It must have been one of the most humiliating sporting events ever. It was the semi-finals of the 2014 Football World Cup and the host country Brazil were playing Germany for a place, obviously, in the final of the world’s most prestigious sporting competition. In case you can’t remember the result was not a defeat for Brazil but rather an annihilation. Germany scored seven times while Brazil was only able to get one goal in the dying embers of the match. It was a national disgrace. To put things in perspective, Brazil had not been beaten at home since 1975.
Seven – one, who would have believed it. The home crowd certainly didn’t. They were shocked. The faces in the crowd were streaked with tears. I doubt the German supporters believed it either.
During the whole tournament the Brazilian team had looked like amateurs and the blame was placed squarely upon the shoulders of the coach Felipe Scolari. This is the same Felipe Scolari that led Brazil to win the World Cup back in 2002. They say that you should never go back and I guess that Scolari wished that he hadn’t this time. Big Phil had gone from hero to villain.
The word amateur is an interesting one. It suggests lack of competence but it really means a person who engages in some activity, a sport or study for example, for pleasure rather than for financial gain or other professional benefits. Is pleasure the key differential between being amateur and being professional?
Scolari went on to describe his philosophy over the approach to his team. He touched on the very issue. ‘My priority is to ensure that players feel more amateur than professional.’ he said. ‘Thirty years ago the effort was the other way. Now there is so much professionalism, we have to revert to urging players to like the game, love it, do it with joy.’
His premise was clear. The game has become more and more professional but at the expense of losing the love of playing football. His approach had been to try and put some of that love and excitement back into the way that the players had played. His approach had had limited success. He had got to the semi-finals which is no mean achievement. It seemed that when the side were winning the love of the game was sufficient but when they had gone behind so early in the match the lack of professionalism showed. The team simply fell apart.
Towards the end of the game, when Brazil finally managed to score the German players were furious with each other for dropping their defensive guard. Even though the result was beyond doubt, it was certainly too late for a comeback, their professional pride was still very much in the fore.
It is an interesting concept and one that warrants further thought. How do you get your team to play for the love of what they are doing, filled with passion and spirit, but with enough professionalism so that when things do go wrong that the wheels don’t come completely off?
It is a concept worth exploring as much at work as it is in sport. I’m bound to come back to it later.