In an inherently impatient field…

…maybe we could use some more patience.

I’m talking about football, soccer, sports as a whole. How many people have watched Moneyball? We’re back talking about it again, with another angle. Specifically one of my favorite scenes in the movie is where Billy comes to Art Howe and tells him that he’s traded all-star caliber first baseman Carlos Peña to the Detroit Tigers. Here, Beane was embodying one of my favorite themes of the movie. Trust your process.

The belief was that trading Peña would give them better odds at winning games because Scott Hatteberg gets on base more. So this makes me think, in football, what/who is our Carlos Peña?

Yes, you could propose that star players for lesser clubs are, but I’m going to take a different route. My Carlos Peña is the manager.

In baseball, tactics are much lesser, and a manager’s job is to simply make the correct decisions using a hybrid of psychosocial, analytical, and baseball knowledge to put the team in the best position to win. That is a much more narrow, people-focused task in baseball than the manager in football, who is tasked with not only creating a complex tactical outline for his team, but also managing those same psychosocial and analytical factors to ensure the best results and the best development for a wide range of players.

My long-winded point there: the players in baseball carry as much weight as a manager does in football. I think most people don’t even realize how important a manager is to a team. This is why my comparison is Peña (baseball) = Manager (football).

Let’s transition into the next Moneyball scene before getting to my point about patience:

Don’t want to make this too long, but his line about “Don’t feel like you need to explain yourself” is important to this overall concept as well from a management perspective. I’ve discussed this before in another piece.

This scene gives me chills, the whole movie does, but this is a scene I’ve already talked about before. It’s one of my favorite’s ever. Why? What conclusion do Paul DePodesta and Billy Beane come to? Belief in our process first and foremost, followed by patience in that process. (And thank god they did.)

Circling back around to football and my point of patience… I’m going to skip my thought process here and pose a simple question. Why don’t football clubs trust their own process enough? Sure, we have the clubs like Brighton, Red Bull(and co.), Dortmund, Brentford, etc. but where is this ‘at the top of the food pyramid’? (Manchester United, PSG, Juventus, etc.)

The simple answer is just pure impatience. Rather than adhering to a strict plan and belief for overarching philosophy, you see clubs who bounce between a variety of different managers, managerial styles, and players. My personal belief, is that this is detrimental not only to the club’s results both short term and long term, but to the players themselves and subsequently, the clubs image. Patience.

I’ve long held this belief that football clubs need to stick in their situations for longer than they’re probably willing, and at times, to simply embrace the suck. Arsenal is a great example of flipping this script, I think. After a myriad of departures you have a club left somewhat unsure on their vision, disarray in the locker room, and generally a ‘problematic’ atmosphere. Enter Mikel Arteta, a few more hires I probably don’t know, and the vision slowly begins to take shape. Will Arsenal win any trophies this year? Probably not. Will they win any next year? Who knows. Will they be in a better position in years 5–10 because they were patient in years 1–2? Almost certainly. On the flip side, while there is a time and place to sign a 28 year old Paul Pogba, a team like PSG is probably not in that situation right now (close to winning the UCL). And yet…

Maybe this is influenced massively by me being a) raised around American sports and b) being a baseball fan, but process > present has always kind of been my mindset.

To use an example and elaborate further, let’s take my beloved BVB as our example. (Tired of this yet?) After watching those bright yellow jerseys of Die Borrusen a few too much this season, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that they are in a state of treading water. Sancho’s sale and, eventually, Haaland’s sale, will eventually allow Borussia Dortmund to overhaul the squad in the way that they’re looking to. A new manager was brought in to replace Favre, the ‘upper management’ team has been given fresh faces in Terzic and Kehl, and improvements around club culture are coming at a rapid pace. If you don’t believe me, look at the way the coaches and players answer questions and hold themselves accountable. This is a club who want to win now as much as they’re planning for the future.

I could probably write on this for a long time, but I wanted to voice these thoughts mostly in a reply to frustration on my timeline for the past few weeks. Dortmund are having a tumultuous season to say the least, but I simultaneously think Rose and co. anticipated something like this. Playing someone like Zagadou who is far from match ready, or Akanji at right back, are not tactical decisions or intentional decisions, they’re decisions made out of necessity, and they’re necessity situations that were expected.

So maybe the question becomes, where can we exercise patience in our fandom and give a team time to see out their vision? It’s been clear for a long time that Dortmund are on an intentional path (Pulisic, Sancho, eventually Haaland) back to competition. Is your team doing the same?

In football you can’t tank the way you might in American franchise sports, but maybe sometimes taking a step back to reinvest and reinvent yourselves is actually healthy (hi Everton). It won’t be without its own struggles, and finding the balance between treading water and full rebuild is hard. But, let’s hear it from Billy Beane:

“I think the question we should be asking is ‘Do you believe in this thing, or not?’”

Have patience, appreciate the happy moments in a season. Keep tweeting your opinions about club decisions! But maybe we should all practice a bit more patience, and a bit more belief in a long term process. Ultimately, there’s very few teams who can win for decades on end, arm yourself mentally with that knowledge and know that it doesn’t always need to be about how can we win trophies today. Football is more than wins and losses, for both fans, and for staff!

Also: If you’re interested, I’ve touched on a few tangentially related topics to this one in the past: Lessons for Football, in Baseball.

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