that is so well-knit that their emotions stand together in all their successes as well as their failures!  Clearly we seem to have figured the ball game all wrong.  The Brazilian collapse paradoxically happened because they had great leadership and a well-knit team in place!

Hmmm… but the above explanation sounds cuckoo! General sense dictates that a team devoid of leaders and team spirit will seldom win. The case deserves to be reopened, for something has gone amiss here.  Perhaps the entire role of leadership and team members needs to be re-examined in the context of the present day’s ecosystem.

A leader is not a package deal unless he is constantly working towards making himself redundant.  A true test of great leadership is not all the successes that follow when that particular leader is on the field, rather its continued accolades when the leader steps aside.  A true team member is one who has walled himself against the emotional influences of his teammates, and is always playing the leadership role within his own tiny universe. If only each Brazilian player had held on to his own position and territory to his personal best, without worrying about the scorecard and the performance of his fellow teammates, the final outcome may not have been so embarrassing.

Unfortunately, the game environment doesn’t allow for the above revised definition of a leader and a teammate.  We are so used to crediting all the outcomes to ‘leadership’ and ‘team spirit’ phenomena that we sometimes end up butchering human individualities.  The world needs to change if another Brazilian side is to be saved a similar humiliation in the next world cup.

So how do we change the world? By not constantly bothering to change it! Instead of forever worrying about how the world is going to write his obituary, a leader needs to start thinking of innovative ways to be ‘forgotten’ by the world – this can only happen by ceaseless championing on the power of systems, above his personal leadership style!  Similarly, an individual within a team should continuously focus on his ‘individual’ excellence instead of constant empathy for his ‘team’ mates.  Perhaps (& ironically), tomorrow’s changed world may remember the leaders who made themselves redundant a little more for their new leadership style, and the individuals who focused on their personal excellence that allowed them to contribute more positively to their team in the end…

Original, Team, Role, Style


  1. Arun, this is a wonderful article. This was truly a ‘morningmare’ for most of the football lovers. Very nicely said a team should perform even if the leader steps aside. A leader is never a sycopant, instead his essence make the team players achieve the intricate tasks. I cant stop my self by saying that it reminded me of a gag where a manager uses a push strategy to push his team mates to perform and a leader uses the pull power to motivate the people and to make them successful by achieving the goal.

    Once again, thanks for writing this article!

    Keep sharing and motivating!

    Best regards,
    Rahul Lokhande

  2. yes…the norms of leadership need to change or are changing…As Nelson Mandela said “A leader is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realising that all along they are being directed from behind.”

    The dependency or the physical presence of the leader in the battle field to do things for the team may no longer be needed because that may create a Brazilian situation in cases when the leader is not present. But empowering each team member to move in the forward direction, let them take their decisions and let them work towards achieving it at the same time as a leader being aware and providing guidance in a way that is not like being present on the battle field will eventually lead to the leader being ‘forgotten’ by the world. But the team would always succeed and that is the ultimate goal for everyone….

  3. Truely said sir.

  4. Yes I agree.
    Leader need to tell the team/his family members- ‘Please try to be self-dependent’. For this, he need to throw them in deep water (at regular intervals), to let them learn swimming. [missing a question this time- longing for a party]

  5. What an interesting finding Sir!
    A true leader should not only be able to lead effectively but also Strive hard to make his fellow team mates Auto-Pilot and Self-sufficient. In this way irrespective of his physical presence his leadership will always be present on and off the field(or anywhere). Similarly every individual is an owner of his part/task and he should be leading his task effectively. Once that is achieved success is not far…

    Hats off to you once again for this great article

  6. I feel the Brazilian authorities did not assess their risks. If the complete team depends upon 2 people for mental support and if their absence causes the house to come tumbling down then that team clearly was in a risky situation to begin with. The Brazilians should have evaluated this and mitigated this risk.
    On the other hand, every player in the German team played his part well. Even when a German player was close to the goal and could have scored, he would pass on the ball to someone else who would then score the goal. Their strategy was to trick the goalkeeper so he could not see where the hit would come from. The ball was passed on to whosoever was available in the position to shoot the goal. It wasn’t about personal records but about winning as a team.
    Does this mean that the star player should not be given the attention he deserves? No! Clearly you need to use his talent but all I am saying is that you need to at the same time ensure that the others can hold their own so the game doesn’t suffer in his absence. And this is true not only for football but everything else.

