This week the biggest English football competition was won by Leicester City. This was highly unexpected. A year ago they were almost relegated, yet now, after a season of consistency, solidarity, modesty, communal work and in the manager Claudio Ranieri an inspirational coach, they won a prize ‘against all odds’. In all probability it will not happen again. It was a season of a string of strong performances that were held together by great qualities. All of which you can read about here http://www.straitstimes.com/sport/football/football-leicester-city-crowned-english-premier-league-champions-for-the-first-time
But not here.
I am simply going to list six lessons from the fact.
- Victory is temporary. Life’s default is generally that of slow progress or slow regress and it’s usually mundane. When something great happens it should be celebrated, lived and treasured. Leicester City has had successes before now. Two years ago they were promoted, as champions from the league beneath the elite and in 2000 they won a cup. What was extraordinary this year is that they won something that most people, themselves included, didn’t even think they were competing for. As the football year unfolded they found themselves, willy-nilly, ever nearer the top. The moment of eventual success was still a surprise and its power will feed memories and lore for decades to come.
- Coincidence matters. During the same time period (August 2015 to May 2016) that Leicester unearthed a hidden champion from within, all the other contenders faded away. The three most auspicious teams faded in stages, Chelsea went early on, two more in the middle phase (Manchester City & Arsenal) and another contender faded out near the end. Leicester City were the train that kept a rollin’ (Tiny Bradshaw 1951 http://www.thecurrent.org/feature/2013/02/19/train-kept-a-rollin-history). The lesson: keep awake while others sleep / slip.
- Not Under Pressure. Expectations were kept low and this reduced the pressure that could have halted the team’s efforts. Football writers often describe sides that are near the top as suffering from vertigo or of ‘bottling’ or ‘choking’ when they realise what success lies in front of them. Ranieri kept hopes modest. His first quest was to survive, to obtain the 40 points that meant they would stay in the top division. Once that was achieved, he talked about finishing in the top half of the table. After that it was to qualify for European competition the next season. It was only when the end was within sight that he confessed that they could become champions. The coach’s modest proclamations were convincing and heartfelt and protected the team’s emotions from the fears of success and fears of failure. By playing every moment with a mindfulness, the pressure never appeared to approach boiling point. It may have been so behind the scenes, but the affable Italian kept smiling and protecting and allowed the assassin to remain hidden. Just in case.
- Controlled environments. By behaving this way, the manager was able to control atmospheres and environments wherever his team went. He allowed them to party when they had gaps in their schedule and invited to train hard upon return. He gave them responsibility and trust and it was repaid with a hug.
- Enjoy the Surprise & ignore expectations. Observers have already noted how other ‘small’ teams will now feel empowered to reach beyond their expected grasp. Some might succeed; most will fail as the Goliaths regroup and re-purchase. This shock has been joyous because of its slow motion unfurling. It was not due to luck but due to baby steps, the seizing of moments and flexible plans.
- Lesson the Last: English is not phonetic. Although Mr Ranieri has worked abroad (from Italy) for many years and is a linguist, there was a point when he took time to learn how to pronounce ‘Leicester’ properly. Think of how many commentators mispronounce players’ names or of a lauded Premier league coach who still refers to ‘contra attack’ when after 20 years he really ought to know that it’s ‘counter attack’. Claudio made the effort to not be ignorant, to not offend and to embrace the multi-cultural mood of the city. He showed respect before even thinking of earning his own. Prendi nota!