This is what I know about teams.
Each year, the footballing year that is, August to May, me and other members of my family compete in a fantasy football league. We each choose 11 players from the hundreds that play for real teams in the English Premiership and create our fantasy team. We choose the best players. Those who will, based on a system that reflects their performance when playing for their real team, score the most points each week. Individual points are totted up to give a weekly team score and, over the course of the season, the team with the most points wins the league. In our family, because we are like that, we even have a little cup which goes to the person who has the winning team.
Hear is what I’ve learned.
In my team I can have Robin van Persie playing alongside Louis Suarez and Sergio Aguero. These players will score lots of goals, and goals are well rewarded in the fantasy football points system. I don’t have to worry about whether or not these three players could actually play well together. For the benefit of the non-football supporters, and I’m told that there are still one or two of them about, the three players in my team all, in real life, play in the same position. In my fantasy team I have three centre-forwards. In real life it is extremely unlikely that these three players could play together. They would, probably, be trying to take up similar positions on the football field and, in doing so, get in each others way. In doing so, they would blunt each others talent and the whole would become less than the sum of the individual parts. So. what looks good on paper may not work well in practice.
In real life, the star players benefit from the hard work, often less visible and less applauded, of the support team. In footballing terms, players like Gareth Barry and Jordan Henderson. Not spectacular, not creative, not even very good, but who run about a lot. In current football commentator speak, they “put in a shift for you”. These players usually form the midfield, providing a base from which the strikers, the stars, can shine. In my fantasy team I can ignore these solid, reliable workhorses and go, once again, for the flashy goalscorer.
Next, I have learned that defenders don’t matter. It is not that these players don’t have individual skills but that it is much more important which real team they play for. To explain, scoring points as a defender in fantasy football terms is less about winning and more about not getting beaten. So, if I have a defender in my team I am not concerned about his individual talents, I’m much more concerned that the real team he plays for do not get beaten, which mainly translates into not conceding many goals. Defenders lose points for each goal conceded. To hedge my bets, my defenders are chosen from different real teams. In that way, if a real team concedes lots of goals I will not be punished multiple times. Also, since each defender in my fantasy team gets punished equally for the collective failings of their real team, it doesn’t really matter who I pick. Generally speaking, each Man City defender will score (or lose) the same number of points for my fantasy team. Since I have a limited budget, it makes sense that I chose the cheapest.
What does my experience in fantasy football tell me about business?
Firstly, what looks good in theory may not work in practice. I real life we have to make sure that the skills of the team compliment each other and do not overlap to such an extent that overall performance is diminished.
Secondly, we need the unremarkable as well as the stars. We shouldn’t underestimate the value of those who simply turn up and do their job. Like Liverpool without Lucas Leiva: we all critisise him when he plays but the team suffers when he doesn’t.
Finally, even poor players can look good when the team does well. It isn’t all about the stars. If you build up a good team then the weaker links can be protected. By being alonside more accomplished team members it is even possible that they will be nutured and develop into more effective players in their own right.