Football legends share their 9 top tips to succeed
Between them they have won the World Cup, the European Championship, the Champions League, and multiple league titles and trophies in the Netherlands, Germany, Italy and England.
Ruud Gullit and Lothar Matthäus are, in short, football legends.
They have inspired generations in their respective countries of the Netherlands and Germany, as well as football fans around the world.
They know what it takes to win; what it takes to be successful.
Speaking at TCS Summit Europe 2018 in Budapest, they both offered up the lessons they had learned about the qualities and experiences it takes to reach the top of your game – whether that is in sport or business.
1990 FIFA World Cup-winning German captain Lothar Matthäus knew from a very early age that success in sport was possible, thanks to the Puma and Adidas factories in the Bavarian village where he grew up.
“That was some motivation for us kids, as the stars were coming to this village,” Matthäus explains. Stars such as the World Cup-winning captain Franz Beckenbauer came to the village, while Bayern Munich was once sponsored by Adidas and Borussia Monchengladbach was sponsored by Puma.
“We got to meet our idols. This was a sense of motivation. Our idols came to us. This gave me a lot of motivation to be like them,” he said.
As well as believing that success is possible, it is vital that you have confidence in your own abilities, according to Ruud Gullit, who won the 1988 UEFA European Championship with the Netherlands and two European Cups – today known as the Champions League – with AC Milan.
At the age of just 14, Gullit was invited to play with players from Ajax, some of the best footballers in Amsterdam.
“I could compare myself and thought: they are not better than me – I am better than them,” he said, adding that confidence was key.
“You need to be confident about yourself. You do not want to be overconfident. I did that once, I thought I could sing and I made a record! That is overconfident. You need to be confident about yourself and about your abilities.”
Following his time at Ajax, Gullit said he realised how hard he was going to have to work to make the most of his skills.
“Talent is just a tool,” he said.“It all depends on what you do with the tool.
“There is a lot of danger outside. Women, drink, smoking, going out, all these things. You need to make a decision, especially when you are 14 or 15. You have to make a decision.”
That sort of discipline doesn’t stop when you make it to the professional level, according to Matthäus, who has played in more World Cup matches than anyone else.
“For example, I noticed I was missing with my left foot, never scoring a goal,” he said. “Then I would start to teach myself to be better with my left foot, to be faster, to even put in extra training sessions.”
Surrounding yourselves with colleagues or teammates who are as good or better than you also helps push you to become more successful, says Gullit.
“When I made the decision to go to Italy, I did not know what to expect, I only knew that I would go to play with teams that had the best players in the world,” he said.
“You must imagine that in those days you were only allowed two foreign players, then three foreign players, in a team. The three best foreign players of any country in the world were playing in Italy, plus the Italians were also on a high level. Can you imagine every week I had to work so hard, and on the highest level against the best players? That helped me.”
Likewise, strong opponents can also push you to greatness, according to Matthäus, citing the strong rivalry between the two Milan clubs of Inter and A.C. during both players time in Italy.
Both Gullit and Matthäus said that much of their success – especially at the international level – came to playing alongside leaders and players who were willing to take responsibility on the pitch.
“In those days, people and players, they were the coaches on the pitch,” he said.
“The coaches, you have to give these people responsibility.”
Gullit says this quality of responsibility is lacking in many of the young players he has worked with today.
Matthäus added that the ability to think for yourself and take responsibility is a quality as vital in business as it is in sport.
“People who can make decisions quickly and not be referring or deferring to somebody else [are successful]. During a game you cannot ask a coach what you’re going to do. Franz Beckenbauer was the coach in 1990 when we won the World Cup and I was the captain. He said don’t come out to me, when you see something, change it. You are the player on the field, you have to do this, what you think is best for the team in this moment. He trusted me.”
Strong personal relationships, both between coaches and players, and between teammates, are also critical to success, according to Matthäus.
He learned this lesson as a captain: “When you are a leader you have to motivate your teammates, you have to know their problems and their mentality and then maybe you can change something for the team and then everybody will profit.”
Practice makes perfect, so the saying goes. And Gullit says the very best players are those who combine their talent with a wealth of experience of the patterns of play that occur on the football field.
“Very good players anticipate the patterns, they see it in a split second. They react. The good players who play for Real Madrid, they can all think four or five steps ahead. That is why they win all the time.”
It is no coincidence that the players who are successful once, go on to win more trophies.
Matthäus said he was born with the hunger to win, and that he was always motivated to succeed no matter how many titles he won.
“When you win one title, you like to win the next and this was the motivation,” he explained.
“For me, it was always the motivation, to win. Whether it was in training or at the weekend. In this way, you give yourself motivation to do it better. For this you have to work. We had the same up and downs, sometimes you get injured and don’t get the results, but you have to give your best.”
Finally, Gullit advises would-be players to be honest and direct – a common trait of his fellow countryman.
“The Dutch have no filters, we all have an opinion and argue – that is how we are,” he said.
“This gave us success. When there was a problem, it never stayed. If you talk about it immediately, if you do that on the pitch, saying what you think, then the problem is gone.”
He believes this blunt honesty is part of what has helped the relatively small nation of the Netherlands reach three World Cup finals and win one European Championship. He also believes it helps his nation punch above its weight in business terms.
“We are very outspoken, we are very honest in our opinions. If we say you need four machines, you get four and not five. We say exactly what you need. That is why we do business so well. I am particularly proud of that,” he said.