Jordi Cruyff, co-founder of Johan Cruyff Institute, remembers the lessons on management skills that he took from his father and he applies everyday in his job
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 patron of things that he did, at a certain age, which also reflect parts of his own life, in what 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 are coming from the fact that he didn’t finish the 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 probably would have made his life completely different of what it has been. I think he always understood that in life it’s always 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 love sports and have the dream and the passion to be professional, not everybody arrives and you need to be prepared. And also for people who love football or sport in general and you 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 on a tough way with me. I remember actually 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 a 100% but the education and be prepared for the whole life or eventual things that can happen was more important. Also, I think he pushed me a lot to study when I was in the second team and already making my debit in the first team of Barcelona. Still I went to the 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 ‘black hole’ and the truth is that for many is a case of financial problems but also for many has nothing to do with finances. It’s just that your daily routine from probably when you were 11, 12 changes. You are training every day in your sport, you grow, get better, you get in a routine (in a team sport, the dress room is a very special place to be), but especially when you wake up in the morning and you know that at 9 you have to be there, at 10 o’clock the training starts, at 10 o’clock you have this, in the afternoon, gym session or another training. You know, the fact that you have a routine suddenly when your career is finished, there is no income, there is no objective (because normally in professionals what keeps them training hard is the passion but also they mark themselves objectives) and when that’s gone is when you come in a place where you just don’t know what is going to be your daily job or the daily thing the reason for you to wake up and go somewhere and do something. Sport people are used to discipline, are used to activity and when that’s gone suddenly you find yourself not knowing what you want to do or what you can do and I think the studies obviously offer help, so when you study you already know what part of it is the specialty you would like to continue.
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 practicing the sport, who know the in and out, who know to think in a split second under pressure, who understand the up and downs, the mood, the form, the necessities of a professional environment. In the end, somebody who has 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 is intelligent to understand the consequences of his action and with other ones who are less intelligent, younger or a little more naive, you have to be much more understanding, helping them and make them understand what they did wrong, not by just punishment, but by understanding. My father always also told me that when I had some doubt 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% 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 sport organization?
I think man 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 understanding of how to handle certain situation is where someone with more experience can help them. Of course, everybody is different and everybody has a different approach, different cultures have different approach. So, I think man management skills is the most important; the way how to speak to certain person to solve a problem is the key for the progress of both the club and the individual athlete to make him 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 on their careers is actually the key point.
Besides your father, who have your main references been in this regard?
Without going to names, I always loved to analyze how in other sports are the people; also 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 ego gets involved? How is the coach or the manager or clubs going to solve issues? I loved to analyze and study 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 is a lot of people work behind the scene 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 know how to handle situations.
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Johan Cruyff Institute uses a rich learning environment that fosters educational tools based on a student interaction model. We aim for a mix of students from sports and business sectors, which also enables students to share their unique experiences and learn from each other. The students will engage actively in creative challenges that require effort, commitment and intuitive thinking. Visit our web pages to find out more about these programs: