21 June 2010

Everyone is talking about the World Cup and in particular the performance of the England team. Much is made of the money they earn and the lack of spirit they demonstrate. For everyone  sitting on the sidelines (some who have saved and spent a considerable sum to go to Africa) this is a particularly upsetting state of affairs.

So what is wrong?

I am someone who enjoys a challenge and I spend time observing behaviour. So England’s performance and particularly the reaction of Wayne Rooney interested me immediately. I remember meeting Coleen Rooney and her dad and brother whilst on holiday in the Caribbean at Sandy Lane. I didn’t spend much time with them, but enough to understand their values and the sort of people they are. Clearly hardworking, proud working-class Brits (if there is such a thing anymore.) It would be safe to say therefore that Wayne Rooney is no different, and from watching him play on occasions for Manchester United his hardworking roots show through.

So why are so many people blaming Rooney and the team for the poor performance. It seems fair, after all they are the ones who are on the pitch. We in our millions however vocal cannot influence the game from our armchairs.

For Rooney to be that vocal about his performance and react so negatively to the fans, it shows he clearly has nowhere else to turn. Somewhere, someone is calling the shots and I assume that is the manager and he has not got the buy in from his players.

The negative attitude from the team demonstrates they do not agree with something pretty important with the current England set up. Be it the formation, selection, the banning of the wives. Somewhere behind the scenes there is a clear undercurrent undermining the manager.

So how do you combat this situation and get the team back gelling?

It is a very difficult one to fix, especially during a competition. Clive Woodward a man who knows what it is like to create a team that lifted the Rugby World Cup referred to certain individuals as “energy zappers.” He identified these energy zapping people and removed them from the team and eventually the squad. He got a great deal of resistance too from the rugby community who couldn’t understand why he kept out great players.

In my opinion the England manager is making some pretty basic mistakes of leadership and management. He has set his stall out, banning the wives, picking the team and creating the formation and it looks very much like he has not got the buy-in from his team members.

It is one thing to ban the wives, which incidentally is a good idea. However if you do not  sit husbands and wives around a table and explain what and why you are doing something, all you are going to do is create an army of influential people ganging up and undermining from the sidelines, and as they are not allowed on the sidelines they are probably on the phone ranting after and before every training session and game.

What Capello should have done was sit the wives and girlfriends down with the players, explain the importance of this once in a lifetime opportunity and got their agreement that 100% focus and commitment is required. He should have treated it as a military campaign almost as if they were off to war. He should have encouraged zero communication from friends and family throughout the tournament. Imagine the power of the players and the feeling of camaraderie amongst the team if he’d done this. All the players feeling and sharing the emotions together, not being able to rely on anyone else but themselves. Instead, he has created a nightmare for the players who are trying to keep their wives happy from 60 miles away. Not the sort of focus you want your players consummed with.

In this sort of environment he has a group of WAGS furious with the whole set up and hell bent on undermining it at every level.

On the pitch this was evident that the players made a public show that they do not agree with the current set up.

Whatever he does at this point is going to be scrutinised by the players. So the fact that he has now made a few odd selections and left out good friends and players who they can rely on, means that they start to question the whole set up. Throw in a formation that they dislike and hey presto, you have Friday night’s performance down to a tee.

So how do you fix it?

That is a really good question. Firstly the manager needs to listen. He has a difficult task ahead. He will have a lot of ideas thrown at him. Some good, some bad. He cannot agree with them all, yet change is necessary. If he wants to save face then he is finished and the boys will be on the next flight home. If he is big enough and he can sit down and have a sensible discussion and allow the team to contribute, he has a chance.

Whatever he decides, he needs to get the buy in of every player. Each player needs to understand their roles with in the team selection.

But to get them to “get onside” at this stage is particularly difficult as many managers have failed in the past. The main problem here is that the professional football player is overpaid and underworked. He has an entourage of yes men following him and his friends and family and they are treated not like celebrities, but more like Gods.

How do you manage someone with a massive ego, it’s not easy. So how do you manage a squad full of massive egos. Why anyone would want to be a football manager I don’t know!

His only hope is to remind them that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. This is England! The problem is he is NOT English and if he tries to wave flag it may be more like a red rag to a british bulldog.

Deep down, all the players want to do is make their friends and families and the millions of well wishers proud. They have one chance. I have just seen Gerrard on the TV talking about a team talk they are all about to go to and his statement to the camera reinforces what I say here. He mentioned that Anelka was sent home for speaking his mind, then paused before adding, well there may be a few of us on the way home then.

I have come across situations like this from time to time in business. It is easy to make a change in the hope that this will solve a bigger problem you may have, only to find out it compounds the issue. Sometimes I feel that I may listen too much. but at least if I have made a mistake, I know somewhere someone will speak up and set me straight.

It’s a balancing act, keeping your team happy and getting the results. The 2 are closely linked. Damage one and you damage the other. Get the spirit right and you can achieve anything. It is a quest that I strive for and continue to analyse. It is the ultimate puzzle. If you leave it, it stagnates and if you tinker too much you distract it. It requires care and attention and also great people on board. And it is the great people that invariably end up running the team. A good manager should not have to do anything, just observe. Sadly I am not there yet, but I am getting closer.

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