Revealing what entrepreneurs can learn from the Premier League club Manchester City and the England national team player
Sport is an unpredictable business. Elite sport even more so when the finest of margins separate glory from abject failure. The greatest professional athletes on the planet can be labelled a legend or a loser in the blink of an eye.
Injuries, loss of form, off the field incidents, management issues and psychological barriers all combine to make this job one of the hardest to sustain at the highest level. The journey of a professional sportsman and sportswoman is laden with peaks and troughs.
Yet for one England and Manchester City footballer that is only half the story. This year, Raheem Sterling has not only touched on greatness as a player but at the age of 24 he has also become an icon not just for the sport but, more importantly, an ambassador for black and marginalised ethnic minority sportsmen and sportswomen in how they’re portrayed by the media.
Sterling has become arguably the most influential athlete in Britain. And rightly so. Responsibility is a heavy burden to carry. Yet Sterling has risen to the challenge and against all the odds, excelled.
All entrepreneurs try and perform at their highest possible level but what can an entrepreneur learn from England’s current superstar? A player who has been unjustly criticised for his performances on the pitch and off the field behaviour in recent years. A player whose riposte was to become the talisman for the all-conquering Manchester City side which swept all before them to win a historic treble of Premier League, FA Cup and Carabao Cup this year with Sterling picking up a host of individual awards.
Ben Wilson, CEO of professional services firm Grovelands, advises highly successful entrepreneurs on a daily basis and is on a mission to challenge the status quo and traditional models in his world – the world of consulting and resourcing. “Sterling models a series of features that all entrepreneurs can learn from,” Wilson argues. “These include self-belief, an extraordinary work ethic, enormous risk-taking and a strong personal support group. Add ambition, a thick skin and a little luck and what you have is a sure fire recipe for success.”
Wilson’s highlighted seven key character traits are all exemplified in Sterling’s make up.
In his playing days at Liverpool, Sterling was often found making fine runs and finding space only to miss a golden scoring opportunity or fail with the final pass. Under manager Josep Guardiola’s tutelage at Manchester City and through maturity, Sterling found the self-belief and confidence to back himself. 25 goals this season are testament to that.
Many of Sterling’s trademark goals have seen him popping up at the far post to tap from short range. This stems from his willingness to run those extra yards which gives him the edge over his peers.
(3) Risk taking
Sterling takes risks. When he called out the British sports media for ‘fuelling racism’ he risked a huge backlash from a powerful group of people. But his comments were qualified and substantiated and, in the end, no one could argue. The risk paid off and there hasn’t been a negative word written about the player ever since.
(4) Strong support group
Sterling is not a show off and has a close knit set of friends that protect him to the hilt. He doesn’t like the flashing the cash and goes to extraordinary lengths to keep his private life out of the public eye. This can only be achieved by surrounding yourself with like-minded people with your best interests at heart.
Again, Sterling was vilified for leaving the Queens Park Rangers academy for Liverpool and then again when he exchanged Anfield for the riches of the Etihad Stadium. As a young journalist I moved quickly from a local newspaper to a national tabloid before landing at the Sunday Times, the most famous Sunday newspaper in the world. I was congratulated. Why was this not the case for Sterling? All he was showing, like me, was ambition. Albeit with a slightly different pay check.
We all need a little luck in life, but one tends to make one’s own luck and this is the case for Sterling. He has stayed mostly injury-free and that has allowed him game time and a wealth of experience. At the age of 24 he has played 320 club games at the highest level and will win his 50th England cap in June.
(7) Thick skin
As demonstrated, arguably no player has received more criticism for his performances over the course of his career than Sterling. But that is not even half the story. He has received racial abuse throughout his life and shockingly it still pervades in football stadiums across the world in 2019. Sterling’s response? “They’re trying to get you down, if you do walk off the pitch as a group then that makes them win. If you score a goal to win the match, then that’s even a better feeling which beats them.”
Sterling now has the potential to become a global icon himself not just for his outrageous footballing talent but for tackling globally important issues on race and society.
“It is what all entrepreneurs aspire to be,” summarises Ben Wilson. “Be successful in what you do and then make a difference which helps the world become a better place.”