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Unconventional Strategies: How David Beats Goliath

I really like this article that I came across today and would like to share it with you guys.

I am still smarting from watching my beloved Man United get crushed by Barcelona 3-1 in the Champions League final for the 2nd time in 3 years.

Commentators and most people are saying this is the best football side in a long time with a great coach, great home grown players and a great start player. It can not be beaten.

Yet the team that was able to beat them twice and drawn them once this year turns out to be a little known Russian team called Rubin Kazan. Here was what the coach said in 2010:

I studied all Barcelona’s games in the Spanish championship. The game against Valencia [a 0-0 draw] was the most helpful to understand them. I noticed that Xavi and Andrés Iniesta – key players in the team – almost never drop back to their own penalty box. This style of play in the midfield creates free space for shots from the middle range. Our midfielders were told to shoot on sight. It’s also good to have a player in this area who constantly tries to hold the build-up of Barcelona’s attack in the centre of the midfield. It was Alejandro Domínguez who was playing this role, always dropping from the forward’s position to confront Yaya Touré. And Domínguez did a great job. I don’t think we could have beaten Barça without him. Barcelona like to use the whole pitch. Their full-backs, Dani Alves and Eric Abidal, tend to play wide and leave some space in the centre. We were ready to organise our counter-attack through that area, so we waited for the right opportunity. That’s how the second goal came in.”

A coach from a less reputable club was able to not let the opposing team’s reputation get in the way of finding the right solution. When compared to investing, it is letting quantitative figures dictate the way you trade and invest, instead of worrying about the size of losses or news that really don’t matter.

This Barcelona team I feel can be beaten. Teams have shown in the past that well organize game plans can topple the favorites. Every tactical plan have a weak link.


When Vivek Ranadivé decided to coach his daughter Anjali’s basketball team, he settled on two principles. The first was that he would never raise his voice. This was National Junior Basketball—the Little League of basketball. The team was made up mostly of twelve-year-olds, and twelve-year-olds, he knew from experience, did not respond well to shouting. He would conduct business on the basketball court, he decided, the same way he conducted business at his software firm. He would speak calmly and softly, and convince the girls of the wisdom of his approach with appeals to reason and common sense.

The second principle was more important. Ranadivé was puzzled by the way Americans played basketball. He is from Mumbai. He grew up with cricket and soccer. He would never forget the first time he saw a basketball game. He thought it was mindless. Team A would score and then immediately retreat to its own end of the court. Team B would inbound the ball and dribble it into Team A’s end, where Team A was patiently waiting. Then the process would reverse itself. A basketball court was ninety-four feet long. But most of the time a team defended only about twenty-four feet of that, conceding the other seventy feet. Occasionally, teams would play a full-court press—that is, they would contest their opponent’s attempt to advance the ball up the court. But they would do it for only a few minutes at a time. It was as if there were a kind of conspiracy in the basketball world about the way the game ought to be played, and Ranadivé thought that that conspiracy had the effect of widening the gap between good teams and weak teams. Good teams, after all, had players who were tall and could dribble and shoot well; they could crisply execute their carefully prepared plays in their opponent’s end. Why, then, did weak teams play in a way that made it easy for good teams to do the very things that made them so good?

Ranadivé looked at his girls. Morgan and Julia were serious basketball players. But Nicky, Angela, Dani, Holly, Annika, and his own daughter, Anjali, had never played the game before. They weren’t all that tall. They couldn’t shoot. They weren’t particularly adept at dribbling. They were not the sort who played pickup games at the playground every evening. Most of them were, as Ranadivé says, “little blond girls” from Menlo Park and Redwood City, the heart of Silicon Valley. These were the daughters of computer programmers and people with graduate degrees. They worked on science projects, and read books, and went on ski vacations with their parents, and dreamed about growing up to be marine biologists. Ranadivé knew that if they played the conventional way—if they let their opponents dribble the ball up the court without opposition—they would almost certainly lose to the girls for whom basketball was a passion. Ranadivé came to America as a seventeen-year-old, with fifty dollars in his pocket. He was not one to accept losing easily. His second principle, then, was that his team would play a real full-court press, every game, all the time. The team ended up at the national championships. “It was really random,” Anjali Ranadivé said. “I mean, my father had never played basketball before.”

[Read David Beats Goliath @ The New Yorker >]


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