The ‘Battery’ of the Team

Spanish La Liga: Real Madrid’s Galacticos

2002-03 Season, Spanish La Liga: O Fenomeno (The Phenomenon) Ronaldo joined the Los Blancos, Real Madrid Football Club, from Inter Milan for a staggering fee of 45 million euros. With his 23 league goals, Real Madrid won the Spanish La Liga for 29th time in its history. They were jubilant and ecstatic with the victory.

In order to further strengthen their team for their conquest next season, the club decided to bring in another star midfield player – David Beckham. In the subsequent 2003-04 season, Beckham arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu, the home of Real Madrid, from Manchester United for a whopping fee of 35 million euros. Addition of Beckham ensured Real Madrid added another star in their galaxy – alongside other star players like Iker Casillas, Roberto Carlos, Zinedine Zidane, Raul, Ronaldo, and Luis Figo. With such reinforcement, they were highly favored to win their 30th title.

The Real Madrid Galacticos: David Beckham, Luis Figo, Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Raul [L-R]; Photo Source: Era Galactica, Real Madrid Fandom Wiki

In a shocking manner, Real Madrid finished fourth in the 2003-04 season, behind champions Valencia, FC Barcelona, and Deportivo La Coruna. To fight back from this embarrassment, Real Madrid bought another forward next season – Michael Owen – the golden boy from Liverpool. Despite the golden boy addition, the 2004-05 season saw FC Barcelona edge Real Madrid with four points. Real Madrid still couldn’t win their 30th title.

In 2005-06 season, Real Madrid splashed out a whopping 96 million euros for multiple players – defender Sergio Ramos and midfielder Baptista from Sevilla, and forward Robinho from FC Santos. Even with such reinforcements, Real Madrid still finished second behind FC Barcelona, this time with a gap of 12 points. For the second consecutive season, Real Madrid did not win any competitions.

Real Madrid finally wins their 30th League Title

In 2006-07 season, Real Madrid splashed huge with more than a hundred million euros. Only after signing the 2006 World Cup winning defender Fabio Cannavaro and his Juventus manager Fabio Capello, along with forwards Ruud van Nistelrooy from Manchester United, Gonzalo Higuain from River Plate, defender Marcelo from Fluminense, and defensive midfielder Emerson from Juventus, Real Madrid managed to win their 30th league title. However, shortly after winning the La Liga title, the club surprisingly sacked manager Capello after he refused to field David Beckham and Ronaldo, and his defensive tactics. This season saw Zidane’s retirement as well as Ronaldo leaving Real Madrid for AC Milan.

The Big Question

The question remains – why could Real Madrid, a team filled with such superstars and gifted players, not win the league for over three seasons, and remain trophy-less in two of them?

While there are multiple reasons for Madrid’s galacticos remaining trophy-less for consecutive seasons, one of them is a departure of an under appreciated genius – Claude Makelele.

Claude Makelele - The Battery of the Team
Claude Makelele – The Battery of the Team; Image Source:

Makelele arrived at Real Madrid from Celta Vigo in the 2000-01 season, when Real Madrid started operating with the goal of making it the most fashionable club in the world and was dubbed galacticos since they were aiming to recruit one expensive world famous player every summer. However, despite his value for the team, Makelele was one of its most relatively underpaid player, earning a fraction of that paid to teammates like Zidane, Figo, Raul, Ronaldo, Carlos, McManaman and Guti.

When Madrid’s 28th title winning manager Del Bosque was shockingly sacked, and after the arrival of David Beckham, Makelele decided to ask for an improved contract – especially after getting encouragements from team members Zidane, Raul, McManaman, and Morientes. The club management outright refused to even consider his request. Upset, Makelele handed in a transfer request, and was signed by English Premier League sides, Chelsea in 2003-04 season. Club president Fiorentino Perez infamously scorned on Makelele’s footballing abilities after his departure and proclaimed he would not be missed.

Rise of Chelsea: The Makelele Role

In Steve McManaman’s autobiography, he described Makelele as “the most important and yet least appreciated midfielder at Real Madrid.” The then captain of Real Madrid, Fernando Hierro, also criticized club president Perez for both Makelele’s departure and the manner of departure, and said, “The loss of Makelele was the beginning of the end for Los Galacticos, he was the base, the key and I think he is the same to Chelsea now.”

Makelele usually played in front of the team’s back-line, where he served as a defensive protection cover for the defenders. With his ability to read the game, break down plays, mark and anticipate opponents, and aggressive tackling, he was regarded as the best in the position. In his role, he was highly regarded throughout his career for his positional awareness, tactical discipline, intelligence, energy, and ball winning ability. With such abilities and playing a key role in redefining the defensive midfield role, that role is now colloquially known as “The Makelele Role ” in his homage.

With his arrival, Chelsea finished second in the league in 2003-04 season. In 2004-05 season, Makelele was a key player in Mourinho’s campaign, winning the league first time in 50 years and also the League Cup. As of now, this Chelsea side still holds the defensive record for most clean sheets and fewest goals conceded in English Premier League season, all thanks to the defensive cover from Makelele.

The Battery of the Team

When Claude Makelele signed for Chelsea in the summer of 2003, then manager Claudio Ranieri proclaimed Makelele as the ‘battery of the team.’

Now what does this term – ‘battery of the team’ – mean?

Take a moment to think about your decision making process while purchasing a new phone. The decision criteria mostly would include the brand, screen size, display types, processor speed, cameras, RAM, and storage. The battery of the phone rarely comes to the discussion on the decision criteria – not because it is not required, but is often overlooked. The battery powers all the functions – the display, processor, camera, and storage, but is not always considered the best part of any phone. Claudio Makelele was the battery of the team because he was the one to protect the defensive line and supply the ball to the strikers so that they can score.

Similarly, in our teams, we have people who connects and gels the team together – supplying power and energy to other team members. Covering someone’s late night shift, asking a colleague to take a break, protecting a teammate’s mistake – these all are hallmarks of someone who provides energy to the team. The battery of the team often gets under appreciated, and looks like an average performer. But beneath the average performer could be our teams’ battery – who is constantly charging the team, someone who is constantly energizing other team members.

It is essential as leaders and managers to recognize these average performing energizers – because they might be the reason that our star performers are performing their best. Removing them might cause the star performers’ productivity to dwindle down, as that happened with Real Madrid’s galacticos. To identify such ‘battery’ in the team, be in a constant connection with all members of the team – not just with your best performers. Get to know the ins and outs of all team members. Get to know them personally. Get to know which team member contributes in which areas apart from their own designated works.

Getting to know, understanding, and connecting with your team members – this will help you recognize the ‘battery’ in your team. Hold on to them, and sometimes charge them too. It is the battery that powers all other functions in the phone, but the battery needs to be charged too. Similarly, your team’s battery might need frequent charges too.