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The definition of success

A small headline appeared in a newspaper the other day – “Dhoni to become case study”. Further reading revealed that the Indian Institute of Management, in attempting to better understand leadership, will undertake an investigation of how the Indian cricket captain stays cool under pressure. The main aim of the study will be to see if his brain reacts differently in crisis situations compared to a “not-so-successful” player. A director at the business school, M.J. Xavier, stated that “the idea behind the exercise was to identify the characteristics of a successful personality and try to help develop more such leaders for the future”.

The successful sports star/team is a popular topic for this type of analysis. It is common to attempt to fathom or dissect what makes a particular athlete or team great, what it is that sets them apart from other teams and most importantly to find out if it is possible to nurture that elusive elixir to make a newer and better model? The 80’s Liverpool team, the various incarnations of Ferguson’s Manchester United team, Pep Guardiola’s close-knit group at Barcelona, Jose Mourinho – everyone tries to understand what drives them and how best they can emulate them.

There are many qualities (both tangible and intangible) required to build a successful football team. Amongst the tangible are the team owners (a sizeable bank account in the modern era is not a bad thing either), the right manager (to motivate and guide the team) and naturally the players (hopefully the cream of the crop). The intangible characteristics include the unity of purpose, a desire and will to win and overwhelming commitment to a common goal.

One of the latest teams to attempt to replicate success are the noisy neighbours from the blue half of Manchester.

The purchase of the club by the Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG) in August 2008 raised the profile of Manchester City FC significantly and the stupendous amounts of cash on offer meant that former manager, Mark Hughes, was obliged to bring in some high profile signings. The club made some headline-grabbing (and ultimately unsuccessful) bids for a number of players but ultimately the sole arrival was Robinho from Real Madrid for a transfer record of £32.5 million.

At the end of the 2008-2009 Premier League season, their quarter final appearance in the UEFA Cup and 10th position on the Premier League log were scant reward for the investment by ADUG. Hughes continued to spend money (over £100 million) prior to the start of the 2009-2010 season bringing in Gareth Barry, Kolo Toure and Carlos Tevez amongst others. However, Hughes’s time at Man City was short-lived and he was sacked in December 2009 for failing to deliver the desired results, and he was replaced by Roberto Mancini who had been kicking his heels for over a year after losing his coaching job at Inter Milan.

By the end of the 2009-2010 season, Mancini had guided the team to 5th position in the Premier League and they narrowly missed out on a qualification spot for the Champions League. In his first full season in charge, Mancini continued the spending spree with David Silva, Yaya Toure and Mario Balotelli representing some of the higher profile signings. The conclusion of the 2010-2011 season brought with it an FA Cup victory over Stoke City which was the first silverware for the club since the 1976 League Cup, and more importantly secured Champions League qualification courtesy of a 3rd place finish in the Premier League.

It would therefore appear that Man City have the required tangible elements in place to begin a transition from a not-so-successful to a successful team. The owners appear to be supportive, both in a financial sense and by publicly backing the manager and staying in the background. The manager appears to have the correct pedigree (three consecutive Serie A titles with Inter Milan and four Coppa Italia titles with Fiorentina, Lazio and Inter) and has, thus far, managed to keep the sizeable egos amongst his team in check. Having added even more players to the squad prior to the start of the 2011-2012 season, including Clichy and Nasri from Arsenal and Sergio Aguero from Atletico Madrid.

What will be most important for Man City in the coming season will be the intangible components of the team. One of the common threads with the Manchester United teams of Alex Ferguson is a never-say-die mentality every time the team plays a game. Irrespective of which players arrive and which players depart, this attitude has become inculcated in the fibre of the team and provides them with a definite advantage each time they take to the field.

Similarly, Barcelona FC have also cultivated a sense of team unity and togetherness that sets them apart from other football clubs. A lot of this is due to the fact that a core of the team (Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Puyol, Pique, Pedro and more recently Fabregas) have come through the ranks of the youth team at La Masia together. Playing together for such a long period of time has helped foster a team spirit which also provides them with something other teams may lack.

