Monday, 15 Apr 2024

The Rise and Fall of FC Barcelona: Lessons for Success

best soccer team in the world

If you had to pinpoint the peak of FC Barcelona’s reign in global soccer, it would likely be November 25, 2012. On that night, Barça defeated Levante 4-0, with all 11 players on the field originating from the club’s esteemed youth academy, La Masia. Coached by Tito Vilanova, another Masia alumnus, this homegrown team was hailed as the best on Earth.

Barcelona’s dominance was unparalleled. The majority of players had triumphed in the 2010 World Cup with Spain, and Lionel Messi, the Argentinean wizard, was widely regarded as the world’s finest footballer. From 2006 to 2015, Barcelona secured the UEFA Champions League, the most coveted club trophy in European soccer, a remarkable four times.

However, the mighty have fallen. In recent years, Barcelona has been consistently outperformed by superior European teams. The club’s financial mismanagement and debt, amounting to approximately $1.5 billion, led to the departure of Messi, who had graciously accepted a pay cut. It appeared that Barcelona had lost its charm, akin to Rome in 400 AD or the humbling of a once-powerful industry giant.

Barcelona’s decline provides valuable lessons for aspiring leaders in any sector. The club stumbled into the common trap of complacency. As the number one team, they grew lazy while rivals emulated their ideas and built upon them. Barcelona neglected to develop a sustainable succession plan for its aging players and squandered its finances. They failed to recognize that greatness is a moving target, even on the football pitch.

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Talent Mismanagement

In the world of professional sports, the quest for talent reigns supreme. Companies across industries are beginning to grapple with similar challenges in the current tight job market. Barcelona, during the Messi era, excelled at nurturing talent in-house. However, once the team was brimming with world-class players, opportunities for new talents to flourish dwindled. Thiago Alcântara, a promising La Masia graduate, found his path to the first team obstructed by the formidable midfield trio of Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, and Sergio Busquets. Frustrated, Thiago departed for Bayern Munich and played a pivotal role in their 8-2 rout of his former club in 2020.

Neymar, the Brazilian sensation, managed to carve a place in Barcelona’s illustrious side, but he too yearned for personal growth beyond being Messi’s right-hand man. Neymar aspired to be the central figure in every attack and the recipient of Ballon d’Or awards. In 2017, he left Barcelona to lead Paris Saint-Germain. Messi considered Neymar the most significant loss for modern Barcelona, although ironically, they have reunited at PSG.

Fundamentally, Barcelona fell into the same trap as many industry leaders: complacency. When an organization holds the number one spot, the temptation to rest on its laurels is strong. Why bother innovating when you are already the best? Paco Seirul·lo, the guardian of Barça’s culture, lamented that the club never scrutinized the emergence of the legendary Masia generation.

Meanwhile, rival clubs closely observed and emulated Barcelona’s strategies. They heeded the advice of Avis, the car rental company that occupied the number two position: “We try harder.” Coaches from all over Europe flocked to La Masia seeking to unravel its secrets. Hans-Dieter Flick, who coached Bayern Munich to a resounding victory over Barcelona, was just one of many who drew inspiration from Barça’s once-innovative approach.

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Over time, every major soccer club in Europe adopted elements of La Masia’s philosophy, rendering the original academy less groundbreaking. As the economist Joseph Schumpeter termed it, “creative destruction” took hold. New entrepreneurs emerged with fresh ideas, dismantling the pioneering systems of the past. Playing the soccer of 2012 in 2021 guaranteed defeat.

The Pitfalls of Excessive Spending

Success often leads to carelessness in spending. When money pours in, meticulous financial management tends to wane. In 2018, Barcelona became the first sports club to surpass $1 billion in annual revenues. Consequently, when Lionel Messi’s father and agent, Jorge Messi, demanded successive pay raises, the club complied. Between 2017 and 2021, Messi earned over €555 million ($674 million), an astronomical sum confirmed by his contract published in Spanish newspaper El Mundo. Bayern Munich’s chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge even praised Messi’s negotiation skills.

However, Messi’s salary hikes paved the way for his teammates to demand parity. By 2019, the average first-team salary at Barcelona reached $12.2 million per annum, the highest in the world, according to the Global Sports Salaries Survey. Barcelona’s profligacy granted considerable power to the well-paid and accomplished squad. Quique Setién, head coach for a tumultuous seven months in 2020, admitted that Messi had the authority to terminate his tenure at any moment. The veterans of the once-mighty Masia generation effectively ran the team but lacked the necessary work ethic. Barcelona’s training sessions became lethargic as the senior players aged. Antoine Griezmann, a high-profile signing, found the lack of intensity a stark contrast to his experience at Atlético Madrid.

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Despite the current freefall, Barcelona finds itself at a crossroads. The club’s insiders recognize that without their star talent, it is time to reinvent themselves. The spirit of innovation that propelled Barcelona to the pinnacle of world football may be resurfacing.


Q: What was FC Barcelona’s golden era?

A: From 2006 to 2015, FC Barcelona enjoyed a golden era, winning the UEFA Champions League four times and dominating world football with a superb generation of homegrown talents.

Q: Why did Lionel Messi leave Barcelona?

A: Messi departed Barcelona due to the club’s dire financial situation. Despite his willingness to accept a pay cut, Barcelona could not afford to offer him a new contract.

Q: What lessons can businesses learn from Barcelona’s decline?

A: Barcelona’s decline highlights the dangers of complacency, the importance of talent development, and the need for prudent financial management. Businesses must constantly innovate, nurture their talent, and avoid excessive spending to maintain success.


The story of FC Barcelona’s rise and fall serves as a cautionary tale for leaders and organizations across industries. Complacency, inadequate talent management, and reckless spending can undermine even the most dominant entities. Barcelona’s journey reminds us that success is a moving target, requiring continuous adaptation and foresight. By learning from their mistakes, both on and off the pitch, Barcelona has the opportunity to rebuild and reclaim their former glory.

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