Oasis’ Noel and Liam Gallagher won’t be in a very pleasant mood today. Just a few hours ago, their beloved Manchester City were demolished 5-1 by Chelsea in the FA Cup’s fifth round. And the immediate reaction from fans and members of the soccer media is one that you’d expect – “disgraceful,” “embarrassing,” pathetic.”

But watching that Manchester City defeat today, I witnessed something different. And it was impressive, not pathetic. Strategic, not disgraceful. Commendable, not embarrassing. I saw the mind of a true entrepreneur at work. It was a quick lesson in leadership, and reinforcement of a few standard startup keys to success from Manchester City’s manager Manuel Pellegrini.

1. Prioritize Ruthlessly. 

I turned on the match this morning to see Manchester City’s starting lineup featuring players wearing the numbers 51, 53, 59, 75 and 76 on their backs. In soccer, starters typically choose uniform numbers between 1 and 11. Manager Manuel Pellegrini fielded a team comprised largely of youth players and rested his starters for a midweek trip to Eastern Europe to take on Ukraine’s champions in Kiev – in the Champions League.

Manchester City, of course, have never won the Champions League – a competition that holds much more significance than the domestic FA Cup. In his pre-match press conference, Pellegrini said,“There are some moments when you have to prioritize…” I’ve written many times about how prioritization is crucial for success in business, as well as in reducing stress and increasing productivity.

Pellegrini prioritized the prestigious Champions League, plain and simple. He (and City’s executive team) established a goal: winning that competition. The goal is the easy part. Now, as a leader, he must prioritize the tasks to achieve that goal. And resting his star players today to keep them fresh for Kiev is directly correlated to achieving success in the Champions League – the number one goal on the club’s priority list. The decision to field a ‘weakened,’ ‘younger,’ team is then, impressive.

2. Be Honest.

Much has been written about the importance of transparency at a startup – in such a fast-paced environment, honesty can be a great strength. And despite the embarrassing 5-1 defeat today, Pellegrini was certainly honest about his planned inclusion of youth players before the match. He raised some eyebrows earlier this week when he told the media, “The fans want to see a good game but we told them one week ago that we are going to play a young team. If the people want to continue going to the stadium, that’s for them.” He even added, “I think it’s not a real game, of course; not enough to pay the ticket.” 

3. Employees First, Customers Second.

Conventional wisdom states that you put the customers first. In Pellegrini’s case, that would be Manchester City’s passionate fan base. But he put his players first. The Chilean said, “The FA Cup is a very important competition and if you can’t do well in it you must be disappointed, but you also have to be intelligent and make the best decision for the team.”

He made the best decision for the team. He has a number of injured (and injury prone) players – and it was too big of a risk to throw them out against top class opposition on a Sunday night, only to turn around the next day and fly to Kiev for an even more important match.

(Stoppage Time) Bonus Tip – Be Optimistic.

I don’t know why I took such delight and such positives out of a 5-1 defeat, but that leaves me with an extra time thought on successful entrepreneurs: possessing irrational optimism. We’re glass half full guys. So, yeah, Manchester City lost 5-1 today, but let’s see what happens during the week in Kiev, eh? After a masterclass in prioritization, transparency, and treating his team well, I’d be willing to throw a few shekels on a positive result from Pellegrini’s men in Ukraine.

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