Takeaways from a fairy tale run
Football season in England especially, and most leagues in Europe, is over. One significant takeaway, however, is that the best way to control one’s destiny is to create it. That was how newly crowned Leicester City FC came about winning the English Premier League after starting the season as outsiders. The Foxes started the season with terrible odds, chances of winning zero. So how exactly have they pulled off this remarkable feat? Luck? A magic formula?
One lesson is embedded in servant leadership. An uproar had greeted Leicester’s announcement that it would be managed by Claudio Ranieri. Gary Lineker, the club’s famous former player openly denounced the move. Many fans wondered whether the Italian coach would even make it to Christmas. But against the odds, Ranieri built on and sustained Leicester’s success in the lower leagues. The 64-year-old Italian had worked for some of the biggest teams over the past 30 years. But he has yet to clinch a major title. A strong relationship with his team did the magic because he listened to them. He trusted the players but would speak very little of tactics. This is an example of servant leadership, according to Simon Hartley, the author of Stronger Together: How Great Teams Work.
At Leicester, he had used the same players in the same formation, more than any other team in the Premiership. Seven of his starting eleven are essentially guaranteed places each week just he enforced rest days and ignored kinds of food his players eat. The manager focused on nurturing the talent he already had at his disposal, and taking calculated risks on players that other clubs might have passed on. Leicester had talented players but none was a superstar. The team the man created isn’t just about one player.
The United States sports have had their Moneyball movement, where teams starting from baseball use statistics and mathematical modeling to get better understanding of the true value of a player. People have tried to replicate Moneyball with varying success, but soccer is perhaps the worst of all sports for that to be replicated in – it lacks repetitive actions that create data points for statistics that baseball has; making it more difficult to identify attributes of players that are undervalued. Thus, Leicester invariably tried to inculcate a culture of analytics to football.
Finding undervalued talent is the fourth leadership lesson. What is even more remarkable about Leicester’s rise to fame is the fact that they did it at a fraction of the price of their competitors. Its tremendous run has beamed light on an idea often overlooked in the League – value for money! The wage bill speaks for itself. It gets the most points per pound spent of any team in the league.
The vast majority of players brought in during summer were seasoned veterans rather than rising stars. Leicester’s squad happens to be the oldest of the top five in the Premier League with an average age of 26. The club paid a total of 27 million pounds for the players it bought a little more than competitors spent just on one player. Other teams are trying to imitate its methods in the transfer market! But this direct approach isn’t an obvious path to success.
Theirs was a fairytale run, yes, but it was one that memories are made of.
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