Not Too Xabi: A Suit-and-Tie Preview of the World Cup

Selección

Not sure if you have heard, but the World Cup starts today. Time for one magnificent, unadulterated month of flag-waving, “Golazo!”-yelling, sometimes rage-quitting bliss. 32 teams, 8 groups, 1 more great Shakira World Cup song, and the world’s brightest and greatest stars (well, most of them at least). Once every four years, countries assemble in the great international turf war for glory. And here I am, in the United States, a country where soccer still only has a niche following. Despite recent gains in popularity, a large majority of people still can’t get excited about the sport. But there is something a lot of people do get excited about- business. So instead, I’m going to be decidedly un-hardcore and link business to this year’s World Cup field. Some numbers, look-ins at four key entities in this year’s tournament, and my personal predictions abound. Here comes a preview unlike any other that you’ve read.

Included Herein:

Playing with a Venn Diagram | Bosnia and Herzegovina | Spain | Neymar | Jürgen Klinsmann | Fun with Numbers | Personal Predictions

Every team’s World Cup chances

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If you’ve watched France and England, this past decade, you’ll realize why this makes sense.

 

Bosnia and Herzegovina is your favorite startup.

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In business, many startup companies think they have a product or service that can improve upon an existing solution or solve a distinct problem. So these companies enter the market, and they mostly flounder (true story, the rate of failure for startups is somewhere between 80% to 90%, depending on your reference). Very few companies actually are able to come in, disrupt the market, and make a name for themselves. This is the company that you want to invest in early. This is the company that can mess up a lot of other competitors’ business models. This is the company that comes out of nowhere to suddenly get a million dollars on a Kickstarter campaign. And you love a good underdog story, because of course you do.

Well, in this year’s World Cup, BiH is that startup. They are the only first time team qualifying for the World Cup this year. But that’s not enough. Bosnia and Herzegovina will come in looking to crush more than a few dreams. They’re a relatively small country, with just under a population of 4 million people and just under 20,000 sq. miles in area. They are given less than 1% chance of winning the tournament. By all accounts, Bosnia and Herzegovina are legitimate underdogs.

But being an underdog alone does not a successful startup make. You have to be able to do damage once you’re in the market. You need talent to do that. And this team has talent in spades. Midfielder Miralem Pjanić is a key contributor for AS Roma in Italy’s Serie A (1st division) league. Goalkeeper Asmir Begović is a solid starter for Stoke City in the English Premier League. Attacker Vedad Ibiševič scored 10 goals with 3 assists last season for VfB Stuttgart in the Germany’s formidable 1st division league, the Bundesliga. And to top it off, BiH has star striker Edin Džeko, who just came off a Premier League campaign in which he scored 16 goals to go with 8 assists for the champions Manchester City. So yeah, to say this team has a little talent is actually an understatement. And here’s the best part: Bosnia and Herzegovina have a very realistic chance of finishing top 2 in a relatively weak group (after Argentina, unless something goes really awry).

As if that weren’t enough, they have got a compelling purpose. Many teams are unified in themes of nationality and patriotism. But BiH isn’t just unified, they have a recent war torn history that many of the players had to live through. They know exactly what all of them are playing for (hint: not individual glory). Take this quote from Džeko:

I had a very sad childhood in the middle of a siege. Our house was destroyed so we had to move in with our grandparents in Sarajevo. The whole families – maybe 15 people – were crammed into an apartment of 35 square meters. I was only young and I cried often. Every day you could hear the guns firing.

Yeah, go ahead; invest in them now before it’s too late. You know you’re going to enjoy watching this team tear up the script.

 

Spain is the great champion of a systematic approach.

Spain's Casillas lifts up the trophy after defeating Italy to win the Euro 2012 final soccer match at the Olympic stadium in Kiev

Spain is a dynasty. They are unquestionably great. The only remaining question for La Roja is if the current version of them can be considered the best team ever. If you are a basketball fan and have watched the Spurs, you know that despite having an absurd three future Hall-of-Famers and one of the best young small forwards in the league, they are known more for their system, and the beautiful, efficient brand of basketball that they play. Well, that’s Spain. Spain has an embarrassment of riches on their roster, from goalkeeper Iker Casillas to defenders Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos to midfielders Sergio Busquets, Xavi, and Iniesta, to striker Diego Costa. This team is almost unfairly stacked. Several of their players are among the top 10, top 20 players in the world. Yet, Spain is known for their tiki-taka system. In fact, they did tiki-taka before the Spurs.

