Culture's consequences: Part 5
Mike Holden looks at low power distance and explains why the Holland dressing room resembles a ticking time-bomb...
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
Low power distance: why do Holland have so many dressing room bust-ups?
What's the easiest managerial gig to be had this summer? If you could take charge of any European nation, as a bloke off the street, with the sole objective of bluffing your way through Euro 2012 as convincingly as possible, which country would you choose to lead into the tournament?
Straight away, I'm sure many are tempted to say 'anyone but England'. But let's assume the secondary challenges of the role (in this case, satisfying the media and managinging public expectation) have no actual bearing on your ability to get results. In practical terms, and contrary to popular belief, you would probably find the England job to be one of the easiest.
On what basis do I make this assumption? On the basis of power distance, according to Geert Hofstede's model for measuring cultural dimensions. England (or the UK) is one of six countries at Euro 2012 that scores low on power distance and high on individuality, two characteristics that invariably go hand in hand. The others are Germany, Holland, Sweden, Denmark and Ireland.
From a cultural perspective, this means the all-round likelihood of you inheriting players with the greatest capacity to think for themselves and improvise, players who are happiest to shoulder personal responsibility for results, players more likely to inspire and motivate themselves in moments of high tension. In short, players who wish for least guidance when going about the jobs they do for a living.
Of course, wanting guidance and needing guidance are two different entirely things and that's worth bearing in mind when using England as an example, but it's fair to say that the low power distance option is more conducive to fast-tracking than high power distance if you want to keep performances up to the required standards over a short period of time.
As such, Roy Hodgson's lack of preparation time will provide an interesting case study. Hodgson's biggest job between now and June 11, one suspects, is to get the players in the right frame of mind and convince them he knows what he's doing, rather than actually do anything. If the players are feeling good, they will perform to the same standards we come to expect. That's the beauty of low power distance.
But there's a caveat - there's always a caveat! - and, in this case, it is illustrated perfectly by the state of intermittent disharmony that seems to befall one nation: Holland.
Just because a cluster of nations share similar characteristics in terms of power distance and individualism doesn't mean they all behave in the same way. We can follow tendencies and make generalisations but each nation has its own unique personality. Different amounts of the same elements can produce fairly harmless compounds in most cases, but some pretty lethal cocktails in others. And the chemistry of lower power distance and high individualism in Holland's case delivers a particularly potent mix.
When you talk in terms of population, you could argue that Holland is the most prolific international football nation on earth. Over the past 40 years, the Oranje have played in three World Cup finals, lifted the European Championships once, while reaching the semi-finals of the two major competitions a further five times. In 16 summer tournament appearances, only once have they failed to progress beyond the group stage (Italy 1980), which is astonishing for a nation of 16 million people.
However, this high performance comes at a price because the characteristics that allow Holland to fish so many great players from such a modest pool also leads to a dressing room environment that is combustible to say the least. In Holland, egos are huge and the combination of high individualism and low power distance make it inevitable that personalities will clash - over training, over tactics, over just about anything really.
It's a pattern that stretches all the way back to Yugoslavia in 1976. The Dutch have sabotaged their own chances of success through disputes and in-fighting at half-a-dozen major events in the same 40-year timeframe, as chronicled by David Winner in his excellent book Brilliant Orange, subtitled 'the neurotic genius of Dutch football'.
In the words of Winner: "Whatever the reasons, it's a pattern unique in world football… The Dutch seem to have an allergy to authority, leadership and collective discipline. Their teams behave like armies of generals. When I ask Dutch people about why it happens, they tend to shrug their shoulders and tell me that it's 'typically Dutch'."
It's tempting to say you can set your watch by them, but the truth is you can't. The situation resembles a ticking time-bomb. Overseeing a team of Dutch footballers in their prime must be one the most rewarding jobs in football but, sooner or later, you know that the tension is going to give. As a manager, you're playing a game of pass the parcel with your reputation at stake, except in this case you don't want the music to stop. Rinus Michels, Leo Beenhakker, Guus Hiddink - they've all been stung by the Dutch neurosis at some point.
So let's return to original question: which is the easiest nation to manage at Euro 2012?
Caveats aside, if we take the Hofstede model and let low power distance be our guide, then Denmark is the dugout you want to occupy for the easiest ride with a score of just 16. Only Austria and Israel rank lower on the power distance index worldwide, so it probably shouldn't come as any surprise to learn that Morten Olsen will be the longest-serving manager at Euro 2012 having been in the job for 12 years.
Now 62, Olsen managed in three different countries at club level during the 1990s (Denmark, Germany and Holland) and given they all share the above characteristics, we should assume his management style hasn't changed all that much down the years.
Nonetheless, his last job at Ajax ended prematurely when tensions rose in the dressing room after the de Boer twins (Frank and Ronald) boycotted training in order to secure moves to Barcelona. Results took a turn for the worse and less than 18 months into job, Olsen was sacked. Needless to say, he now knows when he's on to a good thing.
Best of the Bets Show
- Nah, boxing's not really a sport is it. — 7 hours 40 min ago
- What a beautifully picturesque view from my hotel room http://t.co/vchLuGkzId — 12 hours 38 min ago
- Tonight's prices @heavenbet are Miami at 1.26 & Indiana 3.85. The spread is 7.5 points for those looking to bet for or against the handicap. — 14 hours 12 min ago
- It's a huge weekend for the 4 teams still aiming for the NBA Finals. Miami are hot favourites but needed over-time in game 1 against Indiana — 14 hours 13 min ago
- Much frustration as the rain continues to disrupt the biggest sporting event of the week. I mean, of course, Durham v Middlesex — 14 hours 34 min ago