Italy Euro 2020
Italy won, but each of the teams and their eventual performances provide insights that can be applied off-the-pitch as well. Image Credit: AP

There are always lessons that could be learnt from football in respect to managing teams -- the one in which only the goalkeeper gets to use his hands.

Football, after all, is a team sport that requires individual skills and team members being in sync on the field. The entire operation also requires an inspiring captain and a competent coach able to make swift and, in many instances, key decisions on the go.

I recently watched the Euro 2020. It was quite interesting to see how different teams performed on the pitch compared to how analysts expected them to perform. This specific Euro 2020 was full of surprises.

There were top ranked teams and favourites who fell out of favour, and unfavoured teams who made it far. Before getting to lessons learnt from Euro 2020, allow me first to provide context for those of you who are not that much into football.

There were six groups with four teams in each. Each team got to play three qualifying matches in what is called the group stage. The top two teams, decided in a straightforward way by having the highest number of points, made it to the knockout stage.

Since the Euro 2020 required sixteen teams in its knockout stage, the best four teams ranked third, in their respective groups, qualified too. This was decided based on points, goals scored by the team, and goals scored against the team. In more extreme cases, yellow and red cards could play a role in deciding what team qualifies and what team does not.

Here are the observations from the Euro 2020 that could be relevant to managing teams.

You can turn around a bad start

There was an unfortunate incident in one of the first matches. No one can fathom the mental and psychological toll that it took on the players of that team, especially as they were asked, for organisational and other reasons, to play the second-half of the match. The spirit of the team’s captain and the coach’s capabilities were instrumental for the team to make it to the semi-finals.

Do not underestimate your opponent no matter how good you are (or think you are)

An all-time favourite went into the field with that mentality, and the result was underperformance in the group stages and not making it beyond the quarter-finals. The same happened with a highly ranked team that was considered a favourite after performing well in the 2018 World Cup.

There is nothing wrong with being emotional about a team, but facts are important

I was cheering for the same team that I was cheering for in the 2018 World Cup. Even though the team did, despite its inconsistent performance, miraculously make it to the knockout stage, they continued to perform below their World Cup level and were beaten in the Euro 2020.

Whatever you do, cover your bases

It does not matter how many goals a team scores against its opponent if it cannot safeguard its own lines of defence. While there is no guarantee that those cannot be unbreachable, it was evident from the Euro 2020 that experience in defence was instrumental for the teams that made it. That, and a good goalkeeper to save the day when needed, could take teams far.

Consistency is quite important

I built an economic model to predict the outcomes of the Euro 2020 like I have done with other tournaments. The model picked the most consistent team to win it. Consistency here was not only getting all nine points to qualify to the knockout stage, but to keep up an outstanding and solid performance, with fewer goals scored against it and an impressive long streak of no losses.

A good coach celebrates last

After the final, there were two contrasting images of the celebration. One coach went up the stage ahead of the team, while the other waited for the entire team, except for the captain who would carry the cup, before going on stage.

Managing a team requires an inspiring team leader to turn around a bad start, and a capable coach who can make swift decisions on the spot. Teams that cover their bases are consistent in their performance and do not underestimate their opponents have a very good chance at making it.

The last thought that I want to leave you with: How can the above be applied in workplaces?