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I’ve never been a supporter of teams simply because they look like sure-wins. Instead I look at their fighting spirit and potential to grow together as a team. If they win, it’s a bonus, but my loyalty will remain - unless there’s a fundamental change in the factors that made me support them in the first place.

The last time I took much interest in a World Cup, it was 2002. I had watched the first half of the Brazil-Turkey match at the airport in Istanbul.

Earlier, our Turkish tour guide had laughed off the possibility of Turkey getting much out of the World Cup, especially with their first game against favourites Brazil. But that day, at the airport bar, I witnessed Hasan Sas nonchalantly fire the ball into the Brazilian net, and suddenly things didn’t seem so impossible after all.

I liked the Turks’ fighting spirit, and for the remainder of the tournament I decided to support Turkey. Most of my Singaporean friends were supporting Japan or South Korea or the usual suspects, like England and Brasil. The French people I knew in Singapore supported their team, and when France was knocked out, they supported other teams that spoke French, like Senegal.

But I decided to be the lone Turkish supporter. In the end, I was vindicated when Turkey finished their campaign in 3rd place, beating hosts South Korea. Despite some fiery tempers they displayed the passion that I was looking for in an underdog that exceeded expectations. (Of course, they fizzled out in subsequent competitions due to a lack of teamwork, which I will discuss more conceptually below).

For the 2006 World Cup I somehow didn’t find the matches as exciting, and my sentiments were similar this year even as I watched the US equalise with England, while sitting at a pub in England. Nothing really got me excited enough - until I saw the Germans teach England a lesson in complacency.

I did think however that Germany wouldn’t make it past Argentina - though over-reliance on a certain Messi may prove to be the Argentineans’ downfall if they don’t work as a team, which the Germans are very good at. I also think we can turn the German story into a good corporate lesson on teamwork, especially if they lift the Cup this year.

Increasingly I believe the Germans have a good chance of going all the way, especially now that I have a new sporting fascination in the form of German playmaker Ozil - who happens to be of Turkish parentage.

As an Arsenal supporter (which proves my initial statement that I don’t support teams simply because they win cups, since Arsenal hasn’t done anything like that in years), I am doubly interested because he may very well be Fabregas’ replacement should the Spaniard decide to return to his cradle. It also fits in well with Arsene Wenger’s youth philosophy.

But we’ll leave that discussion for after the World Cup. To conclude, I support the team that has shown the best teamwork, with the least prima donna (or would that be primaradona?) attitude and hope that they will be the eventual winners for 2010.

Why I Love Arsenal

November 29, 2009 3:10 PM | Comments (0)

Why I love Arsenal

These lads aren’t just big on the field, they’re also big-hearted, raising money for a children’s hospital. And they look adorable in their furry costumes!

Nicknames I’ve thought of for each of them, based on what they’re wearing:

  • Theo “the Leo” Walcott
  • Cesc Fa-bear-gas - waitaminute, is that a bear or a lamb? I’m making myself imagine it’s a bear, because I don’t want our key midfielder to be eaten by the Chelsea ‘wolves’ tonight
  • Andrei Ar-shark-vin (or Ar-Shark-fin if you’re Chinese)
  • Bird-cary Sagna (can’t think of anything that fits with ‘owl’)

If you watched the US Open ladies’ semifinals match between Kim Clijsters and Serena Williams, you’d have witnessed a stark contrast in mindsets. At some points, it was a close match. But what won in the end was emotional intelligence.

After blogging earlier about Daniel Goleman’s book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, I re-read the chapter on Self-Control and watched a replay of the match, which Serena lost due to unsportsmanlike conduct. It was “unfortunate”, as Kim put it, but she herself stayed focused and didn’t lose her cool.

According to Daniel Goleman, self-regulation is one of the personal competencies of emotional intelligence. Self-regulation is defined as ‘managing impulse as well as distressing feelings’. These form the core of five emotional competencies, one of which is self-control - ‘managing disruptive emotions and impulses effectively’.

People with this competence:

  • Manage their impulsive feelings and distressing emotions well
  • Stay composed, positive, and unflappable even in trying moments
  • Think clearly and stay focused under pressure

Kim was amazingly calm, whether or not she won or lost a point. Serena on the other hand lost her cool, broke a racquet and confronted a linesman who had called her out on a foot-fault. This resulted in her being penalised and losing the match.

Worse, this emotional fallout occurred in a very public setting. Serena’s angry words were reported (albeit with some variations) by news media. Her aggressive stance was captured and replayed repeatedly on TV and discussed on forums and Twitter, making the incident stand out even more. Hopefully she will cool off, reflect on this and come out mentally stronger. IMHO she should apologise for her behaviour too.

Let’s see this as a good lesson given by both players on how, and how not, to react under pressure.

And before we all forget the quality of the match itself - Kim, you did play a great game.

[Update: Kim wins the US Open!]

Thoughts on Scolari's sacking

February 10, 2009 12:58 AM | Comments (0)

I was about to hit the sack but was jolted by the news that Chelsea just sacked Scolari.

