Thursday, April 18, 2024

Set-Pieces and Transitions – Using Football Analogies in National Governance


By Dr Roy Moobola

In the sport of football set-pieces refer to predetermined plays or situations in which the game momentarily pauses to allow for a specific action, such as a free kick, corner kick, or throw-in. These moments offer teams the opportunity to execute rehearsed plays or strategies designed to create scoring opportunities or defensive stability. Many a football fan will know whether their team has a strength for or weakness against set-piece situations and look forward to or dread these occasions. This season, following the appointment of a dedicated set-piece coach, Arsenal have led the English Premier League in numbers of goals scored from set-pieces.

Football transitions, on the other hand, refer to the fluid moments in the game when possession of the ball changes, either from defence to attack or vice versa. These transitions occur rapidly and require teams to quickly adjust their shape, mentality, and tactics to capitalise on opportunities or prevent counterattacks. Teams like Liverpool and Manchester City are good at transition tactics such as the high counter-press which are used to great effect when the team loses the ball.

In the realm of national governance, navigating challenges often resembles the strategic decisions and tactics observed in the sport of football. Governments must adeptly respond to both anticipated events and unforeseen crises. The recent experiences of the Zambian government offer a compelling analogy. Its response to debt restructuring and instigation of socio-economic initiatives mirrors set-piece events, whilst grappling with emergent situations such as a cholera outbreak and a severe drought resembles the transitions of play often seen in football.

Set-Piece Events

Much like a well-rehearsed football set-piece play, the Zambian government’s response to debt restructuring has incorporated careful organisation and strategic execution. Over the course of nearly three years, the government has engaged in extensive negotiations with international lenders, satisfying diverse bilateral and multilateral requirements and striving to achieve equality of treatment across different types of debt. This deliberate approach reflects a set-piece strategy, characterised by structured planning and predefined actions.

Additionally, the government’s implementation of increased decentralised funding in the form of the constituency development fund (CDF), recruitment drives for teachers and health workers, and provision of meal allowances to university students further exemplify set-piece events. These initiatives have been meticulously planned and executed to meet specific objectives and address key priorities in local production, education, healthcare, and social welfare.


In contrast, emergent situations in Zambia such as the recent cholera outbreak and the El Nino-induced drought have presented dynamic challenges that require a nimble and adaptive response akin to transitions in football. Like a sudden change in possession on the football field, these crises have necessitated swift adjustments and flexible strategies to effectively address evolving circumstances.

The government’s response to the cholera outbreak, for instance, required rapid mobilisation of resources, deployment of healthcare personnel, and implementation of public health measures to contain the spread of the disease. Similarly, the onset of drought prompted the government to enact mitigation measures, such as crop irrigation efforts, direct support for affected communities, and introducing electricity load shedding across the country.

The Zambian government has encountered formidable challenges in grappling with these unexpected crises. Despite the government’s best efforts, the inability to effectively anticipate and plan for these emergent events underscores the need for greater risk awareness in national governance. The lessons learned from these experiences serve as a stark reminder of the importance of agility and preparedness in navigating the complexities of governance in an ever-changing climate and geopolitical landscape.

Government Risk Management

Analogies between football transitions and risk management in government can provide valuable insights into how governments can effectively navigate unforeseen challenges and adapt to changing circumstances.

  1. Anticipation and Preparedness: In football, teams anticipate transitions and prepare accordingly by maintaining defensive shape and positioning players strategically to quickly regain possession or launch counterattacks. Similarly, in risk management, governments must anticipate potential risks and threats to public welfare and economic stability. By conducting risk assessments, scenario planning, and preparedness exercises, governments can enhance their ability to respond effectively to unforeseen events and crises.
  2. Agility and Adaptability: Football teams demonstrate agility and adaptability during transitions by swiftly adjusting their tactics and positioning based on the flow of the game. Likewise, governments must be agile and adaptable in responding to emerging risks and changing circumstances. This involves having flexible policies, decision-making processes, and resource allocation mechanisms that enable rapid responses to evolving threats and challenges.
  3. Communication and Coordination: Effective communication and coordination are crucial during football transitions, as players must quickly convey information and instructions to teammates to capitalise on opportunities or mitigate risks. Comparably, in government risk management, clear communication and coordination among relevant stakeholders are essential for ensuring timely and coordinated responses to crises. This includes inter-agency collaboration, public engagement, and information sharing to facilitate effective decision-making and timely resource mobilisation.
  4. Learning and Improvement: Football teams analyse transitions and review game footage to identify areas for improvement and refine their tactics and strategies. In the same manner, governments should engage in post-event analysis and lessons learned exercises to evaluate the effectiveness of their risk management efforts and identify opportunities for improvement. By learning from past experiences and incorporating feedback into future planning and decision-making processes, governments can enhance their resilience and capacity to manage risks effectively.

Overall, the analogies between football transitions and risk management in government highlight the importance of anticipation, agility, communication, and learning in effectively navigating uncertain and complex environments. By embracing these principles and applying them to their risk management practices, governments can enhance their ability to anticipate, mitigate, and respond to a wide range of threats and challenges, ultimately safeguarding the well-being and prosperity of their citizens.

If, on the other hand, a government excels mainly at set-piece events but continues to struggle with transitions, the end result can be the governance equivalent of Everton football club, not thriving but constantly battling for survival.


  1. USA was NOT built by USA Government only. She was built by men and women who left Europe with a dream to grow more food, to make man fly, to be famous in whatever endeavor.
    Football competition will never make you a better player. You have to have your own efforts to be a better player. To develop your nation and yourself, just be delighted, simple, and move forward. Be delighted!

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