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.