At the 1990 World Cup there was a crunch second round match between the (then) West Germany and Netherlands. This game was played against the backdrop of an intense footballing rivalry. The Netherlands had lost two world cup finals. On both occasions they were defeated by perennial foes, West Germany.
The Dutch team at Italia ’90 were star-studded. They had the outstanding trio of Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard. Van Basten provided the goals and Gullit was the maestro and playmaker. However the single most important player to the team was probably Rijkaard.
He was the truly irreplaceable one. He led the team from deep lying positions and was the fulcrum of the midfield. With his tackling ability and passing range, he could initiate quick attacks after defensive recoveries and interceptions.
With these glittering talents a lot of Dutch fans and football purists expected the team to do well.
The West German team was good too. Jurgen Klinsmann was their star player. They also had a dependable striker in Rudi Voller and a dominating midfielder in Lother Matheus.
In the course of the game, there was a running battle between Rijkaard and Voller. This was to be expected in a no-holds barred match from players who via their positions in the respective formations, were competing for the same zones on the pitch.
In the heat of the contest, Rijkaard allowed himself to get worked up by a pesky Voller and got sent off. In fact, due to the altercation Voller was sent off too.
Both teams were down to ten men. Honours even? Far from it. Rijkaard’s dismissal hurt the Dutch more than Voller did to the Germans. The Germans went ahead to win the game 2-1. They progressed all the way to the final and won the World Cup that year.
After the game, the Dutch coach was scathing in his criticism of his player. He acknowledged that there was some provocation from Voller but expected Rijkaard to know that he was more important to the Dutch than Voller was to the Germans.
Do losses cancel out?
In conflict or in competition, it is often assumed that once both rivals are losing the same amount of resources, then the game/war is even. That is not the case. It is a Rijkaardesque fallacy. Even when losses are equal, effects are not. For instance a man who engages in fisticuffs with his boss, which leads to the termination of both may be the real loser. If he is the sole breadwinner of his family while his boss is not, then in terms of effect and consequence, he is the loser. Thus a parity of losses does not lead to a parity of consequences.
A Pause or a Greater Cause?
Voller’s loss to the German team was merely a misstep on Germany’s stately march to the title. On the other hand, Rijkaard’s unavailability completely derailed his team’s quest for glory. The Dutch could not keep the Germans at bay without their elegant stopper.
An equality of losses on an individual level does not measure the impact on the greater cause/wider team. If you serve a cause that is greater than yourself, risking your time and resources in a ‘side’ fight with another, risks damaging that cause beyond the actual losses you incur.
In the face of many, varied ‘contests’ we face in life, career or business, we must determine if our victories/defeats would not damage our ideals and nobler impulses. If it is only a misstep/pause at worst, then risk it, if it would damage the cause, it is not worth it. We must pick our battles wisely.
We all have ‘Vollers’ that we wish to outwit, tame or fight. Do not win at the expense of your ‘Rijkaards’. Winning your World Cup is better than defeating your ‘Rudi Voller’.