A few days ago I saw Barcelona-Almeria. Of course I’m talking about football, or soccer, as opposed to hand-football. From an agile stand point, it was very interesting.
First let’s talk about some generalities in soccer. Like in war or food, there are waves of tendencies. Since recently, it was mainly defensive. Winning teams were the ones that had a perfect defense, and could counter-attack and score with a very high percentage. These last years, we are seeing more offensive teams that win: Holland, Germany, Barcelona… Italy is dead 😉
I won’t get through an analysis of this from the soccer, or psychoanalytic, perspective, because I couldn’t and we have other things to talk about here. This already has a meaning that I like: soccer is slowly moving from rigor and power to speed and adaptability. It’s not only that games are cooler to watch. I’m also happy to see this because it corresponds to something I deeply believe in. Groups that win are the ones that can adapt and move quickly.
Anyway, it was true that defense was the best weapon in soccer until recently, like, at Clausewitz’ time (a great strategist at Napoleon’s time, or right after), technology made defense the best weapon in war. What makes the difference now is that offensive teams could be built around talents. In these teams, every player is among the greatests at his position. And in addition, defenders can attack, and scorers can defend. I’m sure you already see the link. To build a good adaptable team, you need the best guys, and you need them to share the work in a collective way (collective code ownership).
The other reason why these teams can exist is that such players could be trained. In the past, pro players were mainly powerful guys, or guys with 4 lungs, or a few scorers that could run and shoot (for counter attacks). A few people, like in Barcelona, decided that they could win with speed and technics, and chose to select and train kids that way. It took courage, and a long-term vision. Yes, to make an agile team work, you also need good managers, who support a counter-intuitive initiative.
Let’s get back to that game in particular. It was the return match of the semi-finals of the copa del rey. Barcelona had won the first leg 5-0. So nothing could happen to them. They could still loose this game 4-0 and go to finals. Of course, this was highly unlikely. Anyway, apart from their 3 star players, the coach selected a classic team. And even the 3 stars where there, on the bench. They didn’t stay at home. The coach wanted to keep the pace, and keep everyone involved and committed. And it worked: again, they won 3-0. Even without their three star scorers. It worked because this team has a culture and the long term vision I referred to earlier. Even younger players, that play less, can do almost what the most famous ones can do.
And even when they were winning 3-0, they still wanted to score more! When Bojan had an occasion to score the 4th one, every looked sincerely happy to see that he would score, and disappointed that he couldn’t make it. Even the stars on the bench! Everyone in the team was totally committed, not only for the team, but also for the other guys individually. They truly wanted to see Bojan succeed. Isn’t it collective and sustainable?
Barcelona is probably the best soccer team in the world today. But it might also be the best team… period! Whatever the discipline. Anyway it’s a model that is relevant to have look at… whatever the discipline.