Leadership and Pro Soccer, Part 1: Thriving in Uncertainty

In this three-part GCN series, Glenn McMahan writes about the connections between international professional soccer and business. He interviewed Moraci Sant’Anna, the legendary physical trainer for four of Brazil’s World Cup soccer teams, including the winning team of 1994. These articles were first published in 2009. Today Sant'Anna is training a professional team in India with the famed Brazilian coach Zico.

Part 1: Thriving in Uncertain Times

If you are one of many who struggles with that terrible, lingering angst about becoming unemployed in today’s tumultuous times, you might find consolation from a man who in his career as a self-employed physical trainer for the world’s best soccer players has had zero job security in 40 years.

Over the course of his long career, Moraci Sant’Anna has been the physical trainer for many of the most renowned and highest-paid soccer players in the world. Sant’Anna is probably most highly regarded for his work as the physical trainer for four of Brazil’s World Cup soccer teams and for two World Cup teams in the Middle East. In 1994, he helped Brazil win the World Cup in California and received one of FIFA’s highest honors as the “Best Physical Trainer.”

But despite his stellar resume, he has never had job security. In fact, over the course of his 40-year career, Sant’Anna has had more than 22 different jobs (including his six World Cup contracts). These temporary, uncertain gigs have required him (and his family) to move all over the world on short notice. When a contract nears the end, he rarely knows what door—if any—will open next.

“Soccer has always been an unstable profession,” Sant’Anna said. “You depend a lot on your victories. And so each game, each competition, you are being tested. Independently of your capacity, of your experience, you have to 'kill a lion' every game. . . . If you’re winning, you’re considered to be the best, but if you begin to lose—and it doesn’t take many losses—you’re the worst and worth nothing. Unfortunately, this is our culture. We live on the basis of short-term results.”

I asked Sant’Anna how he has managed to cope with such intense uncertainty and change. What has helped him maintain such high international status over so many years?

I found his answers to be simple and refreshing. Sant’Anna says that the key is to build relational trust. The only way to win that trust in such a competitive environment is not by developing a slick Internet profile, but by the old-fashioned principles of hard work, perseverance, strong character, and professional dedication. There is no short-cut, he says.

“You really need to win the trust of people in order to stay in the profession," he said. "I have to study all the time, to really delve into everything that is happening in order to always be well-informed.”

Sant’Anna also says that “not being afraid to innovate” has been crucial to his successful career. It’s fair to say that his innovations over the past 40 years have helped revolutionize the game of soccer around the world. These innovations have given him a unique credibility among his peers and have revolutionized international soccer.

In the next article, I’ll look at how Sant’Anna and other physical trainers—even though they are less visible in the media than coaches and players—have dramatically changed the game of soccer. They are the ones who dedicate their lives to helping players become the best they can be. Ever wish you had a boss like that?