Management learns from soccer
Pep Guardiola, the recently resigned coach of the best football club ever in the world, should be a model for every successful CEO who really cares about the success and future of the organization he leads. Last April 27, 2012, he announced he would quit as Barca’s manager on June 30, 2012, after achieving 13 titles in four years at the helm of the club. He then added a fourteenth title by winning the King’s Cup last May. His main reason for retiring was severe physical and mental stress, which he feared would jeopardize the future of the team he loves deeply. Instead of clinging to power and glory at the peak of his success in transforming Barca into the best football club in the world, he was selfless enough to think of the welfare of the whole team. His attitude was true to form in a club whose outstanding performance in the last four years was based on team spirit, on the ability of every player—including the world’s most valuable soccer player, Lionel Messi—to subordinate his ego to the good of the whole team.
Guardiola, who was given a most emotional send-off by his players, members of the FCBarcelona Club and thousands of fans in the Camp Nou stadium, had already intimated his desire to take a rest months before the actual announcement. Those who attribute his quitting to the failure of Barca to win the Spanish league and the Champions League (both titles that they held last year) are showing their gross ignorance. The decision was not a result of an impulsive move. In an interview with Stefan Coerts in the online publication Goal.com, Pep’s father, Valenti Guardiola, confirmed that the Barcelona coach was overworked and exhausted and felt that he made the right decision to take a break from football. “Pep was absolutely exhausted and overworked. He was thinking about football 24 hours per day, and always thought about the fans and the people who care about the club. It was a big responsibility for him,” Valenti said to Catalunya Radio.
Pep’s mother, Dolors, was very thankful to the players and the fans for the farewell they gave him: “His farewell was very beautiful and touching. When Pep told me that he would leave Barca, I saw that he needed a place of tranquility. It hurt a bit because Barca is Barca, but health comes before everything else.” It is impressive to observe that every party concerned, i.e., Pep, his parents, the fans and the officers of FC Barcelona, all had the right sense of priorities, thinking of the welfare of Pep and the common good of the entire team. One can understand the farewell remarks of Pep who said that each and every one of the players that he managed at FC Barcelona had helped him become a better manager. “I’ll always carry them inside of me,” he said.
What does Widipedia say about this selfless coach? He grew up in the very bosom of FC Barcelona. Born on January 18, 1971, he joined the famous La Masia training school of FC Barcelona at the age of 13 and rose through the ranks at the youth academy. He played as a defensive midfielder and spent the longest time in his playing career with Barca. He was part of Johan Cruyff’s “dream team” that won Barcelona’s first European Cup. He also played for Brescia and Roma in Italy; Al-Ahli in Qatar; and for Dorados de Sinaloa in Mexico. As an international, he played for Spain, and in friendly matches for Catalonia, a region in Spain. After retiring as a player, he became coach of FC Barcelona B. On May 8, 2008, Barcelona President Joan Laporta announced that Guardiola would succeed Frank Rijkaard as the manager of the First Team. In his first season as manager, Barcelona won the treble of La Liga, the Copa del Rey, and the Champions League. In accomplishing this feat, Guardiola became the youngest UEFA Champions League-winning manager ever. During the following season, Guardiola and Barcelona won the Supercopa de España, the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup, bringing the manager’s tally to the maximum of six trophies in six competitions in one year, thus completing the first ever sextuple. I don’t think this record will ever be broken.
I would like to add a personal note to all the accolades that have been given to this selfless coach. As I have recounted several times in this column, I resided in Barcelona from December 2006 to July 2008. It was during this period that I got hooked to soccer and to Barca, especially because I lived in an apartment just in front of Camp Nou in the Les Corts district of the city. On the 10th floor where I lived, I could see the game being played in the famous soccer field that can accommodate more than 80,000 fans and there were two instances that I was one of them. Unfortunately, during the period in which I was initiated to the “beautiful game,” Barca was on the way down because of the poor coaching of Rijkaard and the deteriorating quality of the star player then, Ronaldhino. My friends and I were quite disillusioned with our favorite team so that we were heartened to learn on that 8th of May 2008 that Rijkaard would be removed as coach and that this promising young Catalan by the name of Pep Guardiola would replace him. When I returned to Manila in July 2008, I was reassured by those who knew Guardiola that Barca’s star would rise again. The rest is history.
The one who will take his place as coach of Barca is Tito Vilanova, who has been his assistant manager since his coaching days with the B team of Barca. Vilanova is almost an alter ego of Guardiola and is the reason why Barca fans are confident that their team will continue to reap victories after victories in the future since management succession has been assured, thanks to the collaborative style followed by Guardiola. As BBC Sport reported on May 30, 2011, Barca became more disciplined (compared to the one coached by Rijkaard) with a greater focus on possession and a far more disciplined and aggressive pressing style. Guardiola often played a high defensive line with the full backs (particularly Daniel Alves) pushing up down their respective sides while relying on the metronomic passing of Xavi Hernadez and Andres Iniesta to retain possession while employing an extraordinarily aggressive pressing style without the ball. During the 2011-2012 season Guardiola made increasing use of the 3-4-3 system, especially when facing two attackers, using Cesc Fabregas as an attacking midfielder and Javier Mascherano or Sergio Busquets as pivot on the midfield. This football style, also mastered by Vilanova under the tutelage of Guardiola, has been called “Tiki-taka.” There is no reason to doubt that Barca will continue to be the “best football club ever” under its new coach considering that most of its star players are still in their early twenties, especially the fabled Lionel Messi.
I hope that the example of Guardiola will inspire many of our CEOs and top politicians to know when to let go, with the good of the organization or the community as the paramount consideration. The fly in the ointment that I see in the present bullish investment climate among the top Filipinos conglomerates is the rapidly aging ranks of senior executives. A large majority of them are already in their post-retirement years and are being recycled from one CEO post to another. As many of these businesses are diversifying aggressively into new areas, I do not see enough focus on succession planning and management development. Even worse is the situation with political leaders, whether national or local. There is the penchant to retain power by hook or by crook, with politicians recycling themselves from one position to another or fielding wives, children and other relatives to take their places. The least of their concern, as contrasted with the admirable stance of Pep Guardiola, is the common good of their constituents.
Breaking news: A nine-year old student of Southridge (whose name I will reveal in a future column), was spotted at a Barca camp in Singapore. He was asked to apply in Barcelona where he attended a trial on April 28 in the famous Barca soccer camp called La Masia, which has trained such soccer champions as Messi, Iniesta, Javi, Fabregas and many others. He impressed the coaches and was asked to return on June 2 for the final selection. I ask the readers to pray that he be qualified to be among the future Barca players. If he is accepted, he will be the first Filipino to make it. That would be a signal honor and can inspire many of our youth to be interested in playing this sport, which I have said ad nauseam is one in which Filipinos can become world-class, much more than in basketball, where we have the height disadvantage. I am proud of the fact that I was involved in the foundation of Southridge and other schools of the Parents for Education (Paref) such as Northfield in Quezon City, Springdale in Cebu and Westbridge in Iloilo, all of which have winning youth soccer teams.
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