If you have been following football news in the past year or so, you probably have seen the rollercoaster of events that have transpired back in April 2021.
If you haven’t, well you might have missed out on one of the craziest stories in modern sports history.
But that’s okay. I’ll tell you about it here…and I’ll tell you what we’ve learned from it.
How a modern football story taught us a valuable lesson
Basically, on Sunday, the 18th of April 2021, football fans like myself were enjoying watching our favourite teams play…up until the news broke.
Twelve clubs from three of the top football leagues in Europe announced — almost out of the blue — that they are forming a breakaway league called the “European Super League”, out of which they cannot be relegated; sort of a “founders keepers” type of thing.
That means, whatever happens, even if they lose all their games, those clubs would still keep their position in the league thanks to their “founders’ privilege”.
The difference from existing European competitions is that, conventionally, teams have to earn their positions by securing enough points in their domestic leagues. In other words, win more domestically, and you earn the right to compete at the highest level with other top teams.
But with this, it was rather based on another reason. Self-proclaimed as “the world’s greatest clubs”, these twelve clubs argued that such a distinct league would be the most entertaining football campaign for the foreseeable future, where top teams would challenge each other week in, week out; a campaign that would rather secure high revenues for these teams, mostly from broadcasting rights.
This took almost everyone by surprise, from the fans to the media, the governing organisations, and even the players and managers of those twelve teams.
And then…hell broke loose!
In the following days, almost everyone showed their utter rejection of this proposal. Criticism and questions began raining down on the owners of these clubs.
It took about 48 hours, and clubs began withdrawing. The domino effect kicked in, and the European Super League was suspended before it even started.
But why did everyone reject this when it was claimed to be the “most entertaining”?
As a fan of one of those twelve clubs, I was involved in this conversation. And being involved allowed me to notice interesting patterns and reasons for the reactions against this proposal.
Those turned out to be in line with three principles that I have been studying and following in different aspects of my life…
…and I want to tell you about them.
1. Communication induces trust
One of the most evident issues in this sequence of events was the lack of communication, especially with the fans. A decision that can influence not only the inherent structure of the game but also the lives of people in and around the game was made without consulting those people. This caused an eruption of negative emotions centred around mistrust and disappointment. The people felt let down and were afraid that the things they care about so much — as in their beloved club and football itself — were slipping away from them.
The risk of losing trust with people around you can escalate quickly when you do not communicate with them properly. And communication goes both ways. It is not a one-way street. Even if you think you have higher believability or higher authority in a particular context, it is crucial to communicate with the people who are involved or influenced by your decisions. This may not make them trust you, but it sure does minimise the risk of them mistrusting you.
2. Meritocracy is key to a successful culture
Football is arguably one of the greatest examples of a merit-based system. Players train and perform to the best of their abilities in order to climb up the ladder and play at the highest level. Teams try to find the best players and best structures that can help them win championships and earn their spots in the top leagues. That is why the Super League proposal was rejected by the majority of clubs and players. For the twelve founding clubs, the privilege of “not being relegated” goes against the very core of the football pyramid — merit.
This reminded me of the work principle of “idea meritocracy”, explained thoroughly by Ray Dalio in his book, Principles (highly recommended book!). He defines idea meritocracy as “a decision-making system where the best ideas win out.” This system functions on three fundamental practices: sharing one’s honest thoughts or ideas with everyone involved, having thoughtful disagreements that would lead to forming better decisions, and having protocols in place to deal with disagreements if they persist.
“An idea meritocracy is a decision-making system where the best ideas win out.”
In other words, the success of a team or culture is best reached when ideas are evaluated based on merit. And in order to have an effective evaluation, there are four underlying concepts that allow idea meritocracy to prevail. These are radical truthfulness, radical transparency, meaningful work and meaningful relationships. If you are interested in reading more about these concepts, check out Dalio’s inspiring article on the success of his company, Bridgewater.
3. Failure should be part of the game
This is most likely not news for you. You’ve probably heard it everywhere, but it doesn’t make it any less true. Many of us try to avoid failure for many possible reasons, like the fear of losing credibility or position, fear of judgement, the need to be right, perfectionism, etc… However, little did we know that failure is perhaps the best way to learn and grow. And the bigger the failure, the bigger the lesson.
In the proposed Super League, the rule of “no relegation” for founding clubs epitomises the misguided endeavours of avoiding failure. And this can lead to all sorts of problems, including lack of fairness, lack of competition, and lack of value for ability. In a world of merit, the competent succeeds and the incompetent fails. This continues to be the case until the incompetent gains enough competence that earns them success.
If there is one thing that I have learned in my personal growth, it is to embrace failure as a stepping stone towards my future self, and I recommend you do the same.