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Victory in the Face of Defeat



It’s tough starting an article when I was hoping to be celebrating an England victory


Perhaps it was crazy to dream, but I believe that dreams are an important aspect of our lives. Without dreams and ambitions life lacks hope. In spite of the profound disappointment yesterday I am going to write this anyway, but with a number of caveats.


The Business of Football



Photo: Lesly Juarez


Throughout Southgate’s tenure managing the National Team I have been interested to see his approach to this management task. Whatever the result in this campaign he has transformed ‘The Lions’. It has also been interesting to see how he has united his 26-man squad and engendered pride in this diverse group of young players. There is a leadership pipeline there for sure. We have depth and strength, breadth, and creativity all highly attractive qualities in a business sense. Let’s face it, football is a business, and this side is England’s investment and considerable asset even though last night felt like a tragedy.


Don’t always surround yourself with people who know what you know



Photo: Quino Al


So, what can we learn from the man who right now will be planning what happens next and how the hurt is going to be expunged as the World Cup begins in 2022? What is pertinent, I feel, is how Southgate has showed his passion and commitment quietly and confidently. There has been no posturing, no bluff just thoughtful observation, care and analysis. What I have also noticed is how his group of advisers are not just those steeped in football tradition.

Risk backed by data and thoughtful tactics is no longer so risky


I have seen this in my 20+ years in business where echo chambers are set up and all that comes back is affirmation that the boss is doing the right thing. Being comfortable is the danger here. What would have happened if Kane had been taken off, we kept changing formation to bring the Italians more discomfort ? It was too shocking to contemplate but risk backed by data and thoughtful tactics maximises opportunities not ‘doing what we have always done’.


I thought everyone else thought like me


Matthew Syed, Olympian, and author of Black Box Thinking wrote an article last week for the BBC about Southgate’s willingness to seek advice from those operating outside football. He talked about our default need to be with people that think just like us. Social media has demonstrated just how true this is. Anyone that joined ‘Remainer' groups in the Brexit debate and saw their feeds dominated by anti-Brexit rhetoric would have been shocked to learn the result of the referendum. The thought would have been, ‘But I thought everyone else thought like me’ They don’t.


By bringing in different types of experts then further breadth is added to knowledge.


What is the point of bringing someone in who knows what you know? What about bringing in Mavericks and those who ask the ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ questions? You know the ones you have forgotten to ask like, ’why do we always do things this way?’


When should we throw caution to the wind?



Photo: Mark König


A female colleague of mine opined after the match, ‘Why didn’t Southgate remove Harry Kane?’ I was stunned, ‘Why would he do that I asked?’ ‘because the Italians had all but neutralised him. We needed a different formation, another approach, something left field that would confound them like we did at the beginning.’ ‘I suppose’ I replied, ‘After all, there was no way we could defend a slender one nil lead over the Italians of all people. It was a risk too far. We had to throw caution to the wind and utilise this famous 26 man squad to the max.’


There are two things about this conversation that surprised me


Firstly, I had never imagined my colleague was a) that passionate about football and b) that she was thinking so deeply about solutions to this conundrum. Whether this perspective is right or wrong it proves that we can become entrenched in our own thinking and what we expect from people. We need to shake it up and keep seeking out those that give us a different narrative. You may not agree with a particular perspective, but it gives your own thinking a jolt.


Is your thinking open to suggestion and opportunity?


Looking at the English line up at the start of the match and the players consoling one another at the end it struck me how this loss will inevitably make us much stronger. Our diversity, compassion and talent are real strengths. We have an intelligent and controlled national coach who is open to suggestion and opportunity. He epitomises the strengths we need in our business leadership teams. If only the English fans showed the same stoicism and good manners. Last night’s behaviour will not doubt be a nail in the UK’s bid to host further prestigious tournaments.


We know that Southgate has hit rock bottom in the past and has shown remarkable resilience to then go on and lead a national team to new heights. Last night was a hammer blow, and it will require a period of recovery but I think we all know this team is ready for just about any future challenge.


Time to Question our Thinking



Photo: Tim Mossholder


I asked my friend, who I usually discuss marketing with, about her interest in football. ‘Oh, I used to coach Under 10s years ago.’ Well, I never knew that’ I replied, ‘You never asked’ she said. So, maybe it’s time we all asked ourselves questions about what we can learn from what has just happened, questions such as:


  • Do I rely on certain tried and tested individuals regardless of situation?

  • Do I deploy the full talent available to me?

  • Do I keep asking uncomfortable questions or do I put them in ‘the too difficult tray’?

  • Am I prepared to take the ultimate risk against expectation?

  • Do I keep questioning everything I do?

  • Am I surrounded by an echo chamber?

  • Do I challenge my thinking every single day?

  • Do I regularly reappraise what people can offer?


This is a start and I thank Southgate and the team for the month of hope, joy and pride they have encouraged in all of us. We look forward to 2022 with real anticipation and take all our learnings with us.


If you are looking to strengthen your squad or further enhance your executive team then why not give me a call and discuss what we might achieve together.