‘The secret’ of football smells like team spirit

Welcome to Tuesday Team Talk. Every week, the H+K Sports team will give a unique perspective on the week’s football action and the stories making the headlines across the beautiful game.

As Wales look ahead to a Euro 2016 semi-final, it seems we've entered the golden era of team spirit in football. But will it last? 

There is an excellent book about basketball written by the US sports writer Bill Simmons, creatively titled ‘the Book of basketball'. Casting its eye over basketball history it reveals what in Simmons’ eyes is 'the secret' to being a great team. The theory is that ‘the secret’ to a great team isn't great players, a fool proof system or a genius coach. It claims that it is team chemistry, that unquantifiable and mysterious thing that is born in changing rooms, on long coach trips and in team functions, that determines the result of games with millions of pounds riding on the outcome. 

Now clearly, there's a big difference between football and basketball. But in the last few months we've seen evidence that we've been judging the game wrong all this time. That football isn't about having the best players, the best tactics or the best coach, it's having the team that get on the best off the field.

It started with Leicester City's incredible rise to the Premier League title. Now they certainly signed some great players - Kante and Mahrez are world class performers - but their team was by no means the most talented in the league. What was clear was that they had spirit, a bullish and determined collective psyche that convinced them all season that it was them against the rest of the league, and that no one believed they could do it. Leicester were an incredible team, not a team of incredible players, a group of individuals greater than the sum of their parts.

That trend has certainly continued into the European Championships. Most notably with two underdogs who have taken the tournament by storm; Iceland, who put England to the sword, and Wales, whose magical run has continued to the semi-finals. It’s obvious watching Wales in particular that while they aren’t the most talented, they genuinely enjoy being there. They play with a smile on their face, and it is reflected in their performances. Compare them to England, full of talented players but seemingly terrified to step on to the pitch for fear of failure. Even Germany and France, the big hitters remaining in the tournament, have obvious team spirit, something certainly not seen in the less successful French teams of the last few major tournaments.

It is perhaps simplistic to suggest that the only determining factor in a great team is great team spirit. It is very possible that a dysfunctional Portugal side will win the Euros and a team filled with stars will win all of the major leagues next season. Clearly, good players can still win games. But the evidence of the past few months suggests that the secret to being a great team goes beyond individuals and beyond tactics, that what we don’t see is as important as what we do.


James Fenn

Hill & Knowlton Strategies Search