Jose Mourinho has managed to foster an “us-against-the-world” mentality at each of the teams he has so successfully managed. The self-proclaimed “Special One” has established a reputation for creating a siege mentality at Chelsea, Inter Milan and now at Real Madrid. The media outbursts and inflammatory comments are designed to take the attention off his teams, to enable them to focus on the pending games. It has worked previously during his successful stints at Chelsea, Inter and to a lesser extent in his first year at Real as he continued his trend of winning at least one trophy at each of his clubs.

At the time of writing, Manchester City have laid down the gauntlet with a storming start to the 2011-12 Premier League season having played four games, scored 15 and conceded 3 goals thus far. They will take to the field for their first Champions League game against Italian club Napoli with confidence sky high.

The true test for the Manchester City team will come when they have to play through adversity. When injuries, suspensions and poor form combine into a perfect storm, will Manchester City be able to shake the shackles of being the “not-so-successful” team?

Perhaps the answer will be revealed during a cold, rainy January mid-week fixture away to Wolves.


About Ticha Pfupajena

I'm beginning to get the sense that my career as a professional footballer may not happen. As a result, I'll try write about football and sports instead....


11 thoughts on “The definition of success

  1. I think what Mourinho and Ferguson are proving is that the top down approach works best. The vision or system needs to flow from manager to team. Players then merely become pieces on a chess board rather than autonomous and unpredictable entities pretending to be a team. This is the challenge that Mancini faces. Can he get his all stars to subcribe to his vision and to sacrifice individual glory for collective glory? This is something Ferguson rarely has to worry about. His wards know that their skills are limited thus making them more malleable and ductile in the pursuity of team glory.

    Posted by ghettogladiator1 | 14/09/2011, 09:59
    • Excellent point there. Players come and go, but the only way to guarantee sustained success is to have strong leadership and vision. The other factor that I often harp on about is the football philosophy or style at the club. Another crucial ingredient to ensuring that those chess pieces slot into the style at the club.

      Posted by Ticha Pfupajena | 14/09/2011, 10:03
    • Not too sure about the limited skills. I think their skills are restricted by having to play to SAF’s tune. You can’t tell me that the Utd players (bar Carrick and Gibson) have all of a sudden gotten skill this year. They are playing a very skillful, high tempo, short passing game created by the Dutch in the 70s and also utliized by Barca. Note how last year Utd had on average 45-50% possession and this year its about 60% including vs City Arsenal and Spurs. Its the same players. Just a different style of play. Utd makes players very versatile. Most Utd players by the end of their first year have played significant games in 2 or 3 positions. Valencia last season played at RB at times and even did so for most of the CL final

      Posted by Tafadzwa | 14/09/2011, 17:43
  2. Couldn’t agree more… No amount of money can buy trust, understanding and the passion within a team that is fundamental to achieving great things.

    Posted by mattiec | 14/09/2011, 10:03
  3. I wish R. Mancini would read your anslysis, that might give him some ideas.I think Wenger read one of your comments, his team has moved from the bottom !!

    Posted by Rose Pfupajena | 14/09/2011, 14:59
  4. I think we (City) have the strongest team on paper and if the players can gel (which so far they are) we can win the league and ‘push’ for the CL. Our strikers are all scoring and in Nasri and Silva we have the two best creative midfi…elders in the league. All fellow blues are prematurely buying their title party suits I’ll wait till we face a Chelsea or a United before I say it’s ours but I am starting to believe. Mancini is also showing his credentials and now he has the team he can be judged fairly. Even Balotelli has bucked up and is determined to prove his worth. I predict a wonderful season.

    Posted by Garikai | 14/09/2011, 21:06
  5. BMT? Dont think they will have it when it counts. Great teams have the ability to win even when they are not playing well…do City have that? Great teams have a style/philosophy of footy….do City have that? Great teams have 1 or Talismatic leaders that can kick players up the rear when the chips are down…city dont have that…not yet anyway

    Posted by Gus | 15/09/2011, 10:15
  6. I agree success gets into a teams DNA over time but not all the factors you mentioned ensure success. I think they are necessary for success but do not ensure success. You can have all the ingredients and the instructions for a chocolate cake – but until the mix bakes in the HOT oven (38 prem games + cups) you will not know if it rises or flops. Mancini already complaining about having to play away after champs league. Man city should stay in the splash pool with the kids if they cant cope with the depth of the big pool.

    Posted by Farai Dhliwayo | 19/09/2011, 13:00

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