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How to Build a Team (Part 2)

June 7, 2011

Maddie was not buying my shaky team-building argument here. I may also have been cooking up a strong fist pump. I'm not sure which.

Between fist pumps and jagerbombs during a Jersey Shore beach day (disclosure: we actually did not drink any jagerbombs), Maddie and I were discussing the most recent successes of her high school’s track team. As Northwest locked up a 4A state championship, Maddie triumphantly commented that her alma mater had done such a great job building a strong program.

With a heavy dose of assuming I had won the debate that was brewing before it began, I replied, “Build a program? At a public school? Don’t you just kind of take what you can get?”

As luck would have it, I was armed with the knowledge I had gained from an article in The Economist from the week before praising Barcelona FC’s techniques for creating the business management model to be emulated by the rest of the sports world. As smug as could be, I thought, “Is a professional sports team really going to look to a public school track team for management insights?”

Of course, the answer to that question is no (you don’t need an MBA to run a high school track team, but you probably might want to as the president of a multi-million dollar soccer club), but that isn’t the point.

As Mads explained to me the realities of luring athletes from inside the school, and at times from outside, I realized my whole concept of how professional sports teams are built is wildly influenced by the nature of the business of professional sports. Teams engaging in some kind of questionable bending of the ideals or ethics of team building are so common that I just assume it is par for the course.

Take, for instance, Barcelona. While I was so busy adding to their hype in my last post, I opted to leave out some key details about their great formula for team building (truthbetold, so did The Economist). Most notably, financially, their model isn’t sustainable. While they have a bunch of immensely talented youngsters growing in their academy, many of those talented kids turn into talented adults who demand large salaries. As a result, the heart of Catalan culture is in an awful lot of debt.

Taking it back stateside, the realization that teams are very rarely pulled together the way I feel like they should be – with a minimum of purchasing or too heavy an emphasis on a high-priced individual talent – brought me to reconsider my reactions to a few offseason moves. With the Heat nearing an NBA Championship, I took a long hard look at my original conclusions about “The Decision.”

Putting aside the wild PR stunt of The Decision itself, my initial analysis of the Heat’s chances were that they ultimately were doomed to fail because you can’t buy talent at the cost of losing chemistry and key role players. Time and again, owners and GMs, particularly for our own Washington Redskins, have proven that fact.

Last summer, we criticized LeBron for giving up on trying to win on his own but, while I was so fixed on that key piece of Juan’s Team Philosophy, I overlooked the real reason why the Heat would actually be successful this year.

(Note: this is the easiest argument I’ve had to make since they’re still alive to win it all)

While owners and GMs fail when they gamble on pairing high-priced talented athletes together, the Heat took a different approach. Instead of taking a shot in the dark with 3 guys that had never shared a court, they found some guys with a history. LeBron and Dwyane Wade started their whole conversation after realizing their enjoyed playing with each other in the Olympics and the World Championships. They realized that they had chemistry, and that’s a much better investment than your standard shot in the dark with offseason moves.

Maybe I’m just reaching this conclusion late, but with all the trash I talked, it’s needs to be said. I officially amend my Juan’s Team Philosophy to allow attempting to buy a championship if the players in question have actually played together previously with success.

So, Sorry LeBron. You’re a jerk, but you’re a jerk that was at least right about what it takes to win.


Get ready for the thrilling conclusion of my How to Build a Team series next week when I make some unthinkable confessions about building a championship team.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Best friend! permalink
    June 8, 2011 10:37 am

    Can’t buy a national team… can you? ….. Go Mavs!

    • June 8, 2011 10:51 am

      I dunno, I’m sure there are plenty of other rising German soccer stars with American daddies. In fact, we really should be flashing the cash around in a number of areas with a big military presence. Germany, Bosnia, Japan? How come we haven’t heard of any Japanese born American soccer players? I’m sure they exist.

  2. Best friend! permalink
    June 8, 2011 12:31 pm

    That actually does lead to an interesting conversation. This is related to the controversy in France where the French manager and FA were discussing only allowing players who have French passports in the national team youth academies. (Thats the nice way to put it btw, it came across as very racist if you remember since most of the players they would potentially be exclude are from the former French colonies in Africa.) The idea being not allowing dual passport players into the mix, and spending money training them just so they can jump ship when they get older.

    The US has been on both sides of the coin now with Guisseppi Rossi, born in NJ, wanting to play for Italy, and Jermaine Jones (your military boy) realizing that Germany isnt going to come calling so why not play for the US. Its a tough call, different players feel different loyalties, there has been a mexican influence on the US team over the years, I feel like players with dual passports rarely want to play for the US unless they are sure they can’t make the other roster. A country like Japan has a strong cultural heritage, and is only recently good at soccer btw. Japan is a whole different story as well, I also find them to be an interesting soccer case study.

    • June 8, 2011 1:44 pm

      Interesting. I think it’s a situation now with the USMNT that we’re actually starting to be considered a legitimate 2nd tier squad, we’re getting some more interest, and on the other side, we’re actually going out and looking for these guys instead of waiting for them to come to us. With that, I think we’ll see less instances of the US being the second choice, and the Andy Najar’s will be the exception rather than the rule.

      Of course I was half joking with Japan and Korea, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were options down the road now that both are making a name for themselves internationally.

      As for France, I wonder how much America appeals to folks from otuside of Europe who, hopefully, know that American soccer doesn’t at all have the struggle with racism that Europe does. Not sure how much that matters, but it has to be a selling point on some level.

  3. Best friend! permalink
    June 8, 2011 2:24 pm

    Racism was definitely a selling point for Jermaine Jones. You hit the nail on the head there. Hes half african american and half german. Hes outspoken and has tattoos and basically doesn’t fit in with the German national team setup at all. The US was proud to say we celebrate diversity and took him in with open arms. I do wish his english was better but I think he fits in well with the squad.

    The US has been very aggressive in recent times with approaching dual passport talent, i agree. They are doing everything they can to make the player pool deeper and stronger. I have some mixed feelings about this to be honest. I obviously want the US improve and to win. However part of me feels that a player shouldn’t have to be courted to play for a country, things do get complicated and some have to make difficult choices. It an honor to wear the shirt of your country and you should really want to do it(not all may feel that way i guess). Sometimes it seems to become a gun for hire scenario and I don’t like that. The US team has a pretty strong camaraderie from what I can gather and I like that. I think that is a function of the type of soccer players the US produces and it helps our team in the long run.

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