The hysteria in the streets was so intense that the victorious Argentinian World Cup team had to suddenly abort their tour while greeting the crowds.
For security reasons, instead of traveling around the city by bus, the players boarded a few helicopters and flew over the astounding number of people who awaited them in the streets.
It has been reported that more than 4 million people inundated the busy streets of the beautiful and historic city of Buenos Aires. Many locals argued that Argentina had never before seen the depth of collective fervor, passion and admiration displayed for the national team.
Not even the transition from dictatorship to democracy in 1983 engendered such a commotion as the one witnessed on the streets of Argentina following the World Cup victory.
Nor did the lifting of the cup in 1986, despite all the ingenious plays of the legendary Diego Armando Maradona, lead to such a frenzy as the one witnessed recently in Argentina.
Perhaps the current situation is so special to Argentinians simply due to the fact that it’s been more than 35 years since their team last won the cup. But maybe there’s a deeper reason for the massive scale of the festivities that followed the victory.
As frustrated and divided as our society can at times be—and as certain countries find themselves today—human beings have the need to be part of a pack. In our hunter-gatherer days, survival demanded that humans be part of a group, and this craving to belong has lasted until the present.
In a society that at times glorifies the individual to the point of a pathological obsession with celebrity, there is perhaps no bigger task than convincing millionaire star athletes with oversized egos to subjugate their own selfish interests to the needs of the team.
Add to our extreme individualism all the banalities and vulgarities surrounding these players, and teams may find themselves in a hothouse-like environment that becomes nearly impossible to manage. The need to balance the competing desires and personalities of star athletes presents a gargantuan challenge for the modern coach.
In this morally relativistic world, the player needs not just a trainer, but an educator, a teacher, a leader. The most successful coaches are the ones who focus not just on technique, but also on the spirit, convincing these complicated individuals to strive for collective goals over their personal needs.
A coach who instills in his players the idea that they are fighting for something bigger than themselves will succeed more often than one who focuses only on the technical aspects of the game.
It is precisely here that the Argentinian team stands out.
The unique unity of this winning team provides a sparkle of hope for 2023. What people saw in this squad was the kinship that has become more difficult to find in our fractured postmodern world.
The cohesion of the Argentinian team provided a marked contrast to a society pervaded by greed, materialism and a pathological obsession with self.
Their unity is a breath of fresh air within this lunacy.
It almost seemed as if the crowds at the victory tour craved for themselves a dose of the unique social dynamic that permeated the family-like Argentinian squad.
Through the team, they could immerse themselves in the feeling of togetherness so lacking in modern society—and perhaps be inspired to rekindle that feeling in ordinary life.
Credit for this victory is due not only to the players themselves, but also to Scaloni, Argentina’s head coach, who helped instill this level of camaraderie through his expert managing skills.
Scaloni himself is selfless, the embodiment of moderation and modesty. He directs all accolades and praise away from himself and onto his players. Most fans cannot even name his assistants. Members of this coaching staff are not looking for a pat on the shoulder.
Football players can be very intuitive. Sensing their leader’s strength of character, they love him and strive to emulate him. Thus selflessness, modesty and decency spread through the squad.
Admiring their coach even more, the players find themselves willing to run through fire for the man.
In contrast to the cohesive Argentinian unit, we have other squads who float aimlessly through a banal celebrity world full of money and nefarious temptations of all sorts.
How an individual athlete or an entire squad conducts itself behind the scenes can provide important information about character. A team’s behavior off the field can be indicative of its priorities and even predict its strength on the field.
Muhammad Ali once said: “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses, behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
While the low-profile, high-spirited Argentinian squad remained focused on their trajectory toward winning the cup, behind the scenes, elements of other squads were chomping on steak sprinkled with gold at a local Qatari barbecue shop, an act whose absurdity would be hard to match.
The golden steak has a deeper meaning. It symbolizes neglect and a lack of guidance, a lack of leadership and coaching. It shows the priorities of the group, indicating an astounding level of spiritual shallowness. Would these same players eat a steak sprinkled with biological debris, if it were in fashion?
Their preposterous behavior leaves one to wonder.Just as the Argentinian team’s cohesion derives from expert coaching, other teams’ self-indulgence results from rudderless leadership. Such lost, spoiled children desperately need to be schooled, and they need a teacher with wisdom, one they can look up to and who can lead by example, showing them how to prioritize what is worthy.
They don’t need a warden who will give the keys of the penitentiary to the inmates just to keep them happy. Unfortunately, these players are led by individuals who know nothing about cultivating the spirit or setting dignified priorities. Such leaders may be more concerned with self-preservation than anything else, leading them to appease rather than direct their misguided pupils. With teachers like that, one is better off never going to school.
The great middleweight boxer Marvin Hagler once said: “It’s tough to get out of bed to do roadwork at 5 a.m. when you’ve been sleeping in silk pajamas.”
Given the temptations of wealth and fame, the guidance of a Yoda-like Jedi character who can help a group of men discern right from wrong becomes even more necessary. Although this sort of guidance has nothing to do with the tactical and technical elements of the game, many times, it’s the most important form of leadership a coach can provide.
It’s here that the young and humble sage Scaloni, endowed with wisdom beyond his years, left his mark by instilling in a group of men concepts such as comradeship and a selfless spiritual mentality, leading them to prioritize goals of a greater magnitude than those of any single individual.
Rodrigo de Paul, the Argentinian player, is just one symbol of the squad’s grit and determination. He is tough as nails, embodying the warrior-like spirit that characterizes the entire squad. Following the victory, he wrote on one of his social media platforms: “Don’t search for money, search for glory, be champions of the world and all the people will remember and they will have gratitude for all their lives.”
That says it all. The lifting of the cup is bigger than oneself. It’s bigger than any individual. And it’s more valuable than all the gold sprinkled on a piece of meat devoured by some poorly managed souls who should have been hungry for glory instead.
Ricardo Guerra is an exercise physiologist working with professional soccer teams. He has a Master of Science degree in sports physiology from the Liverpool John Moores University. He has worked with several football clubs in the Middle East and Europe, including the Egyptian and Qatari national teams.
In 2015, he was the exercise physiologist of Olympique de Marseille when they reached the final of the French Cup against PSG. Ricardo holds the highest coaching license of the Football Association (England) and a UEFA license. He is a Ph.D. candidate and the author of two upcoming books. He can be contacted at email@example.com.