Why Croatia can win the World Cup Final

Published 15. juli 2018

Jan Erik Kjerpeseth Konsernsjef i Sparebanken Vest

‘Even as their movements grew stiff and their tendons tight, when they were gasping for breath and it looked as though they could not possibly give any more, they kept going, kept chasing, kept running: past England, into the World Cup final, into history.’ 

– The New York Times

 

England played in their first World Cup semi-final for 28 long years on Wednesday night. And I went to Moscow with our two boys to support them.

It was looking good for England after Kieran Trippier scored from a free kick after five minutes. But after a second-half equaliser by Ivan Perisic, you could feel it at the stadium and among the fans – Croatia were the stronger side and seemed to want more going into extra time. Croatia recovered, just as it had in both previous rounds, after going a goal down.

 

Hunger and desire. I am writing this blog on the train from Moscow back to St. Petersburg, and reflecting on what was the one thing that made Croatia the better team in the semi-final.

It was the team that displayed most hunger and desire on the night, and that is why it will play in Sunday’s final – despite Croatia being a small country, the smallest country to reach the World Cup final since Uruguay in 1950.

It’s difficult to quantify, but an important asset in business and on the pitch is hunger.

Croatia has it. France probably has it too. Others seemed to be better fed.

 

That’s a team. The match reminds me of the most inspiring and frequently used film clip in the teamwork context. Al Pacino’s changing room speech in the Movie Any Given Sunday.

This is the part that makes the biggest impression on me:

‘The inches we need are everywhere around us. They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second. On this team we fight for that inch.

Because we know when we add up all those inches, that’s gonna make the difference between winning and losing!

You’ve gotta look at the guy next to you. Now I think you are going to see a guy who will go that inch with you. You’re gonna see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team, because he knows when it comes down to it, you’re gonna do the same for him. That’s a team.’

 

Weakest link. That you are never better than your weakest link is easiest to see in practice in team sports. If we think carefully about it, that applies to businesses as well. Good teamwork means setting the bar so high for ourselves that we don’t detract from the excellent job many others in the organisation or team are doing.

Al Pacino points out very aptly that good teamwork is about getting everyone on the team to put in as much effort as his or her team mates.

How did Croatia come back after trailing 1-0? By establishing supremacy in midfield during the second half and beating English defenders to the ball for both of Croatia’s goals. Fractions of a second matter in football, and we saw why on Wednesday.

 

The inches are everywhere. To me, it is important in the management context to acknowledge that ‘the inches are everywhere around us’. It is not just a few strategic measures that has led to Sparebanken Vest taking a step up and delivering a return on equity that is among the very best in the industry. It is the sum of very many small, correct decisions taken by many capable employees and managers.

Croatia battled from a goal down in its third straight match to reach its first World Cup final. It has reached the final the hard way— extra-time and penalties against Denmark, extra-time and penalties against Russia — and now this: an exhausting, compelling 120 minutes against England.

Croatia fought for every inch once again. Because they knew that when you add up all those inches, that’s gonna make the difference between winning and losing!

 

France awaits. I once asked Erik Bertrand Larsen, my coach for several years: ‘In your experience coaching both business executives and world champion athletes, what is the single most important success factor?’

He answered quickly with one word: hunger.

And never have we seen that so clearly as at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow on Wednesday night.

France has the chance to become the sixth nation to win the tournament twice, while Croatia has the opportunity to become only the ninth nation to win it even once.

Croatia have worked hard for their prize; they have earned it. France awaits.

They must once more be the ones who Dig Deeper.