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(Free) Barcelona 2 : 8 Bayern Munich — learning for business strategy

This match’s result was rather a shocking news to global football fans. One of the top football clubs in the world led by Lionel Messi, FC Barcelona was defeated by FC Bayern Munich by humiliating scores 2:8. By this match, Bayern has become the first team who scored 8 goals in a knock-out match of UEFA Champions League, while this became the first match that Barcelona allowed 8 goals to the opponent in a single game since 1946. We would like to share what we learned from this match from business strategy perspectives.

Long-term team & capability building

Both FC Barcelona and FC Bayern Munich have been famous for their robust youth programs (for example, Muller and Messi are from their respective youth teams). However, their recent directions have been somewhat different.

Thiago Alcantara, who was from FC Barcelona Youth program, played as a Bayern’s player in this match since he was transferred from Barcelona to Bayern in 2013. It was obvious that Barcelona sold this home-grown young talent to a competitor too early without seeing his potential correctly.

Also, Barcelona has recently sold Arthur Melo, a talented young midfielder, to Juventus. Since Arthur got spotlights as a rising star as a potential successor of legendary Barcelona midfielders, Xavi and Iniesta, this deal seemed to be another mis-judgement from Barcelona’s short-term financial oriented decision making. (note: FC Barcelona is organized as a registered association and its fans — 140,000+ members. The president of this club is also elected every 6 years by the members and holds responsibility to maintain certain financial performance of the club. It was known that the current FC Barcelona president sold Arthur to Juventus in order to meet such financial requirement on the book amidst the recently difficult situation by Covid-19)

In a business world, we are also seeing many enterprises that have disappeared by failing to secure such long-term capabilities & talents. Is your company investing sufficiently for its long-term future? Or is it rather obsessed with a short-term performance and losing opportunities to build a long-term potential? Also, is your organization giving sufficiently motivating and inspirational works to your young and ambitious talents, or just putting them in a team behind experienced and proven managers? Some companies might need to be more careful not to face such a shocking reality in a near future as FC Barcelona just did.

Deep bench and healthy competition among new & old talents

FC Barcelona saw Neymar Jr. (who led Barcelona’s glory days in early-mid 2010’s with Messi and Suarez) left the club in 2017 to Paris Saint-Germain F.C. Then, Barcelona was looking for a backfill for Neymar and ended up signing Antoine Griezmann who was the key player and superstar of Atletico Madrid. But strong characteristics and play style of Griezmann have not been appeared well blended into Barcelona’s team play and it seems he has not been able to build strong trust with Messi in and outside of fields. Therefore, Barcelona team’s management has also not been successful to increase healthy competition or strong complementary spirits in the team by leveraging this new player Griezmann. During this match, Griezmann was benched till around 30th minute of the second half and came out to the filed but showed nothing much for the rest 20 minutes.

On the other hand, Bayern scouted Robert Levandowski from Borussia Dortmund in 2014 and signed Philippe Coutinho and Ivan Perisic on loan, strengthening the team’s overall offensive ability. Additionally, young talents like Serge Gnabry and Kingsley Coman were added to Bayern’s offense force. Gnabry and Coman have continued to grow fast, raising healthy competition with other senior players and driving the team to player harder and faster. One of the interesting points in this match was that Philippe Coutinho, who was loaned from Barcelona to Bayern, entered at around 30th minute during the second half of the game but dazzled his parent team (which did not recognize his potential that much) with 2 goals and 1 assist.

Healthy competition among the young and talented Bayern players could be one of drivers to make the team run harder and more than Barcelona (Bayern players run 108km in total whereas Barcelona player run 98km in total during this match). It was not just the best eleven, but also the deep bench that was full of world-class players like Coutinho and Perisic, who were trusted and mandated despite being rotational members many times, that has elevated the clubs power with healthy competition and collaboration in the organization.

Are there young and old members working together in healthy competition and cooperation modes in your organization? Or are young and talented members being asked to follow the legacy processes and senior members? Or does internal politics slow down new projects? Then, it would be imperative to reshape your organizational structure and culture to ensure cooperation in new ways and healthy competition among the young and old members.

Self-innovation of leadership

FC Barcelona was the best football team from late-2000’s to mid-2010’s in the world with its near-perfected tiki-taka football play. Meanwhile, other European big soccer clubs have studied Barcelona’s football and further developed new strategies — mostly required high speed and power for relentless pressure as well as simple yet sharp/powerful space penetrating passes for efficiency.

Barcelona team’s manager Quique Setien in this match was known as a disciple of Cruyff, the legendary football player/manager who created Barcelona’s “total soccer with tiki-taka”. Setien has kept Barcelona’s traditional strategy without much innovation obviously, while Bayern studied thoroughly and destructed it on the field with its speed, power and effective space creation, while making Barcelona’s imperfect tiki-taka futile.

As a strategy consultant, head of strategy and chief strategy officer of large-mid-small sized companies, I have observed this common pitfall for leadership over and over — lack of self-innovation, especially from highly experienced leadership who have made a series of success with similar strategy. They tend to make this mistake in recent dramatically changing new business environment. “I have done this before and it should (not) be this way..” is a dangerous mindset from top leadership and obstacle for new businesses and agile movement of an organization, letting young and ambitious talents leave the company.

This match will be remembered as an important moment in football’s history and was very interesting yet shocking and sad to watch. I will look forward to the next match of Bayern Munich in UEFA Champion League and FC Barcelona’s rebuilding soon, which might not be so easy.

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