In business, especially with startups, it can get chaotic often, and your organization needs a system for its processes and how it operates. You need a plan. In the mortgage world, we swore by our greatness tracker, which was about algorithmically breaking down the metrics and tasks we needed to accomplish each week in order to increase our profitability. How many face-to-face conversations do we need? How many “thank you” cards do we need to write? How many high-level phone calls do we need to make? It can be hard to follow a system. It’s daunting at first, you may not fully get it, you may want to go with your instincts or experience, etc. But the great thing about a system is that if you trust in it, it will always reward you. A systematic approach keeps you on track. A systematic approach allows you to simply do your job. A systematic approach keeps the entire company whirring like a finely tuned motor. Watched “The Wolf of Wall Street?” Leo DiCaprio didn’t hire the brightest or greatest people to help him initially build Stratton Oakmont. He hired a few chumps and gave them a system. Because, here’s the rub: regardless of how talented your team or your staff is, if they buy into a proper system, your organization is guaranteed to improve.

Back to soccer, the tiki-taka­ ­system puts a premium on possession, short passing, and constant movement. Spain has players who buy into this system, despite their individual greatness. Many of them could start taking on defenders one-on-one all the time, but they don’t. They are adept dribblers, precision passers, pressuring defenders, and masterful playmakers. Talent makes them great. Tiki-taka has made them a dynasty for the ages.

 

Neymar and Brazil are a case study in supply and demand.

Brazil v Zambia

Brazil is a team with a ridiculous soccer history. They’ve won the World Cup more than anyone else, they’re the only country to have been in every World Cup, and at every point, they’ve fielded some of history’s best players- Tostão and Pele to Ronaldinho and Kaka, etc. Basically, Brazil is the truth when it comes to soccer.

Brazil has an insatiable need for soccer, and each generation of Brazilian soccer has an insatiable need for a superstar. After the days of Ronaldinho and Kaka, who was going to be the world-beater for this generation? This Brazilian team isn’t as much of a monstrosity up front in attack as years past. Brazil has a gaping demand for not just a superstar, but also a goal-scorer, a creative attacker.

In basic economics, there’s usually a market. In that market, many customers have various demands. That demand is attempted to be filled by producers. Well, this is the soccer market. There are countries that have various demands. Argentina needs a defender, Portugal need a player to complement Ronaldo, etc. And soccer academies and various outlets are the producers that hope to raise up the elite players to meet that demand. This is not a market in equilibrium by any means. There is always more demand than supply. But sometimes, the madness works, and a consumer is able to obtain the one thing they have a glaring demand for.

Supply, meet demand. Neymar, meet Brazil. He’s only 22, he’s basically a prodigy, and many consider him already a top 5 player in the world. He plays with a youthful arrogance and probably has the best agility on the ball of anyone in the world. He’s an elite dribbler and great passer, but most importantly, he’s the glory-boy finisher with a personality that speaks for itself. He’s currently the most flamboyant player in the world. Yes, more so than Cristiano Ronaldo. He was brought on to be Messi’s sidekick (and possibly, successor) at fabled FC Barcelona. Neymar is Brazil’s superstar with the talent and a uniquely recognizable personal brand.

There could be a hundred different reasons Brazil are the overwhelming favorites in this year’s tournament. All of those reasons begin and end with Neymar.

 

Jürgen Klinsmann is CEO, and he’s going to stick to his business model.

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Now here’s the American portion of this preview, before someone starts accusing me of not having national pride. The USMNT KlinsMen (trademark pending) are constructed in Jürgen Klinsmann’s image. They are being molded according to his vision. He is the boss, and like it or not, he’s running the show.

CEOs manage the company, and they need to do what they feel is in the best interest of the company, what aligns most closely with the company’s goals. The CEO is the leader, director, and chief decision-maker. The head honcho, if you will. They have highest authority, save for the board of directors. A lot of times, they do have to make tough, even unpopular decisions. They have to trust their beliefs and their plan.

