Project Management Institute

Getting the ball rolling

VOICES | In the Trenches


FC Barcelona’s Lionel Messi in 2009, a record-setting year for the team

A professional soccer team demonstrates how to successfully manage change.

By Jordi Teixidó, PMP

FC BARCELONA, Spain’s 116-year-old soccer team, is among the world’s top sports brands and one of the most successful clubs in the country’s history. But in 2003, the organization was in trouble, from both a business and sports perspective: FC Barcelona hadn’t won any championships in four seasons and had an operating loss of €73 million as well as poor credit. How the club turned its situation around offers a change management lesson for organizations in any field.


By 2003, stakeholders understood that a change was urgently needed. FC Barcelona’s existing management board resigned, and general elections were held. The winners were a coalition of 15 young executives who planned to bring their business knowledge to soccer. They faced deep skepticism. One of the newcomers, Ferran Soriano, says an outgoing executive warned him, “Don’t come here expecting to introduce great management techniques. All that matters here is whether or not the ball goes into the net. It’s all down to luck.”

Nevertheless, the new executive board plunged right in and made a quick assessment of the club’s change readiness. A revolution was necessary, says Marc Ingla, an FC Barcelona vice president from 2003 through 2008 and one of the key executives of the transformation program. “The club needed a big change.”

FC Barcelona’s new roadmap and vision were communicated in a simple illustration called the Virtuous Circle. The circle’s perimeter consists of factors that feed into each other: More revenues lead to better players, which in turn lead to better sports results, which lead to higher brand awareness, which leads to social media growth, which brings the circle back to more revenues. In the center of the circle is the organization’s vision statement, “More Than a Club,” which encompasses the team’s key historical values: democracy, fair play, humility and team orientation above individual success.

Next it was time to put the vision into action. “We organized the club’s activity by projects,” Mr. Ingla says. “Status, hierarchy or egos were all subordinated to the implementation of the approximately 50 projects that deployed the strategy we had defined through the Virtuous Circle.”


The team appointed a new head coach for the 2003-04 season and signed superstar player Ronaldinho. Underperforming players were gradually phased out. Changes continued in 2008 with the appointment of head coach Josep Guardiola, who urged a stricter work ethic. Mr. Guardiola began fining those who showed up late to training. To encourage humility, he urged his team not to arrive at practice in high-end cars. Players who refused to buy into the new team-oriented system were transferred to other clubs, including stars Samuel Eto’o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

“We decided that the club had to be managed as a customer-oriented business, by professionals and by projects, with proper management practices brought from outside by people not linked to the past failures and bad practices of the club.”

—Marc Ingla

Off the field, the changes were striking as well. “We decided that the club had to be managed as a customer-oriented business, by professionals and by projects, with proper management practices brought from outside by people not linked to the past failures and bad practices of the club,” Mr. Ingla says. This message was delivered daily to both internal and external stakeholders.

Focus was specially placed on the marketing sponsors area, where all contracts were either renegotiated or canceled, and the number of sponsors greatly reduced. This simplified stakeholder engagement and maximized the relationship with each one. In the FC Barcelona transformation program, sponsors acted as agents for the soccer team to deliver its new vision.

In past years, top club executives took part in many decisions about the selection of players. The new management team decided that player selection had to be the responsibility of the soccer specialists, while the management board worked on the overall strategy and transformation program.

The team’s offices were even redesigned into a modern office layout, which emphasized that management intended to bring up-to-date business practices to the historic sport.

The results were spectacular: FC Barcelona went from €123 million in revenues to over €450 million in six years. But the key performance indicator in the business of soccer is winning the top competitions, and by 2006, the club was a runner-up for the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup. In 2009, it won both of those, as well as four other championships—the first team in history to do so. PM


Jordi Teixidó, PMP, is a project management consultant at KION Management Consulting, Barcelona, Spain.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.




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