Management lessons from the Master: Johan Cruyff
Published: 13 Jan 2017
Jordi Cruyff, board member of the Johan Cruyff Institute, remembers the lessons on management skills he got from his father that he applies every day in his job. Here is your opportunity to learn from the great man:
What led your father to create an institute of sport management and marketing?
I think if you analyze my father’s life in general you find a pattern in things that he did, at a certain age, which also reflect parts of his own life. He felt some things were in bigger need and that they were not available for the people who needed it. I think the studies mainly came from the fact that he didn’t finish school and he understood very well that he had an exceptional talent and a very strong mind to succeed in football, but one unlucky movement leading to a big injury would probably have made his life completely different from what it was. I think he always understood that in life it’s important to have more plans than just one, more strategies than only one, and studies are part of our life nowadays. You need to be prepared for what can happen. Especially for people who are passionate about sport and dream of being professional. Not everybody makes it and you need to be prepared. And also, for people who love football, or sport in general, but cannot make the last step, I think sport studies offer a fantastic way to be associated with the sport they love.
How did he instill in you the need to be prepared for tomorrow?
Well, he did it in a tough way with me. I remember when I was 15 or 16, he took me off football for two months because my grades were not good enough. So, it clearly shows that his emphasis at a younger age was: sport is fun and you have to give 100%, but education and being prepared for your whole life or for things that might happen was more important. Also, I think he pushed me a lot to study when I was in the second team of Barcelona and already making my debut in the first team. Still, I went to university to study a business management course at that time, many years ago, and today that course helps me in my job.
How would you describe the void that an athlete can feel when he/she retires at 35-40 (or even earlier) and has no place in the world of work?
They call it a ‘black hole’ and the truth is that for many it’s a case of financial problems, but also for many it has nothing to do with money. It’s just that your daily routine from when you were probably 11 or 12 changes. You train every day in your sport, you grow, get better, you get into a routine (in a team sport, the changing room is a very special place to be), but especially when you wake up in the morning and you know that at 9am you have to be there and at 10 o’clock the training starts. Then, in the afternoon, gym session or another training. You know, the fact that you have a routine…then suddenly, when your career is finished, there is no income, there is no objective (because normally in professionals what keeps them training hard is their passion but they also set themselves objectives) and when that’s gone it’s when you come to a place where you just don’t know what your daily job is going to be or what’s your reason to get out of bed every day and go somewhere and do something. Sportspeople are used to discipline, they’re used to activity and when that’s gone you suddenly find yourself not knowing what you want to do or what you can do. And I think studying obviously offers help, and when you study you get to know what part of the studies is the speciality you would like to continue in.
What practical knowledge do athletes acquire during their career that makes them the most suitable people to manage sport?
I think my father always used to say that the best people to guide a sport forward and to make good sport decisions are the ones playing the sport, who know the ins and outs, who know how to think in a split second under pressure, who understand the ups and downs, the mood, the form, the necessities of a professional environment. In the end, somebody who has already been there is probably the best one to teach other people how handle the pressure when they are there.
Did you turn to your father for help in solving management issues in your day-to-day?
From my father I learned that when an intelligent person makes a discipline mistake you have to be very tough because it is intelligent for them to understand the consequences of their action, and with other ones who are less intelligent, younger or a little more naive, you have to be much more understanding, help them and make them understand what they did wrong, not just through punishment, but by understanding. My father always also told me that when I had doubts about a certain situation, to follow my intuition and do what I thought was humanly correct and also, of course, professionally correct. I always follow that and the truth is that when you are 100% sure that you did the right thing, even if it turns out to be a mistake, it’s never really a mistake.
Of all the values that your father applied in his management (intuition, pragmatism, optimism, curiosity, thinking out of the box), and in your own experience as a sports director, which do you think is essential in the day-to-day leadership of a sports organization?
I think people management skills, understanding. Everybody sort of knows what to do. The young athletes already have the inner passion; they have the discipline for the work. Sometimes an understanding of how to handle certain situations is where someone with more experience can help them. Of course, everybody is different and everybody has a different approach, different cultures have different approaches. So, I think people management skills is the most important; knowing how to speak to a certain person to solve a problem is the key for the progress of both the club and the individual athlete to make him/her better. Those are the key ingredients of a successful organization. An organization has to be good, but it’s how you can inspire, how you can teach these young athletes to progress in their careers is actually the key point.
Besides your father, who have your main references been in this regard?
Without going into names, I always love to analyze how people are in other sports, if they’re also people with big egos and personalities, how problems are solved. So, mainly you would think for example in the NBA, a very special sport, very demanding, with a lot of travelling, a lot of financial impact… How do you solve certain things when there are two very big players in the team who compete to be number one and egos get involved? How is the coach or the manager or the club going to solve these issues? I loved analyzing and studying those cases.
Would you agree that the creation of a Master in Football Business with Barça is the culmination of the great legacy left by your father?
It’s a lot of hard work by many people, normally not the visible ones. My father was visible because of how he was, his aura, his energy, but there are a lot of people who work behind the scenes to make this possible. We are very happy with it. We hope this is a way to…together with Barcelona…to show the world that there are good studies and it’s necessary. You always have to be prepared in life for any eventuality that might happen in your career. This way to be prepared is by learning, studying and knowing how to handle situations.