On the Claude Makalele Conundrum

One of the greatest footballers ever. He won’t be remembered, and he won’t make many lists. And not many outside the game will know him – the way they know Messi, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo or Rooney. And arguably he made a bigger difference to the teams he played on, if not as big a difference as any of the Golden Ball winners.

First the results:

  • 1 UEFA Champions League
  • 1 UEFA Super Cup
  • 1 FA Cup
  • 1 Community Shield
  • 2 Premier League Titles
  • 2 La Liga Titles
  • 1 Ligue 1 Title

And of course, a runner’s up medal at the 2006 World Cup – which could easily have been a Winner’s medal but for the momentary lapse of reason from Zizou.

And now there’s the Makalele role – teams now look for players like him.

Chelsea (Ranieri signed him, although he ended up playing for Mourinho) famously signed him when Florentino Perez decided that he needed Beckham, and said Real would not miss Makelele, who joined the Premiership club in a £16.6m deal.

“He wasn’t a header of the ball and he rarely passed the ball more than three metres,” Perez said. “Younger players will arrive who will cause Makelele to be forgotten.”

Other members on the team didn’t agree.

Zidane “Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?” Steve McManaman called Makelele “the most important and yet least appreciated midfielder at Real” while Fernando Hierro echoed him, saying: “he’s been the best player in the team for years but people just don’t notice him”.

Of course, Chelsea paid up and got the best defensive midfielder in the world, and Real Madrid spent the next few years getting knocked at the pre-quarters in the CL and failing to win a trophy until they managed to win La Liga in 2007, and they are still chasing the elusive tenth Champions League title.
But all this old hat for most soccer fans and followers. They’ve heard this one many times over, and read about it many times. They get it. Real and Perez screwed up big time. That’s not the point here.
The point is how often this happens in organisations and teams – everybody knows the stars, and the supposed winners – the rainmakers, but how often do the leaders or the executives high up in the organisation get reliable and effective information to evaluate contributions at a team level – especially a few levels removed? Also considering how differing motivations and human behaviour make it harder for unbiased information to filter upwards. Add to this the difficulty of really getting good data on performance considering the subjective nature of most performance evaluations and it can get really hard to gauge individual contributions accurately and even harder to acknowledge and reward these contributions in a manner that is fair and helps drive the organisation forward. Considering how effectively player stats are measured and the wealth of information available – and still how hard it is to build a great team, you can appreciate the complexity is multiplied many times over when it comes to organisations,
So the question is what’s the solution?
Peer feedback, especially informal feedback is a good starting point, rewarding teams for team results and appreciating the steady B’s in addition to the superstar A’s is another way.
And understanding that not every great performer seeks the limelight, so relying on self-promotion from your teams and employees can be misleading at best and create a culture of credit piracy, at worst.
And ask yourself, who is the Makalele on your team.

Leave a Reply