With the 2010 Football World Cup in South Africa in full swing, there seems to be little else that people talk about these days. Football is the most popular sport on the planet and events such as the World Cup attract fans from all over the world.
Devoted supporters follow their teams regardless of time zone, and players such as David Beckham are revered as much here as they are in Asia or America. Still, even though football’s boundaries seem endless and we can all watch the same match wherever we are, cross-cultural differences between countries remain and can provide challenges even in the international language that is football.
Speaking strictly in terms of business, football and professional sports in general are one of the very few global enterprises in which players and coaches are brought from all over the world and put into a team which is then expected to communicate and achieve positive results immediately, regardless of cultural or linguistic differences. Yet, even though the topic of intercultural training has been more widely reported in the world of business than in sports, intercultural communication should be given attention whenever and wherever international success is expected.
An employee who is assigned to a foreign country without any sort of previous experience of the cultural customs, traditions or language can hardly be expected to thrive regardless of his subject expertise or football abilities. A good example to illustrate this point is the one around a familiar face to England fans: Sven-Göran Eriksson.
A Case in Point: Sven-Göran Eriksson
Sven, a Swedish national, is one of the most sought-after international trainers having achieved several victories in European leagues before receiving the coveted post of England manager in 2001. Sven’s England adventure was often criticised but still quite successful, with the FA actually rating Sven as England’s second most successful coach after Alf Ramsey, who led England to their only World Cup trophy in 1966.
After leaving the England post, Sven became coach for Manchester City and led them to their most successful season for decades, but he was let go because of differences with the team’s owner. However, a few days later he was scooped up by Mexico to become their national coach.
With such an impressive CV, it was thought that Sven’s experience in European football could be a breath of fresh air and would help change the Mexican mentality, leading the team to a higher level. However Sven’s stint as Mexico’s manager failed spectacularly.
Starting in 2008, Mexico suffered humiliating defeats against much weaker teams such as Jamaica and Honduras. The Mexicans also lost against the US, their bitter northern rivals, which earned Sven a lot of criticism. When Mexico lost a World Cup Qualifying match against Honduras in 2009, Sven was sacked from his position because the Mexican Football Federation thought it too risky to keep him and jeopardise Mexico’s participation in the World Cup.
Why did things go so wrong?
How is it possible for such an experienced football manager to fail in the seemingly easier level of Central American Football, having previously succeeded in the highly competitive European leagues? There are surely several answers to that question but there is one that focuses on the fact that Sven’s success in Europe was just not transferrable to a different cultural setting like Central America.
Sven is Swedish and as a European football expert he kept up to date with the European leagues and worked for clubs in Italy, Sweden and Portugal. While these countries differ widely in terms of culture, Europeans are clearly more aware of each others’ football traditions thanks to the proximity of their countries and European tournaments such as the Champions League, Euro or the UEFA Europa League.
So Sven-Göran Eriksson’s failure can be seen as his lack of expertise in Mexican football, the wider culture and the football tradition. It is unlikely he had heard much about the Mexican league or the players before his assignment in Mexico. So Sven’s failure could be blamed on a lack of intercultural awareness and a lack of adaptation on his side. It could also be blamed on the assumption of the Mexican Federation that his expertise could be used in any context, despite the cultural differences.
This example shows the importance of intercultural training courses and cross cultural awareness whenever different cultures meet. Whether it is a multinational company or a football coach, expertise and a previously outstanding record do not necessarily ensure a successful international assignment.
Communicaid’s wide range of cross-cultural awareness training courses are specifically tailored to meet you and your organisations’ needs. Communicaid’s cross cultural awareness training courses will ensure international assignees are equipped with the practical tools and skills necessary to live and work in a multicultural environment, whether they are responsible for the roll-out of an international merge or the success of a football club.
Now Sven is national coach of the Ivory Coast and will be playing today against Portugal. Let’s see if he learned his lesson this time…
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2010