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Building winning teams


Manchester City’s Director of Football, Txiki Begiristain, says success on the pitch is down to a strong vision, an open coach and empowered players

How do you make a winning team? It’s a question that plays on the mind of everyone involved in management. Attracting the best new talent, retaining the people you already have and uniting everyone with a common purpose are the constant concerns of every organisation, whatever its business.

It’s a fact that was emphasised by Txiki Begiristain during a recent Hays conference in Barcelona. The former Barçelona FC star and current Director of Football at Manchester City Football Club highlighted the parallels between business and sport. Begiristain works at the highest level of the game, and he was keen to point out to the audience of wide range of hiring managers and HR directors that when it comes to success, his experience could prove surprisingly useful.

What way to win?

The first thing you need to understand when crafting a winning team, he explained, was how you define winning. After all, only once you know where you are going can you decide how you will get there.

“I have a bit of personal experience when it comes to winning teams, both as a player and as director of football for Barçelona and Manchester City,” said Begiristain. “My experience has helped shape the vision we have for Manchester City in the future, and the attitude towards winning we have today.”

As Director of Football, Begiristain’s role at Manchester City – which is after all, a huge global business enterprise – is to ensure victory on the pitch. To do that, he must work alongside his senior colleagues at the club to recruit, train and motivate the best players available. For guidance, he has turned to his most successful period as a player.

He says: “The best time of my career was from 1988 to 1995, in Barçelona. I’m not just talking about sporting success, but also the idea we had around winning – the way of doing it: brilliantly, spectacularly. People had fun.

“What I had learned as a player was an idea of play, and that’s what we are trying to do at Manchester City. The brilliant idea is to try to make it spectacular, let people have fun, and still win. That’s the important part on which all the execution is based.”

Before Manchester City came calling, Barçelona appointed Begiristain as Director of Football in 2003. He says: “I tried to apply what worked when I was a player. A team has to be brilliant, and give a show, but obviously it has to win. And if you have the human and economic resources in order to do both, then that’s what you aim for.”

Who you have, and how they’ll play

As part of Manchester City’s senior football staff, Begiristain is responsible for the football success that ensures the stable and long-term future of the club, for its shareholders and its supporters. It’s a huge responsibility, and requires enormous investment and faith into both the talent at the club and the strategy designed to extract the best performances on and off the field.

Like many people responsible for the success of their team, for Begiristain, a large part of what makes a great hire is down to cultural fit. “I want players with the three shared focuses common to the teams I love to watch,” he says.

“The first is to develop the play from the back, with everyone participating in the action and using the whole pitch,” says Begiristain. “The second is, when you have the courage to push on, to maintain possession and try to finish each move with an attacking play. The third is to spend the most time possible on the opponent’s side of the pitch. That way, the moment you lose the ball and you try to get it back, you can recover it 30 metres from the opponent’s goal, rather than 70 metres.”

Choosing your leaders

“Once we have the idea for the system, we must hire the coach,” says Begiristain. After all, even the most united team needs some management. “I believe that there are some 10 to 15 coaches worldwide that could coach in the way we want,” he says.

Manuel Pellegrini came to Spain as the coach of Villarreal, after great success in South America. In 2006, he took the club to the Champions League semi-finals, competing with Barçelona, Atletico and Real Madrid, Valencia and Arsenal. He was the man that City chose to deliver the intense, committed football Begiristain and his colleagues sought.

“Pellegrini is a great team manager. He plays the best performers but the squad rotates, so everyone participates, which inspires trust,” says Begiristain. “He talks to those who play, as well as those who don’t. Everyone is aware of his decision and his office is open to them.”

With the right coach and the right system, Manchester City could concentrate on recruiting the right players to strengthen the club’s future. That too, requires a finely tuned strategy. “It’s not OK to say: He’s really good, he’s available, we’re going to hire him, when you already have two great players capable of playing that role,” says Begiristain.

“We explain to our scouts the type of players we need for each position and the characteristics we want to improve in the team. We have 36 scouts, around the world – 29 in Europe and seven in South America,” he says. “We also have an academy in Africa, have bought a club in New York, and another team in Melbourne.”

Once you have the players, then you can develop them, “into the final piece of the puzzle” he says. “Coach them, train them well and educate them in the values you outlined at the beginning. If you do all of that, then you will have a winning team.”

It sounds simple, so what is stopping your organisation from doing the same?

Hays is pleased to give readers an insight into how top-performing talent is managed at a leading football club. What other parallels can you identify between the world of elite sport and business, and how do you make a winning team? Let us know on LinkedIn.