The legendary Catalan football coach Pep Guardiola is known for locking himself up in his office a day or two before each game. He gets a pen and paper and watches the opponent team’s games one last time. He says this is when that “flash of inspiration” comes that will help him win the next game.
In May 2009, towards the end of his first season as the Head Coach of FC Barcelona, he does the same before the game against Real Madrid, Barcelona’s all-time rival. Real Madrid at that time was on a 17-match unbeaten run. When Pep was doing his final analysis as usual in his office, he notices a huge empty space between Real Madrid’s defenders and midfielders. He then, thinks about what his team can do to fill this vast, empty space. It is quite late at night and he calls not one of his assistants or one of the team’s brains on the field, but that 21-year-old Leo Messi to his office. He shows Messi the video, and tells him how he should change his role when he gets the signal from Pep during the game to “own” that space Real Madrid leaves.
Messi starts the game on the wing as he has normally been doing and on Guardiola’s signal, moves to the space his coach showed him that night, to play as the “false 9”. The false 9 is essentially a striker who falls back into midfield rather than playing around the penalty box, close to the goal. This game on Real Madrid’s own ground ends as an unforgettable victory for Guardiola’s Barcelona: 6-2, two of the goals being scored by Messi. From that day on, Messi becomes Barcelona’s false 9, and Pep and his squad wins one victory after the other. When Guardiola left Barcelona after four years, he had won 14 cups out of the 19 available! Needless to say, this role has also turned Messi into one of the most dangerous players in the world.
Actually, this false 9 position was not something invented by Guardiola. Famous footballers like Sindelar, Hidegkuti, Di Stefano, Laudrup, and Totti had played in the same position. But then, this position lost its attractiveness in the football world. Pep Guardiola was the one who revived and installed it into his team.
And any takeaways from this? Here are mine:
* While conducting your business as usual, you, too, may be having huge, untapped opportunities waiting to be taken advantage of.
* Even the largest enterprises can be vulnerable, if they are not aware of the spaces they are leaving to others.
* Good, knowledgeable leadership can make big differences.
Want to add yours?