Jürgen Klinsmann is such a person. He was brought in for a singular purpose: improve the standing of United States soccer in the international community. Right now, the US is in the midst of a great run of form, having looked, dare-I-say, spectacular in their lead up to the World Cup, earning a world ranking in the teens. Of course, the World Cup is yet to be played, but it’s hard to say based on the early returns that Klinsmann is not doing his job. And yet, most people now know him as that traitor who cut Landon Donovan, the greatest US player of all time. Heck, mainstream media personalities like Michael Wilbon are telling him to leave the country. And if you notice the USMNT roster, it is composed of a mix of veterans and young talent, many of them recruited internationally. It is Klinsmann’s team. He doesn’t care what you think. He has expended all his resources bringing in talent that can play his style of game while smartly setting up the team for the future. Underperforming veterans aren’t given a pass. CEOs need to have a ruthless, bottom-line personality, and Jürgen Klinsmann is just what the doctor ordered for United States soccer. In Klinsmann, I trust.

 

Fun with Numbers

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-According to Sponsorship intelligence, 715.1 millionwatched the 2010 World Cup. Some other measurements have gauged the figure to be in the 400 million range. For the American masses who watch the Super Bowl, that’s a viewership figure that is somewhere between 4x and 7x the largest-ever Super Bowl audience. Eye-popping.

-The World Cup will cost Brazil over $13.7 billion (according to InspirAction), while the lift to the economy will be “short-lived” and about $11 billion (according to Moody’s). Without going into nitty gritty details about what happens to the facilities beyond the World Cup, etc., that’s a net loss, and that’s no bueno for FIFA, which annually trumpets the economic lift provided by the prestige of an event such as the World Cup. Maybe it’s time to get back to basics. No wonder most of the Brazilian population is protesting it.

-The record attendance at a World Cup match was set in 1950, ironically, also in Brazil. The number was 199, 854 people. The Super Bowl meanwhile, as the benchmark of sporting events in the US, has only drawn 100,00+ people 5 times, topping out at 103, 985 back in 1980. That’s almost half of the World Cup max.

-Host country Brazil have won the World Cup a record 5 times, followed by Italy with 4 wins, and Germany with 3. Of all the 204 countries that attempt to qualify every year, you’d think a lot of quality teams have won the World Cup. However, there have only been 8 champions in World Cup history (Brazil, Italy, Germany, Argentina, Uruguay, England, France, Spain). What happened to parity?

 

Personal Preview

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So you can find my bracket right above. A few notes:

-Croatia over Mexico in the second spot for Group A. Croatia has some star talent like Luka Modrić and Mario Mandžukić (after suspension). I’m going with the talent over a team that got lucky with a lifeline from a US win in the hexagonal.

-Sorry US, but you’re not making it out of Group G. Maybe if you had been gifted an obscenely easy group like E or H, maybe (looking at you Switzerland and Russia).

-Chile over the Netherlands in Group B. Chile has Arturo Vidal, who is the best box-to-box, versatile player in the world today, plus attacker Alexis Sánchez, who just finished fourth in goals scored in Spain’s La Liga. Don’t sleep on them, especially over an aging Netherlands squad.

-My heart really wants England to claim the second spot is Group D. And by the time the next cup comes around, they might well be in position to. But Uruguay has Luis Suarez, who is a talent unlike any on the English side right now. Suarez just finished one of the most successful goal scoring campaigns in Premier League history.

-In the second round, I have a surprise. Bosnia-Herzegovina, my favorite dark horse, will beat France. France has never been able to put it together on the international stage, and they are without Franck Ribéry. BiH has the talent to put it together in the right situation. Unfortunately, they don’t make it out of my third round. Germany’s too good. But still, no shame.

-Portugal will meet Argentina in undoubtedly a World Cup match for the ages in my third round. Argentina wins. This is their year, and I’m fully supporting them over a Portugal team that still doesn’t know who will complement Ronaldo.

-I’ve got Brazil beating Germany, and Argentina beating Spain. Brazil are overwhelming favorites, so that should be no surprise. But cracks are starting to appear in Spain’s armor. Their players are slowly aging, and more powerful, athletic teams are gradually starting to catch up to them. Argentina has the best player in the world. They’re starting to play a better, free-flowing style that exhibits their attacking talent, and puts those players in optimal spots, unlike the clunky formations of Maradona.

-And for the kicker, Argentina over Brazil for the hardware. Pick one. Coin flip. Whatever I won’t argue. I’m on the Argentina bandwagon this year.

Leo Messi and Sergio Aguero will wage war on opposing goalkeepers.

 

 

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