Crossing the divide that separates soccer from football.
It's only my second post and I'm already drifting off. That's okay, though, because of two facts. One, I live in Europe. And two, its World Cup. If you live in the States, then - you can stop reading this and get back to work! That's right. This post is about sport and culture and the way we function. I suspect its also about how sport affects the way we function and when I say "we" I mean us Europeans and us Americans - like two closey related but distinct species. But I'm not sure. Maybe we can vote in the comments section.
American football has lines, and those lines mean something. One team's reason for being is to push the other team down those lines, one after the other, until all 100 have been left behind. Movement in one direction is good, movement in the other is bad. There's a team of referees of course, and they measure this progress centimeter for centimeter.
Football (the kind everybody else watches) has lines. They mean something too, but nobody's sure what. If the ball rolls out of bounds, a referee will whistle and one of the players will grab the ball somewhere within twenty meters of where the ball went out of bounds and trot another few meters until he feels comfortable with throwing the ball into the field. Movement in one direction is generally good, but there are exceptions and if you go too far, then the opposing goalie gets the ball and kicks it back to where you started. Movement is the key to football, movement in all directions.
American football has beautiful moments of athletics and drama. These are moments in which outstanding feats of prowess or strength has moved the ball a few crucial centimeters or dozens of yards. Football has beautiful moments called the double pass. One player will pass to another who rebounds the ball back to the first.
When an American football player gets injured, the referee will usually end play but if not, the opposing team will try to take advantage of this strategic moment. In football, the opposing team kicks the ball out of bounds so the player has time to recover. The team with the injured player then immediately hands over possession of the ball back to the opponent. The referee doesn't interfere.
American referees will stop play if they are uncertain. They will consult with each other, watch replays from all available cameras around the field and correct any unfair decisions. Football referees will not. Even if they get death threats or the injusticed coach gets sacked.
What's this got to do with management? It's a classic example of cultural identity. Football (soccer) is about how you win or lose. Coaches have even been sacked after winning the Champions League (think Superbowl) because their team didn't play aesthetically. The bottom of the league is just as exciting as the top because the losers don't vegetate in their role as losers of the league, they get relegated - a process which whips their fans up into a fever to call up the last energies - to retain their position or go down with dignity. The World Cup is more about how each country's team presents itself to the world. Teams who get sent home prematurely can be celebrated as heroes because of the all-important how. An unjust referee call is a handy way to maintain this tradition, sending teams home with an iota of saved grace (such as England, who had a goal not be recognized against Germany) or a whopping amount of sympathy (such as Mexico, successful underdogs against Argentina, until a goal was incorrectly recognized).
I can't imagine the kind of commentary I hear for football in a game of American football. An unjust goal or non-goal will regularly be brought into context according to the aesthetic qualities of the team's performance. "The goal wasn't recognized but it wouldn't have been deserved anyway." Or "the team got a lucky call, but they worked for it." And if you think such commentary only occurs in favor of the home team, think again.
Football fans are passionate.
And so are their employers. If you think you can manage a production in a work-as-usual manner, then think again. Or think of those flowing lines of progress on the pitch. If you're a manger you're now faced with nearly 2 months of regular football matches - often during working hours, regularly emptying out the offices or magnetically drawing all of your team into the room with the television. The most amazing thing about the World cup is that work still gets done. You just can't measure how.