It’s been a couple of months since I wrote about culture and behaviours; the last time being the occasion of the sacking of several Australian cricketers for cheating. The incident had then gave rise to questions around the values that Cricket Australia had fostered in their players.
This week, I’m focused on Spanish football and the debacle surrounding the sacking of the Spanish national team’s manager, Lopetegui, just two days before their first match in the World Cup against their great rivals, Portugal. Lopetegui had agreed to take a new role at Real Madrid after the World Cup, but hadn’t bothered to let the Spanish football association know. They only found out about Lopetegui’s appointment five minutes before Real Madrid announced it to the world.
By coincidence, the day before the shock announcement of Lopetegui’s sacking, I was listening to sports psychologist Damian Hughes talk about the culture of another Spanish side, Barcelona, and their efforts ten years ago to engage the players in a culture and a set of behaviours that would give Barcelona a competitive advantage.
The three behaviours that have, since that time, underpinned Barcelona’s culture are ‘humility, hard work and putting the team above your own self-interest.’
Their philosophy was very much, “Your talent will get you through the dressing room door, but it’s your behaviour that’s going to determine whether we keep you or not.” When Pep Guardiola was the manager at Barcelona, he employed former water polo legend, Manuel Estiarte, as a technical assistant and one of his duties was to watch the bench, particularly when things weren’t going so well. Guardiola wanted to know who the players were on the bench that didn’t react when chances were missed. Guardiola interpreted the lack of reaction as sulking on the part of some of those who weren’t picked to play who were not putting the team above themselves.
Someone who didn’t ever fit the culture of Barcelona was Zlatan Ibrahimivich, who was bought for €69 million in 2009 and sold for €24 million just ten ten months later. Ibrahimivich didn’t understand the culture of Barcelona and lacked the humility that they demanded. Although given the keys to a club Audi and told not to arrive at the training ground in one of his flash cars, Ibrahimivich couldn’t help himself. When things weren’t going so well for him and he was dropped from the side, Ibrahimivich arrived at work the next day in a yellow Lamborghini, betraying one of the club’s cultural behaviours, humility.
The Barcelona culture is something that Guardiola has brought with him to Manchester City, where it is evident that the players have brought in to those three cultural behaviours. This is much of the reason for them having a record breaking season in the Premier League this year.
As for the former Spanish manager, Lopetegui, it is quite obvious that his behaviour lacked humility and was definitely not putting the team above his own self-interest.
What will be interesting to see is how the Spanish team respond and where the leadership comes from within the team. It is at times like this evening’s game when teams find out who among them has those leadership qualities that are not attached to a title.
Which of the players will galvanise the team to play as a cohesive unit without the man that has led them this far?