Bernardo M. Villegas
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Lessons of Football for Management

           Even before the whole world goes into a frenzy in June 2014 as billions of people watch the World Cup games in Brazil, I would be in pins and needles anticipating the results of both the Spanish League and the Champions League.  As a die-hard fan of FC Barcelona (Barca), I am still hoping against hope (especially after Barca failed to win its match against Getafe) that both Real Madrid and Atletico de Madrid would lose some of their remaining games so that my favorite team can still achieve one-sixth of what they got in 2009 when they bagged all the possible six titles that a club could win in any given year, under the able coaching of Pep Guardiola.  At the time of this writing, Barca is second to the Colchoneros (nickname of Atletico de Madrid) in the Spanish League, with Real Madrid trailing closely behind as third.  Whatever happens during the ensuing games to be played by these three top Spanish teams, I will be surely rooting for Barca in its final match with Atletico on May 18.  Even if that game would no longer matter as far as the total points are concerned, it would still be a vindication for coach Tata Martino and the "azulgranas" to beat one of the strongest teams in Europe.

          Come May 24, however, in the City of Lisbon, I will be cheering for Atletico de Madrid as it denies its intercity rival, Real Madrid, its "la decima" or 10th Champions League title.  My heart goes to Atletico de Madrid for several reasons.  First, it is the underdog because it will be the first time it would win the Champions League title.  Second, because Atletico represents the poorer district of Madrid and stands in contrast with its extravagant and more popular neighbor who can spend hundreds of millions of dollars "purchasing" world-class players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale.  As the International New York Times commented (May 3 to 4, 2014), "There is very little that is egalitarian about the economics of elite European soccer, little of the revenue-sharing ethos of the National Football League in the United States.  And Atletico, with debt to service, is already preparing to sell some of its unlikely stars, like striker Diego Costa, who have made this phenomenal run possible."  And the final reason, I must admit, is envy.  Like fans of La Salle who will always support any team that can beat Ateneo, I will always support any team that can beat Real Madrid, that is the eternal rival of my Barca.

          This passion I have for football, that will hopefully contaminate many more Filipinos, has helped me understand better the nuances of leadership in organizations, a topic I have combined with my interest in business economics.  I got attracted to FC Barcelona during the last five years, not only because during this period it was rated as the best football club in the world, especially when it was being coached by Pep Guardiola, but because it nurtured through a tedious and persevering process some of the best football players in the world, i.e. Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Cesc Fabregas and Carles Puyol.  These world-class players came from the famous school for very young talents called La Masia, which I visited many times when I was residing in Barcelona during the years 2006 to 2008 as a Visiting Professor at the IESE Business School.  In one of the cases used in the executive education programs of IESE, La Masia is described as follows:  "La Masia was a school for sports people.  At Barca, however, it was clearly acknowledged that every sports person was first and foremost a person.  So while it was important that the youngsters who joined the youth academy mature as sports people, it was not less important that they develop intellectually and morally.  In other words, they had to be decent people and responsible students, healthy in their habits and happy with the lifestyle they had chosen.  By attending to all three dimensions of the person--physical-sporting, intellectual, and moral--the La Masia team tried to ensure that Barca's up-and-coming youngsters, especially the residents, received an all-round education."  Any business education program for young people should do exactly the same.

          Because of these values that have been nurtured in the majority of the  current players of Barca, it does not worry me that during the current season, under the leadership of a new coach, the football club that provided the most players for the Spanish national team that won the last World Cup may not win any title.  I am sure they can bounce back sometime in the future, as they did after the disastrous years of 2005 to 2008.  It also gave me some food for thought when I heard Pep Guardiola (who has had his own disappointments as coach of Bayern, the defending holder of the Champions League title in 2013) saying that one of the reasons he left Barca after their stellar victories in 2009 was that he no longer knew how to motivate them further when they reached the peak of success.  This is a question that many leaders of business and other organizations should grapple with after reaching the summit of excellence.  My answer to Guardiola and other successful leaders is to put a spiritual dimension to the pursuit of excellence.  By definition, the spirit is limitless in its capacity to want to achieve more.  The same can be applied to business:  a CEO should show by example that he has a "purpose driven life" (to quote Stephen Covey) that goes beyond material reward or profit.  I have learned from both St. John Paul II and St. Josemaria Escriva that the highest ideal that can motivate people in whatever task to continue "shooting for the star" is the sanctifying and divine value of human effort and work.  For comments, my email address is