HR Strategy - Leadership

Talent Management Strategy (A Football Story)

Pulling a successful team together in business is much like building a successful football team. In both cases, your people make the difference.

Jul 09 2020

Back in 2016 Pep Guardiola, regarded as one of the most innovative football managers in Europe, signed to coach Manchester City Football Club.

After analysing each player of the squad, their skills and motivations, he decided to make a few changes. For instance, he released the goalkeeper Joe Hart because of his lack of ability on the ball. He asked Sergio Aguero to try a different way of playing, which was new to what he had been accustomed to throughout his career. And, for certain positions, he signed new players like John Stones, Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane.

Training the squad, bringing in new players, and retaining high-performing ones is talent management. Most football managers do a good talent management job and improve the team's performance.

Talent management strategy is what Guardiola did.

He connected his strategy to the type of human capital (football players) he will need to make it happen. He knew the balance of skills required to achieve his goals; players with authority over the possession of the ball, defenders and goalkeeper with outstanding footwork, a conductor to build the team around (in Barcelona was Sergio Busquets), and so on. Also, he detected the skill gaps of the team and took actions to minimise its impact on the team's performance.

Hiring and talent retention

His 'business model' requires the best-talented players available to be sourced, retained, developed and engaged. It's always a challenge to find the right balance. After addressing the needs of talent, and keeping in mind the short-term and long-term goals of the club, he signed only players that share a deep connection to his football identity.

Claudio Bravo joined Manchester City to replace the goalkeeper Joe Hart. Despite this generated a certain reluctance in the City fans (who loved Hart), Guardiola preferred to recruit one of the best for a role that makes a big difference on a team instead of training Hart in a skill that will never be an 'A player'.

Training & Development

As a difference to the previous example, he decided to train and develop Sergio Aguero on specific skills that he was lacking. Also to motivate internal competence, by signing Gabriel Jesus, a 19-year-old Brasilian striker.

Employer brand

Brand reputation is important with all company's stakeholders, including talent. A reputation as a great place to work helps to attract talent and retain the best performing employees. In football it's even more important, for instance, best players won't go to a team that doesn't qualify to the Champions League. There's no doubt that Guardional's brand boosted City's.


It's vital an effective communication of the strategy to the staff. Every employee should be able to articulate the company's strategy, the role each employee plays in it, and the impact of his daily work to the performance of the company. Quoting Guardiola: "I need time, but as soon as possible, we are going to try to create a team spirit. That is the most important thing. After that, you can create tactics, but we have to create something special with ourselves".


In football, it's quite straight forward to see the results of human capital management, essentially there are tests two times a week, with a final one at the end of the season. In companies, it usually takes longer. However, in both cases, it's still about driving competitive advantage through your people.

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