Archives for posts with tag: Soccer

»Low lie the Fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly
Our love was on the wing
We had dreams and songs to sing
Now it´s so lonely round the fields of Athenry.«

The game between Spain and Ireland was almost over. For 87 minutes, the Irish crew clearly communicated they were the worst team of EURO 2012. Spain was beating them senseless and leading 4-0.

For 87 minutes, the Irish fans had to suffer helplessly watching their team. It was so bad, you could even hear some of the Spanish fans support their team. Normally, that’s impossible when you have more than 1 Irish fan in the stand. The fans were in utter shock and disbelief. Until that moment.

»By lonely prison wall
I heard a young man calling
Nothing matters Mary when you´re free
Against the famine and the crown
I rebelled the cut me down
Now you must raise our child with dignity«

A small tornado, who knows who started it. A song amplified through thousands of alcohol-fueled voices. “The Field of Athenry”, a song about the Irish starvation period from 1846 to 1849. A classic, sung by Irish fans, or supporters of Celtic Glasgow and FC Liverpool.

And the best part? The commentator didn’t say a word. He just succumbed to the moment. You must be dead inside if you don’t get goose bumps experiencing this moment.

»Low lie the Fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly
Our love was on the wing
We had dreams and songs to sing
Now it´s so lonely round the fields of Athenry.«

For a moment, the soccer world forgot about rivalries, raciscm and even goals. For a moment, we were all Irish.

Thank you!


Let’s talk about soccer, shall we? (Worst introductory sentence ever. I’m sure 99% of my readers just ran away screaming.)

Germany always had a good soccer team. The Brazilian team in 1974 was so wonderful to watch but Germany won the cup. England played more exciting soccer in 1990 but Germany won the cup. South Korea played inspired in 2002, Germany beat them and went to the final. You can’t argue with 3 World Cup titles, 4 second places and 4 third places in 17 appearances.

Germany didn’t play the most exciting soccer. It wasn’t artful. They had a strategy and they stuck to it. No matter what. That’s why they won 3 titles and are one of the most admired national soccer teams in the world. You might not like them. You might even hate them. But you have to respect them.

What brands can learn from the German soccer team

It never ceases to amaze me how often brands express a viewpoint that goes against their carefully constructed brand strategy. They spend time and precious resources on a brand strategy, just to throw it in the trash bin when there’s a chance for short-term profits or an implication they don’t like.

Nobody says brands should stick to their strategy, no matter what. When you’re 4 goals behind, you better change your strategy or go home. The reason why brands invest in strategy is to achieve their goals in the most efficient and effective way possible. It’s a guide to make the right decision, to be reminded of your strengths and weaknesses. Strategy is the independent voice that hits the buzzer when you’re about to make idiotic, short-term decisions. If you don’t have a strategy, you can justify any tactic, any investment.

Too many brands play to the cheap seats. I’d rather play for the cup.


Everybody knows how to run our country.

Everybody has a better plan than Obama.

300 million Americans do.

Billions of Asians and Europeans do.

We have whole industries based on knowing so much more than the rest of the world: Talk Radio. Newspapers. Sports Radio. Blogs. Fashion Shows. Reality TV.

Basically, all of us think we can do a better job than anybody else.

Unfortunately, too many people can’t even do their own job properly.

I started my career in advertising as a copywriter and nothing irked me more when non-copywriters tried to improve my copywriting.

I might not like the meal in a restaurant but I would never storm in the kitchen and tell the chef what to do.

I might not like your latest song but I won’t tell the singer how to improve the song.

For some reason, people in the marketing/advertising industry think they know everything about anything.

You see account people change copy.

Copywriters request design changes.

Data analysts criticizing the Social Media plan.

Clients suddenly become commercial directors.

When did we stop trusting anyone else to do their own job?

One of the most prolific scorers in German soccer history was Gerd Mueller.

He was short.

He had no style.

You barely saw him throughout the game.

