Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Why We Should Celebrate With Leicester, And What Their Victory Means To The World

The accolades are overflowing. The media ink hasn't dried. The champagne bottles still runneth over.

Days have barely gone by since Leicester City's magnificient triumph against all odds (5000-1, in fact), and people have been praising it as if it's the greatest sporting achievement in history.

That it may be, but it should be more than that. Leicester's triumph over mightier opponents should go down as a great victory for humanity, too. Just like 300 Spartans holding a pass against hundreds thousands of Persian warriors.

Who would've thought that Leicester could have won the English Premiership just a year ago? Not me, and certainly not any rational sports pundit or betting men.

But win, they did. And humanity should be eternally grateful for the valuable lessons in life that their victory has delivered.

Leicester City of 2015-2016 - Never Forget

1. Money Isn't Everything

If financial resources be the sole barometer of sporting results, Leicester would by right be languishing deep in relegation battle.
  • On transfer signing fees: The war chest of both Manchester teams exceed £500 million each (City: £560 million, United: £533 million). Leicester's budget was 7 times smaller(£72 million), and the fourth smallest in the whole of the Premiership.
  • On wage bill: Both Manchester spent more than £200 million on players and staff wages each. Leicester spent a quarter less (£57 million), well within the range of other freshly promoted sides like Watford and Bournemouth.

Yes, Leicester may be fuelled by foreign ownership money from its Thai owners since 2010 - but it's nothing close to the bottomless bank accounts of Arab sheikhs, Russian oligarchs and Chinese businessmen.

Week in week out, the likes of Rooney, Aguero and Sanchez are richly paid - with bigger bonuses waiting at the end of the season, should they be champions. And yet, despite all their lucrative monetary incentive, it's the lesser lights in Vardy, Mahrez and Drinkwater who outperform them.

The poor correlation between money and performance can be also traced to the corporate world - where we find CEOs pocketing millions every year, even when their management oversee crippling losses and scandals. BP's CEO, Bob Dudley, stands to earn a whooping $19.6 million pay-check, even as the company lost $5.6 billion last year.

It's time for bosses everywhere to wake up to the truth - that waving wads of cash in front of people's eyes is not the best way to motivate them to reach a common goal; all it does is divert their ambition and attention towards personal interest.

Nowadays, football superstars seem to care more about high wages and advertising deals - money has made them soft and selfish. If Leceister, as a club, had been greedy, they would have sold off their top players mid-season to the bigger clubs and cash out while they're still ahead (instead of bearing the huge risk of slumping towards the end of the season and losing their peak value). If the players, as individuals, had been greedy, they would have agreed to jump ship for an instant pay rise. But they didn't. They all stuck together till the end, driven not by money but by the sheer desire to win.

Money may improve work performance for those at the lower and middle levels. But it takes much more than money to steer people to the top.

Sir George Mallory didn't climb Mount Everest for money. He did so simply because "it is there".

Mo' money, mo' problems

2. Ability Isn't Everything

They were a team hardly bursting with the best talents. In fact, they were a bunch of rejects and bottom-dwellers, coming into the season.

Here are some of their less-than-illustrious CVs:
  • Kasper Schmeichel (goalkeeper, 29): former Manchester City trainee; loan spells with Darlington, Bury and Falkirk
  • Danny Simpson (right-back, 29): former Manchester United trainee, serial Premiership promotion winner with Newcastle and QPR
  • Wes Morgan (centre-back, 32): 379 appearances for Nottingham Forest in the lower leagues, first season playing in the Premiership
  • Robert Huth (centre-back, 31): bench-warmer for Chelsea's title-winning squad twice in the early 2000s, also played for Middlesborough and Stoke
  • N'Golo Kante (midfielder, 25): picked up from the French leagues for £5.6 million, Claudio Ranieri's first signing in 2015
  • Danny Drinkwater (midfielder, 26): former Manchester United trainee, first season playing in the Premiership
  • Riyad Mahrez (forward, 25): only ever played in French lower divisions prior to crossing the English Channel, signed by Leicester in 2014 for £400,000
  • Jamie Vardy (forward, 29): played for lower-league English clubs up until age 25, signed by Leicester in 2012 for £1.5 million

One year ago, none of the Big Four - Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea and Arsenal - would have given these players a glance, what more a trial. And to be fair, they would have been right. These players did not showcase any exceptional skill to turn the heads of scouts. They were good, but not great. They lack in mercurial talent and championship experience. History was not on their side.

But somehow, throughout the course of a whole season, they bested players in all areas of the pitch - players with far greater technical abilities, who have a host of Premiership, Champions League, Euro, and World Cup trophies in their cabinets. How did it happen?

Through hard work, that's how. Attitude and character - elements that escape the judgments of coaches and scouts. What they lack in skill, they make up in mental fortitude. Mind over matter. Indomitable spirit over incredible strength.

In the corporate world, hiring managers are prone to blind spots. Their thought process goes: "Candidate A has 7 years of experience, Candidate B only has 5 years. We should hire Candidate A." But how do they know whether Candidate A has done more work than Candidate B in those extra 2 years? Well, they don't. They give weight to bare facts and figures, because it's easier that way (and can be used as a convenient defence if their hiring goes wrong later on). Judging someone's mental state based off the CV and a few interviews - that's hard to do.

Hard, but not impossible. Hard, but totally necessary.

There's only one Lionel Messi in the world, but hundreds of kids with his potential all around the world, at any one time. Why did they fail to become the next Messi (or even the next Vardy)? Not because of lack of skill and experience, but lack of real desire and drive.

It's time for managers everywhere to look not for gem that sparkles brightest, but the gem that won't break after a few hard knocks. Ability matters, of course. But true grit is far more important True grit is what drives people to gather the right dose of ability to attain their goal. Ability without grit will come to nothing. But grit without ability can still amount to something.

Party like Vardy
Don't Stop Believing

In a rare and exclusive interview with BBC, Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha (son of billionaire owner Vichai) has this to say about the impact of Leicester's victory:
"Is it a miracle? It is. It is inspirational and people talk about it. We set the standard of the sport and inspiration for the whole world. It is not just for the sport, it is life. If people use Leicester as the standard now, if they fight, they try - then they can achieve one day."

Well-said, indeed.

Let's toast for the believers. The dreamers. The ones who never stopped trying.

Let's forget about money and ability. And focus, instead, on spirit and grit.

Let's keep the spirit of Leicester burning in our hearts. And let it inspire us to keep trying, trying, and trying, to turn today's dream into tomorrow's reality.

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