Published on 22 December 2022

Football teaches us something about Life

Professor Joseph Sung
Dean, Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine

The world had indulged itself in the World Cup 2022 in the past few weeks. With two games per night, starting in the evening and finishing at dawn, the World Cup had taken away countless hours of sleep. Even a person like me who has never been a football fan thoroughly enjoyed the rip-roaring atmosphere of the final game that we screened at our Clinical Sciences Building, attended by some 100 students, researchers,  admin staff and faculty of LKCMedicine.

On Sunday night, we  were on tenterhooks watching a marvellous game of World Cup Final: Argentina vs France. The two teams were incredible, giving us more than 120 minutes of excitement. The ups-and-downs in the game were unprecedented. During the first half, we thought the French team was slain with no hope of overturning the 2-0 situation with Argentina. But to everyone’s surprise, they came back with two quick goals to tie 2-2 at the end of 90 minutes. The game was extended for 30 minutes during which both teams scored one extra goal, putting the tie to 3-3. Then came the dreaded penalty shootout when the whole world stopped breathing, hearts pumping fast at every single kick. A stunning final result of the shootout: Argentina 4, France 2 and the coveted cup went to Messi and his team. There were sweat, tears and blood in the game and both teams should be applauded for their superb performance.  

When the excitement is over, when the adrenaline wears out, and after I had recovered from sleepiness and exhaustion, I asked myself: Have I learned anything from football that might be useful in my life? Have our young people taken lessons for their own life’s game?

Find your place. If you want to be a good football player, you must first find your place in the field. Your place in the game depends on your strength (and your weakness). Some players are better with their left leg and others with their right. They should be placed as right or left wingers accordingly. Alternatively, they could play offensive as centre-forwards or defensive as midfielders according to their strengths. No one, no matter how talented s/he might be, is omnipotent. A player who is ‘out of place’ is not just ‘useless’ – s/he can be a disaster to the team. We should know our strengths and weaknesses, so that we can find our place at school, at work and in our family.

Know the field. Before the game starts, one should understand the field and the environment of the match. One should look at the time (and weather) of the match, know the place (home field or otherwise), and, most important of all, know your counterparts (or opponents). Your strategy must then be tailored according to the landscape, the climate and the opponents. You have to put in twice as much effort if you play the wrong game, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and your chances will be halved. Angel Di Maria, one of the best players in the Argentina team, was rested after the group playoffs, only to be “unleashed” in the last game of the World Cup. He is the secret weapon of the team, felt best not to be exhausted in the hot Qatar weather before the final moment. The coach was right and the team complied.

Play as a team. The world’s most favourite player in the World Cup is obviously Lionel Messi. As the captain, he set up attacks for his teammates. For the second goal by Argentina, his exquisite two-touch of the ball from midfield breached the defence line of France. Instead of taking the glory for himself, he flicked the ball to Julian Alvarez, through to Alexis Mac Allister who quickly crossed to Di Maria to shoot and they scored! 2-0 up. In our career and our job, you don’t need to be the one who scores the goal every time. As a team player, sometimes you will organise an offense. Sometimes you will pass to the other person who is in a better position. Sometimes you dissolve a crisis. Sometimes you will sit on the bench and wait for your coach’s call. You don’t have to be the one who take all the credit and glory. A player who is always in front aiming at the goal may be risking the whole team. He would not be welcome by his teammates. In this world of competitionand globalisation, no significant success can be achieved by solo players. The trophy always goes to a team. You should identify your teammates, people who have complementary skills or personality, and they must get along with you. They are your best guarantee of success.

Get up where you fall. I guess there is no football match that has not a single player hurt or injured. Of course, some injuries are bad, but most are trivial, causing nothing more than  transient pain. When a player falls, he agonises for a few minutes, then rises again from where he fell and starts running again. Isn’t that true also in our lives? French centre-back Raphael Varane was tripped in the 113th minute of the game. We saw him fell down in agony, but after a few minutes, he stood up from where he fell and continued. Unless you don’t do anything serious, don’t try anything new, don’t work with anybody, you will get criticised, ridiculed or even attacked. Don’t be afraid to get hurt, don’t be upset, and don’t give up easily. No success can be achieved without numerous attempts and many failures. In fact, success will not be sweet without the bitterness of failure.

Never give up. In this  final game of the World Cup, I was most impressed by the young French soccer star Kylian Mbappe. He was there for the entire 120 minutes. There were times when the French team was crushed by the fluid play of the Argentinians. But when all seemed hopeless, he scored twice in a row for the French team’s comeback. Mbappe did not stop for a moment. He organised the offense, lined up the defence, served the penalty… he just would not give up. Life is full of ups and downs. There are, in fact, less ups and more downs. In almost everything we do, we have to withstand failure and loss so many times before a single success. This is the rule of things. Failure is nothing but the road to final success.

Remember Thomas Edison’s famous quote for his many missteps before the final success: “I have not failed 10,000 times, I just found 10,000 ways that will not work…Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”