Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser.
This aphorism is from the back catalogue of Vince Lombardi, the legendary American football coach whose insights into sporting success later became the tenets of naked capitalism.
Winning isn't everything: it's the only thing. That was another Lombardi saying that was adopted by Wall Street's Masters of the Universe. I was thinking about all this when I was driving back from Wembley on Saturday. I was listening to Radio Five's football phone-in show, which was rather like having a car full of people all shouting at the same time.
Anyway, if I have this right, Robbie Savage, one-time professional footballer and Strictly Come Dancing contestant, was highly critical of the Manchester City players being so generous in defeat to their opponents from Wigan Athletic. For Robbie, losing hurt so badly that he just couldn't face offering congratulations to the victors.
By way of contrast, Gary Lineker - a winner if ever there was one - was extremely impressed by Manchester City's behaviour as the beaten team. "Great dignity in defeat by Manchester City and their players. We seldom mention such things," he tweeted. City's Belgian captain, Vincent Kompany, who was diligent in shaking the hands of his opponents after the match, also took to Twitter later to express his admiration for the way Wigan played.
In other words, he was a exceptionally good loser. But, to Robbie Savage, he was just a loser. It is a very interesting point, and one that has a resonance beyond the sporting field. If you want to be a winner - in business, in politics, in life - is it essential to be so single-minded that the concept of grace in victory or defeat becomes redundant?
We are told that footballers are role models, so maybe the example set by Kompany and company is a bad one. It may be harmful for our competitiveness as a nation if we see such a display of insouciance from those who have just been vanquished in agonising fashion. What kind of message does that send out to our impressionable youngsters? Winning or losing. It's all the same to us.
Football is more than a game, and not quite a business (very few of the customary rules of commerce apply), so it is easy to understand why there is so much disputation over standards of behaviour. It is Vincent Kompany's living, and although he has a gilded existence and will not suffer too drastically from Saturday's unexpected reverse, his professional pride will have taken a hit. And the fact that he was able to conduct himself with dignity in the aftermath is surely to his credit.
It is not just footballers whose conduct often leaves a lot to be desired. Some of our politicians and business leaders betray a gracelessness and petulance that blights public discourse. My friend Eric has a great strategy for conflict resolution, and in times of victory or defeat. Be the bigger man, he says. So, with deference to Messrs Lombardi and Savage, perhaps it's not all about the pain of losing and the exultation of winning. It's about whether you have the courage to be the bigger man.Reuse content