A journalist described him: “Müller was short, squat, awkward-looking and not notably fast; he never fit the conventional idea of a great footballer, but he had lethal acceleration over short distances, a remarkable aerial game, and uncanny goalscoring instincts. His short legs gave him a strangely low center of gravity, so he could turn quickly and with perfect balance in spaces and at speeds that would cause other players to fall over. He also had a knack of scoring in unlikely situations.”

And scoring he did.

He scored more goals than anybody else against other European clubs.

He won the World Cup in 1974.

He focused on his one job.


He left the brilliance to Franz Beckenbauer.

He left the strategy to his coach.

He left the media excitement to Sepp Maier.

He just scored goals.

And he was the best at it.

Don’t waste your time focusing on what other people should do.

Focus on your own job.

That’s how you win.


Throughout the World Cup, I received many emails and tweets congratulating “my team”, Deutschland, for their great tournament and playing really exciting soccer (Fussball, as I call it.). Reading German newspapers and magazines, I experienced a lot of self-congratulation for the new, exciting German soccer game, how suddenly the world loves Germans and the multi-cultural faces that played on the team. Oh yes, and 3rd place was lovely.

Enough already.

We’re talking German soccer here. We’re supposed to win each time. Sure, we won’t, but any tournament we don’t win is a loss. Period. Did you ever see the Lakers or Yankees fans celebrate a second place? Or a good loss in the Division Final? Of course not. On paper, Germany’s performance in the last 3 tournaments looks outstanding: Third place World Cup 2006, 2nd place Euro 2008 and 3rd place World Cup 2010. Great. But, where’s the trophy?

Match it up with all that nonsense talk when the US tied England in a group game and people started to celebrate it as a victory. That kind of talk will get you nowhere. Very, very quickly.

Winning organizations are like “A” students: They expect to get an “A” each time they perform. Whenever they get a “B” or worse, they’re disappointed and work hard to get back to the “A” level. Mediocre organizations are like “C” students: They get a “B-” and high-five each person they encounter. They are still not as good as the slip-up of the “A” organization but they’re ecstatic because for once they’re out of the “C” cellar. Just to slip back into it again very, very soon.

We all worked with “A” people before. They might fail, maybe even often, but they always give everything they have. They believe something can be done when others think it can’t. They can solve problems others consider unsolvable. They don’t believe in expectation of others, they have their own expectations. And, we all worked with “C” people. They might talk a big game but their actual work is sloppy. Mistakes. Not failures. Laziness. No high standards. No inner push.

If your organization does things that everyone arounds you thinks you can achieve, then your organization is just a “B” student, not pushing everyone hard enough. I’m not talking about pipe dreams, I’m talking about Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals. Rationally, you will achieve your goals when you meet certain metrics. But, that’s not fulfilling, organizational achievement. Real accomplishment and achievement comes from pushing everyone, including yourself, to the limit. Beyond the place where everybody else thinks you could ever go. As a “C” organization, you need to push for constant “A” scores. It might take a while,  a lot of “B” scores, but as long you keep up an air of excellence, deeply rooted in your organization, you are on the way to become an “A” organization.

An interesting thing happens on the way: The people that didn’t believe in you and your organization in the beginning, will be starting to believe in you. And these people will do everything they can to make you even more successful. Nothing in your balance sheet might have changed, you still employ the same people, deal with the same stakeholders – a mindset of excellence will change everything.

My kid’s Karate teacher said to the class a few days ago: ” When you want to tear a piece of paper with your hand, you don’t aim for the paper. You don’t aim for a small space behind the paper. You aim for a place 2,000 miles beyond the paper.”

Shoot for the stars.

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The World Cup is upon us and as a lifelong soccer fan and player, I reflected on a few insights that the soccer game taught me that can be applied to small and large businesses.

