Last updated at 10:46, Thursday 14th June 2012

Culture's consequences: Part 1

Mike Holden

Mike Holden introduces a new series of Euro 2012 features, applying Hofstede's cultural dimensions to a football context...

Related articles:
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Individualism
Part 3: Collectivism
Part 4: High power distance
Part 5: Low power distance
Part 6: Masculinity
Part 7: Femininity
Part 8: High uncertainty avoidance
Part 9: Low uncertainty avoidance

Introduction: when national culture causes confusion

"I'm sorry, Jonathan, but yer man's a clown. This is just outrageous."

It was the sort of remark you'd normally hear as a matter of course on ITV. Something Andy Townsend might say to get his voice noticed amid the never-ending soundbytes of Peter Drury. But this was tea-time on the BBC. The kids had rushed home from school to find that Mick McCarthy wasn't happy.

The match was Germany v Serbia at South Africa 2010 and the subject of McCarthy's ire was Alberto Undiano Mallenco. The Spanish referee had just dished out a second yellow card to Miroslav Klose for a rather innocuous tackle on Dejan Stankovic and the game was in grave danger of descending into farce.

It was the sixth caution in the space of 25 frustrating first-half minutes and it laid the platform for the underdogs to land match odds of 11/2 with a shock 1-0 win, Milan Jovanovic bagging the only goal barely 60 seconds after Klose's dismissal.

By English standards, there hadn't been a noteworthy tackle in the game and Big Mick could barely conceal his irritation at having a pleasant afternoon in Port Elizabeth spoilt by a nitpicking match official.

In his view, Mallenco merely wanted to be the centre of attention but, in truth, the Spaniard was reacting the way many Spaniards would when taken out of their comfort zone by what they would consider to be an overly-aggressive masculine approach, executed by players unprepared to kowtow to the high power distance relationship they come to expect. At a subconscious level, Mallenco probably felt as though his integrity was being tested and his authority was being challenged.

"There's always one game like this at every tournament," offered Jonathan Pearce, trying to lighten the mood. "Remember the famous Mexico v Bulgaria match at USA 94?" McCarthy was unappeased. Why him? Why this game?

If the authorities paid more attention to Geert Hofstede and his dimensions, then such cultural mismatches might be eliminated altogether. Nonetheless, these instances can provide opportunities for savvy punters to cash in - or at least find reasons to be duly cautious about bets they might otherwise consider to be a shoo-in, the Germany v Serbia game being a prime case in point.

For those unacquainted with Hofstede, he's a Dutch psychologist who was working in human resources for IBM back in the 1960s and 1970s when it occurred to him that people from different countries responded differently to certain cues, that relationships in the workplace could differ starkly from country to country according to various circumstantial influences such as history, geography, politics, religion, languages, food, art and literature.

Now Hofstede is one of the world's leading professors on crosscultural relationships and his work has been an inspiration to many non-native (mostly Dutch) coaches who have enjoyed success in the international football arena. Guus Hiddink is known to be a big advocate of the Hofstede model and that's some testimony coming from a man who has led such diverse cultures as South Korea, Australia and Russia to unprecedented success in the modern era.

The Hofstede model is meant to be a business management tool but it can be enlightening in all manner of settings and, over the next fortnight, I will be attempting to make some sense of the four main dimensions by applying them to an international football context ahead of Euro 2012.

As armchair observers, we know most of the players and their respective individual capabilities. The vast majority play their club football in one of five major domestic leagues, each of which gets decent exposure. And we also have a much better grasp of tactics than ever before, allowing us to make better judgements about the balance of a team and how the collective might perform.

But there remain some strange occurrences from time to time that we can't always put a finger on. Why do England always lose penalty shoot-outs? Why do Holland have so many dressing room bust-ups? Why do some nations, like France, come to rely heavily on a single talisman? What enables some small nations to persistently overachieve at international tournaments compared to neighbouring countries of similar size and stature?

I'll be attempting to explain these things and more between now and next Friday. I hope you find the journey thought-provoking, perhaps even enlightening.

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