    • Touché

  7. Nicely written !!!
    Sometimes a team becomes great even if every team member is average as an individual and combination of best fails. Forming team is all about how efficiently everyone work together by making use of best of every individual. Depending on couple of stars never works out in long term.

  8. The biggest fault of human pshycology is it does not believe on himself rather have faith on others. When there is someone like a ‘Star’ performer in the team people usually consider themselves as low and are more dependent on their so called star. It is good to have faith on others abilities but not to trust on our own capabilities is to down ourselves and what happened with Brazil is the outcome of their players loosing their self confidence. For them no more ‘Neymar’ meant no more war.

  9. Changing the strategy as per the situation and the confidence in the ability of doing the same is what makes all the difference in the unpredictable and dynamic world. Had Brazil had a plan B, surely not a paradigm change but some difference could have been brought about.

  10. I strongly believe Leaders need to lead from the front and back as well. Having followed Brazil for some time, it seems credible to believe that they have lost whenever they have bet on ONE STAR, be in Ronaldo or Neymar. Brazil has always succeeded when they have more of a wholesome team led not (necessarily??) by their captain but by their strategy and coach. The article above is great except for the fact that it seems to forget the coach’s contribution at all. Leader need to have a coach and also be one lest they forget their own way.

  11. This is nice Article! Thanks Arun. What I learned from this article is, The true leader have to play two role. One is individual performer and another is leadership. Individual performance could be measure in presence of leader and his leader ship could be measure in his absence. Leader have to sharp skill and motivation level of their team member up to the level from where team member can continue to sharp their skill and motivational level by his own.

  12. All through the world cup the stalwarts of the game (Ronaldo-Portugal, Rooney-England, Neymar-Brazil, Messi-Argentina – to name a few) were the ones that spearheaded their country into the final 32 to be part of the world cup.
    Brilliant individual contributors can pull the game to a certain extent but as the expectations increases so does the disappointment and hence the fall of all the mighty men.
    Thus the world cup finals the commentator during the ecstasy of victory post the final whistle simply and correctly put it “In the end the best TEAM won”.

  13. Nice Article , There is a very nice flare in your writing. And Whether I am a Germany supporter or I m a supporter of Argentina .. like any other football lover or a ‘seasonal’ football lover I really find bad for a man “Messi”…. A ‘Leader’ , A ‘Supporter’ , A ‘Hope’.. A ‘All’ for his team.. 🙁 .. Wishes to winning team.

  14. Great article!!! Brazil failed to create situational leader scenarios in practice sessions. Though I feel, above all, they were anyways overrated…just because they were “Brazil”

  15. Yes, indeed, A leader is not a package deal unless he is constantly working towards making himself redundant.

  16. Totally agree with, a leader is not a package deal unless he is constantly working towards making himself redundant. Team spirit is very important specially in the absence of Leader

  17. This Brazilian side was a mediocre one saved by the brilliance of Neymar. So when he went out the ‘team’ fell apart.
    Many a times geniusness of a team member makes others in the team complacent and lazy as they know as long as he/she is around team performance will be good. So when he/she parts the team which looked good till yesterday collapses like a pack of cards, unless another genius rises to grab the oppurtunity.

  18. Nice Learning Article Arun.
    Later or sooner this has to happen as they were not looking good from the very first match,not good to tag as favorite TEAM.
    If you see any other teams like USA,Chile,Columbia or Germany and Argentina they progressed and played extraordinaire football not only because of individual stars but because they played as team on the other hand Spain,England,Italy failed.Everyone in the team knows perfectly about the role they have to follow,attack (check),midfield(check),defence(check).

    I think the same goes for the Corporate world or any other occupation to succeed,one can succeed till some point or at platforms that require individual talent but a TEAM is totally different scenario and everybody has to play the part effectively to get the desired results.

    You can relate any team game to the jobs you are doing and they are very similar.The higher management has to lure new talent from market to build a new team as per manager(Coach) ,if individual perform there is hike if not then you are free to choose if you want to stay or move,if the team shows results then again there are rewards if not then reshuffling is done.

    In short if the team succeed you succeed or if you think that you can do better with a different club(read :Organization) and Team ,there are options too :).

    But in the end you should be good enough to play at any positions your team needs you in leaving what your strong position and strength is.

  19. Yes, We enjoyed game and reading nice article.

    Sportsman spirit and team spirit makes true champions.

    Hero (true leader) will influence team even without his presence.

Leave your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


It’s Not Just a Game! - Arun Nathani Blog