There are numerous academic journals that discuss the efficacy of sacking football managers on the basis of improving performance. Some look for a correlation between sackings and performance with inconclusive results while others report that stability is best. There is an interesting study that calculates exactly when clubs should sack managers. And of course there’s BLeong’s own study on firing and maximum efficiency. My thoughts are not as scientifically derived, but here goes:

Typically you would hear of clubs scraping the bottom of the barrel resorting to sacking managers. Certainly if you’re desperate and it’s likely that the manager of a bottom-ranked club may not be very good, then it’s worth trying. However, sacking also occurs within the upper echelons of football, usually when a team fails to win a certain title (e.g. Champions League), or a certain number of titles. They become victims of their own sucess, and in English football it is Chelsea that has become a case study of such practices.

I was surprised that Scolari was sacked so soon. However, looking at Chelsea’s recent track record, it shouldn’t be too much of a shock. I still think Jose Mourinho made the best impact on the team as a coach, and if that wasn’t good enough than it would be very difficult to please their billionaire owner, even with a new coach who’s won the World Cup.

Money can buy good players, but it alone does not create a good team. Kaka has also proven that money cannot buy a good player when he plays football not just for the money. Money also cannot keep a good player if he wants to fly back to Brazil. Man City, which aspires to be the new Chelsea, has been learning these lessons.

Money can also buy you good managers. But if you interfere in decisions and buy expensive players who add little value to your team, you frustrate your managers and defeat the purpose of hiring them in the first place. We learn in business school that you should not appraise people on factors that are out of their control. That was exactly what happened with Mourinho.

Also, the other top clubs have had managers for a while. Liverpool has showed great promise under Benitez, and this season particularly with the Premier League. Man U have had Fergie for so long, that even as a non-fan I’d feel strange when someone replaces him (after retirement, of course). Wenger is a bargain hunter and developer of youth talent. His slowness to acquire outside talent has compromised Arsenal’s short-term competitiveness but I hope to see things getting better from now on.

Back to Chelsea. I’m quite opposed to constant sacking of coaches with great track records, especially if they haven’t had time to prove themselves. Especially if there’s a history of sackings without much improvement. It implies that other things could be wrong, not necessarily the coaches. It also encourages short-term behaviours and places tremendous pressure on the new manager.

On the other hand, Chelsea can’t bite the hand that feeds it. Without Abramovich’s riches it would arguably not have had such a good run in recent years. However, as discussed above, riches only take you up to a certain point. The billionaire owner seems to believe that money can buy you everything, and that people are like replaceable components. That isn’t necessarily the case.

In an environment as competitive as the Premier League, nobody can be number one all the time in everything. When you start considering all other options as failure, you will never be happy. Might as well spend your billions on something else with a much higher return on happiness.

But wait, maybe that can’t be bought just with money.

Lexus Cup 2008 - Day 3

November 30, 2008 11:53 AM | Comments (0)

Day 3 began nicely. I arrived at the club early enough to catch captains Annika Sorenstam and Se Ri Pak tee off at the first hole. Before that I was videoing and photographing all the players at the driving range, so by the time I arrived at the hole there was a sizeable crowd in front of me. I could just about see the 2 players, in between heads and hats.

Sorenstam is 2 up

Sorenstam was clearly determined to beat Pak, who is also lesser-ranked. This is Sorenstam’s second last chance to win anything before retiring. By the first two holes she was 3-up as Pak overshot and missed the green, losing strokes. The mostly Asian crowd was rooting for Pak, cheering for her when she did well and groaning when she didn’t, and some looked disappointed when they saw Sorenstam winning. Pak made amends and by the 9th hole Sorenstam was just 1 up.

I was quietly rooting for Sorenstam. Later on I heard a Caucasian lady shouting her support in Swedish, but she and her lady friends were in the minority. I wondered if one day we would support players regardless of whether we shared the same race or nationality.

I followed Sorenstam and Pak all the way to the 9th hole and stopped to grab lunch. Then it was announced that play was suspended due to rain. I chatted with a nice couple I met the day before, and checked out the other hospitality tent that I was entitled to visit. I watched the TV coverage of the event and saw Taiwanese world no. 3 Yani Tseng make a beautiful chip off the green which rolled straight into the hole. We applauded appreciatively. By that time the drizzle had ended and I started to make my way back to my car.

Just outside the tent, I noticed a large crowd gathering around the players, who were coming out to resume their matches. Sorenstam was driven out on a buggy as with most of the remaining players. Then I noticed Natalie Gulbis waiting for her buggy. One girl came forward to get her autograph. Then others had the same idea. At first, being shy I thought maybe I’d just take a photograph of her (which I did):

Natalie Gulbis, close up

Then I thought, go for it! There was a photograph of her in the programme, which she could autograph. I even brought a marker pen for this purpose. So I went forward and Gulbis signed my programme immediately. I said hi and thanked her. It happened so fast, then Gulbis was on her buggy and out of sight.

Woo hoo! I got Natalie Gulbis’ autograph!!!

It would have been perfect if I had gotten Sorenstam’s too, but better than nothing.

Overall, it was a great day, not as hot as yesterday and I took more photos and many more videos.

Read on only if you want to hear my rants about the etiquette of the audience… otherwise have a good Sunday!

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