How A Sports Franchise Leads the Way in Offshore Talent Alignment

This article was previously published for the Forbes Tech Council

In my last article, I spoke about some quite remarkable parallels between Swedish pop music and offshore software development. On the surface, it appeared rather abstract, but take a quick dive beneath the surface, and the analogy (hopefully) became clear. It got me thinking about other areas where one might not see similarities, but where they indeed exist. And, given the recent European soccer championships, I recalled a particular operating model that very much mirrors what I mean when I refer to as “Offshore 2.0.”

It all starts with a former Thai prime minister, an unglamorous football team overshadowed by more illustrious neighbors, and a Gulf state with big ambitions … and blue — lots and lots of blue…

In 2008, Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister of Thailand, was under investigation for corruption, and at the same time, he was also the owner of Manchester City FC — the then less well-known, cross-town rival of Manchester United. Sensing a chance to break into the highly lucrative and prestigious English football market, the Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG) — an arm of the emirate’s sovereign wealth fund — took their chance, bought Shinawatra’s stake in the club, and became Manchester City’s new owners. A new era was born.

Dubai and dreams of diversification

Abu Dhabi is the largest and wealthiest of the seven emirates that comprise the UAE — with Dubai being the most well-known. With a fantastic tourist infrastructure boosting its brand around the world, the latter has shown to its fellow emirates as well as the wider Gulf region the path to diversification. Abu Dhabi, of course not wishing to tread on its neighbors’ toes — being part of the same country and ruled by the same extended royal family — decided a slightly alternative route was preferential.

With the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar purchasing Paris’ PSG several years earlier and using it to showcase their country to a global audience, a precedent was set. Gulf states seeking to diversify their economies away from oil and gas could use sport to attract interest, tourists and foreign investment. Saudi Arabia is also beginning to venture into this arena (pardon the pun) with its recent forays into big-time boxing events.

Leveraging international talent

Here’s where we can explore the parallels with offshore development — or more specifically global talent, cross-team alignment, and scalable models. What if the talent available to your business was either out of reach, shored up by rivals in a more advantageous position, or unfeasibly expensive to the point of not adding value? This isn’t too far from the situation Manchester City FC found themselves in.

Due to regulatory nuances (known as “FFP” to European soccer fans) surrounding wealthy benefactors’ investment into their clubs, Manchester City’s new owners had to be clever. Leveraging sponsorship from Emirati brands could go some way to closing the gap between them and their rivals in England and Europe, but another model was required to overtake them. Enter Ferran Soriano. The club CEO formerly of Barcelona FC and hired by Manchester City masterminded a global strategy not yet seen in soccer. Introducing the City Football Group.

It was to be a network of clubs operating under a single umbrella and wholly aligned on everything from branding to playstyle. The reason was twofold. Firstly, an umbrella group model allowed them to comply with FFP. Secondly, they could harness and nurture talent overseas in a new way to benefit both their core Manchester team directly and the brand of the group as a whole on a global scale.

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Emilien Coquard

Emilien Coquard

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