Ramkarthik Krishnamurthy

Good Problems to Have

It was the year 1998 and Manchester United, the English football club, had just signed striker/forward Dwight Yorke from Aston Villa. By that time, they already had an experienced Andy Cole, a young Ole Solskjaer and an English international — Teddy Sheringham — who was brought in from Tottenham just the season before to replace the club legend Eric Cantona.

In a single season, a club plays 38 games in the premier league and about dozen games in other competitions (FA Cup, UEFA Champions league and Carling Cup) depending on how far they go in those competitions. United played 63 games in the 98–99 season.

Manchester United play a 4–4–2 formation system which means only two strikers can start a game in their favorite position. They had four extremely talented players vying for two spots. If we know anything about football players, it is that they have huge egos. After all, that is what makes them the player they are. You don’t play for a top division club, let alone Manchester United, unless you have the determination to play every single game.

“When you buy me, you are buying a Ferrari”

— Zlatan Ibrahimovic (One of the best football players and an example of ego)

You have 63 games and 4 players working hard for 2 positions. This would usually be a problem. But not for one of the greatest managers of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson. He rotated the four players in a way to give them all game time. He let each one of them know their role in the team and stressed on how important they are.[1]

Having won zilch the previous season, United went on to win the treble[2] in the 98–99 season and became the first club in English history to achieve this remarkable feat. At the end of the season, following were the stats of the four players:

Cole — Played 50(as sub — 7) — Scored 27 goals

Yorke — Played 51(as sub — 3) — Scored 29 goals

Solskjaer — Played 37(as sub — 20) — Scored 18 goals

Sheringham — Played 27(as sub — 16) — Scored 5 goals

While you could say that Solskjaer and Sheringham played significantly lesser games, they combined to create one of, if not, the most magical moment in the history of Manchester United.

It was a beautiful night in Barcelona and Camp Nou stadium was buzzing for the Champions League[3]final game between Manchester United and Bayern Munich. United were left stunned as Bayern Munich got an early goal through Mario Basler in the 6th minute.

At 67th minute mark, Teddy Sheringham came on for Jesper Blomqvist and at 81st minute, Ole Solskjaer came on for Andy Cole. The score was still 1–0 to Bayern Munich and United found themselves chasing as they did many times that season.

90’ minute — Teddy Sheringham scores the equalizer from a corner kick taken by David Beckham[4].

Bayern players and fans felt the night was going to be long. Premier league followers knew the notoreity of the United team of that season who regularly crashed the party with late goals[5].

90 + 3’ (Stoppage time) — Beckham goes to take another freekick. The ball heads towards Sheringham who leaps to head it and manages to deflect the ball towards goal. The ball falls near Solskjaer who could do no wrong the whole season and with no time to think and react, Solskjaer stretches his leg and deflects the ball towards the top corner.

The next few seconds and the whole night would forever stay in every football fan’s memory, more so for a United fan. United had their most successful season that year and all the strikers ended the season on a more than happy note (except maybe Sheringham at a personal level)[6].

In football, when you have more quality players for a position than you can play, it is often termed as “good problem to have”. Most teams cannot afford to have one quality player for each position. Usually, teams can often deal with the “too many players” problem well. In the cases when they cannot, nothing bad happens. At worst, a player leaves. But it is so much better than having no players in the first place.

Whenever I had more things to work on, I always thought it was bad, until I started drawing parallels with the above scenario as a Manchester United fan.

Options often disguise themselves as problems. What we fail to realize sometimes is that, they are good problems to have.

Let’s just consider few examples you might face regularly:

  • You have way too many side project ideas and only limited free time to work on.
  • You have many topics to write about but you do not have time to research and write about each one.
  • Your product is used by thousands of users and you get a dozen new feature requests every day.
  • Your want to start monetizing your startup and you have multiple revenue models leaving you to worry about which is the best one.

All the above examples have one thing in common. They disguise themselves as problems. But when you think about it:

  • How many people have trained their mind to get regular side project ideas?
  • How many people can come up with great topics to write about?
  • How many products even get to that stage?
  • How many startups have one good revenue model they can be happy about?

Don’t put pressure on yourself to pursue everything. Work on things that interest you at any moment and just let the other ideas rest. You can get back to it when you find time or interest. In the cases when something doesn’t work, you can try another item in your list. And in the cases when you don’t get to try something, just tell yourself that it is okay. We often think it is our duty to execute every single idea we have.

It is perfectly alright to not do something.

The next time you look at a problem, check if it is a real problem or just a good problem to have.

Footnotes:

[1] Solskjaer later said in an interview about the competition with his teammates:

“You want to play all the time, but I always respected the players I had with me. I realise now I was a fantastic sub for him (Sir Alex Ferguson). He wanted me to work for 20 minutes like it was a full 90. I had 20 minutes to put 90 minutes work in.

It was just in me to do my best whenever I could.”

[2] Treble — United won Premier league, FA cup and Champions league that season.

[3] UEFA Champions league — It is the best competition in football where top teams from the best leagues in the world meet.

[4] When David Beckham went to take this corner kick which eventually resulted in the equalizer, Clive Tyldesley (commentator) famously remarked “Can Manchester United score? They always score.” because United won many games scoring at the death.

[5] United won many games at the last moment that season, especially against Liverpool in FA cup and Arsenal in FA cup semifinal. United team under Sir Alex Ferguson made it a habit to win games at the last moment that the stoppage time (or extra time) during the United games was started to be most famously referred to as “Fergie Time”.

[6] Teddy Sheringham later said in an interview about his place in the team:

“It was a very frustrating season for me. For Manchester United it was fantastic, but for me, personally, up until the last two weeks of the season I was very frustrated.

I got three goals up until that stage. I lost my place, couldn’t get in the side, it was only until the last two weeks of the season I started the last game. I was rested for the FA Cup final and came on after six minutes, then didn’t get a place in the starting line-up for the Champions League final and then came on and scored a goal in that.

It was a delightful ending for me, but frustrating all the way through.”