Monday, May 30, 2011

Barca reigns supreme

Barcelona's majestic win over Manchester United in the Champions League underlined its status as the best team in the game today and, arguably, the best in the history of the game. Schumpeter, writing in the Economist, believes that Barca's success contains the answers to important questions of management. What is the right balance between stars and the rest of mankind? Should you buy talent or grow your own? How can you harness the enthusiasm of consumers to promote your own brand? He sees the answers as follows:
Barça puts more emphasis than any other major team on growing its own players. Other football teams often resemble the United Nations—the Arsenal first eleven, for example, frequently includes just two native-born Britons. Barça, by contrast, is still dominated by local players, and Catalan is often spoken in the dressing room....It is a boarding school that puts as much emphasis on character-training as on footballing skills. The students are relentlessly instructed in the importance of team spirit, self-sacrifice and perseverance. ...It is owned by its members (socis in Catalan), who now number 150,000, rather than by shareholders or foreign tycoons. far nobody has gone as far as Barça in giving customers a direct say in big decisions.
I have great regard for Schumpeter but, as readers of this blog would know, I am wary of drawing management lessons from anecdotal evidence. True, it's unwise to depend too much on stars and there is much to be said for home-grown talent. But would you say 'never' to stars? There are surely instances of other clubs that have done the opposite of what Barca has done and been at the top in their own time. If home-grown talent were all that mattered, the teams in the IPL would not bidding for foreign players and having them.

Moreover, what applies in football or some other sport may not be applicable to firms. As firms globalise, there is merit in hiring talent from overseas, at all levels, indeed in internationalising top management as well as the board. In sports, the nationality of the player does not matter- football is football, whether one is playing at home or abroad. Not so with firms, where knowledgeable of the local culture and the local economy and the ability to deal with policy-makers and regulators in the host country are important requirements for success.

Star CEOs do deliver dramatic improvements in performance, although there is an issue of whether these improvements are always sustainable. You can't deny that Lou Gerstner produced a lasting transformation at IBM.

Perhaps what is required is combination of home-grown values and diversity of talent. The values must be so deep-rooted that foreign talent also comes to imbibe it. But this is, perhaps, asking for the impossible. If Barca continues its reign for a longer period than anybody else, we may be able to draw conclusions. Until then, we must reserve judgement on what Barca represents- and its managerial implications.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article: I agree Barcelona is a great team and the kind of ball possesion they maintain makes good teams look poor but I tend to disagree with Schumpeter's comment on emphasis on character-training;"It is a boarding school that puts as much emphasis on character-training as on footballing skills" especially for guys like Daniel may like read the WSJ article too "For All Its Artistry, Barcelona Has Prospered by Working the Officials; 165 Free Kicks in 11 Games" available on

JPM said...
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