Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Quietly winning World Cups

We have our final eight teams and with one major exception, they are much as expected: Brazil, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Germany, Argentina, Colombia and Costa Rica. According to FIFA, who are wrong about nearly everything, even Costa Rica isn’t that great a surprise - the surviving teams are ranked no. 2, 3, 5, 8, 11, 15, 17 and 28 in their pre-tournament listings.

Among many stories of the Cup so far – including the success of incisive attacking, the failure of Asian teams and (sigh) Luis Suarez, one key factor that’s been overlooked has been the success of the understated. The ever-increasing queries as to Suarez's psychological capacity to cope with big occasions now creates even more questions for one-day fantasy sports owners.

Arguably the three most impressive teams this cup – the Dutch, French and Colombian outfits – are all helmed by managers with impressive track records yet who have been (remarkably, in some cases) quiet about their team’s chances. No sweeping statements, no auspicious team selections – simply an almost-implacable certainty in their players and tactics.

It helps that all three teams have enviable talent pools from which to draw – albeit reduced by the absence of some of the world’s best – but managing precocious talent requires more than rolling the ball out and saying “Let’s play” (sorry, ‘Arry). All three teams came to the Cup hopeful, but hardly expecting Finals berths – the Netherlands were tipped by many not to exit Group B, France took years to right their imposing battleship the friendly-fire that was Raymond Domenech, while the 2014 World Cup is Colombia’s first in nearly two decades.

Not only does a tournament tactical plan need to be suited to his players (Spain) and capable of defeating their opposition (Chile or Mexico), but that plan also needs to be communicated effectively.

That communication then influences – and is in turn influenced by – a coach’s public persona, which governs their interactions with the slavering world media. Louis van Gaal, Didier Deschamps and Jose Pekermann have done that in spades. France’s clinical forward play and late-game Dutch heroics are contrasted by Colombia’s languid brilliance, but the players are obviously playing for a coach and a system in which they collectively believe. The message is good – but its communication might be even better. 

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