Barca puts more emphasis than any other major team on growing its own players. Other football teams often resemble the United Nations—the Arsenal first eleven, for example, frequently includes just two native-born Britons. Barca, by contrast, is still dominated by local players, and Catalan is often spoken in the dressing room. Eight of the team’s leading players are products of its football school, La Masia. That includes Mr Messi, an Argentine who moved to Barcelona as a boy, and the team’s coach, Josep (“Pep”) Guardiola. La Masia is unique among football schools. It is a boarding school that puts as much emphasis on character-training as on footballing skills. The students are relentlessly instructed in the importance of team spirit, self-sacrifice and perseverance. They are also taught that Barca is “more than a club”: it is the embodiment of Catalan pride that kept the region’s spirit alive during the years when Spain groaned under the fascist Franco regime. Fans regularly sport banners proclaiming that “Catalonia is not Spain”.
Barca has used the idea that it is “more than a club” to cultivate a two-way relationship with its fans. It is owned by its members (socis in Catalan), who now number 150,000, rather than by shareholders or foreign tycoons. The management is answerable to an assembly that consists of 2,500 randomly chosen socis and the 600 most senior members. The club supports many sports other than football and runs a popular museum in Barcelona. After a recent win more than a million people turned out to cheer.
Barca’s management style chimes in with the thinking of two admired theorists. Boris Groysberg, of Harvard Business School, has warned that companies are too obsessed with hiring stars rather than developing teams. He conducted a fascinating study of successful Wall Street analysts who moved from one firm to another. He discovered that company-switching analysts saw an immediate decline in their performance. For all their swagger, it seems that their success depended as much on their co-workers as their innate talents. Jim Collins, the author of “Good to Great”, argues that the secret of long-term corporate success lies in cultivating a distinctive set of values. For all the talk of diversity and globalisation, this usually means promoting from within and putting down deep local roots.