The 2018 Russian world cup have been a tale of excitement, glitz and football that keeps giving. To borrow the words of Peter Drury, where does football go from here? That's how good the 64 games played over 30 days have been. Yet, amidst the glitz and fanfare, there were a few takeaways to pick up.
1. Talent is not enough: Portugal and Argentina
That the best two players (Ronaldo and Messi) in the world were out of the World Cup by the round of 16 speaks volume in itself. For all the talent in the world, Ronaldo and Messi couldn't do it on their own. They needed the team. When all is said and done, the stars take you far but the great teams forged with grit, character and teamwork will take you all the way. Both Argentina and Portugal pride themselves with famous names in their squads such as Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Hinguain and Ricardo Quaresma, but talent wasn't enough. The good old adage still holds true.
2. Reinvent yourself or go extinct: Germany
Germany came into the world cup as both defending champions and the bookmakers favourite. The Germans had a nagging statistics to contend with though. The previous two defending champions (Italy and Spain) were knocked out at the group stages in 2010 and 2014 respectively. The reality is that as a champion in every sphere of life, you need to continually seek out ways to reinvent yourself and remain relevant. It goes without saying that the rest of the pack are often working hard to knock the market leader off the top spot. The example of Nokia comes to mind as they remained stagnant despite being the leader in the telephone market. Their albatross was to do nothing while the smartphone brands innovated.
3. Measure your own success: Panama
Panama were one of the great delights at the 2018 world cup. The nation of about 4 million people were making their world cup debut against all odds and they savoured every moment of it. The fans were thrilled and the players were equally delighted. In their second group game against England, they were 6 goals down when Felipe Baloy scored and the fans, players and coaching staff brought the roof down. Any bystander will wonder at their joy but this was a country measuring their own success by their yardstick. It butresses the point that when all is said and done, you are your own competition and the goal should always be to out-do your past. Panama knew they were not Spain or Brazil; they knew what they were. God bless their soul.
4. Seize the big moments: Modric and Mbappe
Kylian Mbappe might be only 19, but boy! He is the real deal! The PSG star made history when he became only the second teenager to score in the world cup final after Pele. The game against Argentina where he grabbed a brace was his announcement to the world. Every world cup tournament provides an opportunity for a player to grab it by the scruff of the neck and say to it 'I will seize you,' and that was what Mbappe did. Also doing that seizure with him was Luka Modric. He needs no introduction having won everything in club football with Real Madrid. Yet, Modric has shown again why size is nonsense in football and how grit and sheer determination can unlock doors. There are moments in our life that will not return with second chances. Success resides in such fine margins. The wisdom is in seizing YOUR own moment.
5. Success is always deliberate: France and African Teams
Take a bow, France. Alongside Croatia they gave us a final to remember. Yet France's rise to the pinnacle of world football is not accidental! France were in the 2006 world cup, they were at the 2016 European final and now now this. They were clearly building for this moment. A word for the French coach, Dider Deschamps. He was criticized for dropping Anthony Martial and Alex Lacazette from the team before the world cup. It was an unpopular decision but it has paid off. At times, the majority are not always right. Stand up for your unpopular decisons sometimes, even if you stand alone.
The flip side to France success is the African nations who all left the competition at the group stage. For all the despondency on the continent, there was no surprise here. The quality of football administration on the continent have been less than desirable. For the most part, mediocrity have been enthroned. Ours is a society where ethnic consideration are used as a yardstick to get into the national team. In the final analysis, the poor showing of African nations at the world cup is a reflection of the decadence on the continent.
6. Character is everything: Neymar and Maradona
Neymar arrived Russia as one of the most prominent names. In many people's eyes, he was the heir apparent to a throne long ruled by the dual talents of Ronaldo and Messi. Yet, Neymar leaves Russia with a diminished status. His antics and countless simulations on the pitch made him a laughing stock on social media. This reputation was so bad that there were times he didn't get what he rightly deserved on the pitch during the competition. It is also instructive that Real Madrid's pursuit of the Brazilian died a natural death as soon as Brazil was ousted from the competition. The hall of shame was also shared with the legendary Diego Maradona. He might be the greatest but his attitude in Russia was a reminder that character is everything.
7. Football is a powerful force: Diversity and Unity
In a world that is seeking to divide, quick to propagate hate and swift to rescind into cynicism, the 2018 world cup was a reminder that football is a great unifying force. The world cup defied colour, race and beliefs. Even if you are not a fanatic, you must have noticed the football festival. The sport remains the most popular in the world and this world cup reminded us why we all love football in the first place. Bring on Qatar 2022!