1. Embrace and live your culture

I started playing soccer when I was 5. We practiced twice a week and played each Saturday. Raised in Germany, our practice consisted of 90 minutes running and 30 minute playing time. Fairly insane when you think about it: forcing 5-year-olds to run for 90 minutes through the forest or doing laps after laps. But that’s the German culture for you. We were no masters on the ball but my team could outrun anyone. We won 90% of our games in the last 10 minutes because we never tired. (I hope there’s more balance in today’s practices in Germany, though)

Each country has a specific soccer culture: the playfulness of Brazil, the physical intimidation of England, the defensive discipline of Italy, the exuberance of African teams. While you need to embrace and live your culture to be successful, you shouldn’t fall in love with it and be always open to change. Brazil wasn’t a dominant force in the 70’s and 80’s because they focused too much on playfulness and not enough on execution. Once they added execution into the mix, matches and World Cup’s were won again.

2.) Hire entrepreneurs

Most soccer coaches last only for a few years. It’s a tough job to gather all your players from clubs all over the world, fight internal bureaucracies and deal with the press. Coaches, just like players, are superstars. They have to take huge risks in order to succeed and most of them fail. Just to rise on some other bench to try it again.

Soccer is a team sport but individual decisions make or break a team. The collective approach to soccer will always fail. Both coach and player are entrepreneurs, and the more creativity they display, the more leeway they are given. Coach and players have two different tools of influence to impact the outcome of the game.

The coach can create a cohesive, yet competitive culture that rewards creativity and innovation, build team spirit and nurture team culture. He has strategic tools at his hand (formations, substitutions, etc.) but his input won’t lead to innovation or moving the game to a new level.

This is done by 22 feet of 11 individual players. Players innovate on a daily basis to get a small but significant competitive advantage. They need to surprise other players with new ways of dribbling, moving, passing and reacting. The coach is there to create the right environment for players to innovate. Daily. With every move.

3.) Dramatic innovation is rare. Daily innovation a must.

As a soccer aficionado, it’s very interesting to watch games from the past and compare them to today’s sport. The game was much slower, formations not as fluid as they are today and positions have been redefined over the years. But, what’s even more intriguing is that these changes take years to really come to life. Franz Beckenbauer perfected the position of “Libero”, the “sweeper” before the goal-keeper, freeing him from marking a direct opponent. (Rather revolutionary, if you think about it: Instead of marking a person, you’re defending a zone.) He played his first World Cup in 1966, not really filling the position of Libero yet. In 1970, he showed massive improvements on this new style of play but it took him until 1974, when he crowned his career with a World Cup win and a performance that showcased his evolution from support player to innovator.

Innovation didn’t happen in one game. It happened over more than a decade. And influenced generations to come.

4.) Don’t blame technology. Don’t worship technology. Just use it.

Each time the World Cup comes around, there’s a lot of talk about the new ball. Some people fear it, some embrace it. Most players don’t care. The ball is just a tool they use to accomplish a task. Because it’s new, players will have to find the challenges/dead spots when handling or shooting it. Introducing a new ball right ahead of the biggest sporting event seems wrong. But it is a great way to determine the best playing team and the team that answered this challenge with a strong creative approach. There’s nothing to fear. And a lot to explore.

5.) Play. Hard.

I could write about the beauty of soccer, get all poetic and philosophical. But the real beauty of this sport is that’s it’s still a game. When players have a creative thought, they can implement this idea immediately. And fail. Or succeed. At the heart of American Football is strategy. Creativity is not rewarded. At the heart of soccer is creativity. (Based on a foundation of technical excellence, supreme conditioning and mental toughness.)

Tomorrow the World Cup begins. A clean slate. For all we know, North Korea might win it this time. Or South Africa. History exists only in the books and in our heads. On the grass, there’s no history. Just opportunity. Possibilities. The best playing team will win the tournament.

And, that’s the most important lesson soccer can teach business: Business is a game that reinvents itself each and every day. The basic rules remain the same, your team defines how to play with these rules creatively. As an executive, it’s your responsibility to assemble the best players, to lay down the rules and develop plans. At the end of the day, the players have to play to move your business. Let them play. And enjoy each moment of it.