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Strategic vehicle for developing a professional club’s football department

Introducing the concept of a club-individual football strategy board.

Guest article by Mathhias Dombrowski & Dietmar Beiersdorfer


This article was initially published in the FBIN Magazine 27.
You can download the issue for free from our Content Hub.

The professional football industry is fast-moving, dynamic, versatile and sentiment related. Major decisions of club executives do not stay behind closed doors, they are immediately assessed by many stakeholders with different levels of interest in the club’s activities. Most prominently, the decisions of football executives, namely Managing Director Sports, Sporting Director, Technical Director, Head Coach, write the headlines of media outlets both online and offline. The reason? Short-term results of the men’s first team are in the spotlight. Results on the pitch matter most. This is probably true but being exclusively narrow-focused on the short-term sportive performance and success of the first team may cause negative effects on the club’s competitive position in the medium- to long-term. This is the reason why the desire to create a strategic vehicle for developing our club’s football department with its sub-departments in a sustainable and predominantly independent way, has arisen.

Dieter Beiersdorfer, COO, Managing Director, FC Ingolstadt 04

Matthias Dombrowski, Executive Assistant to the Managing Director, FC Ingolstadt 04

There are several key drivers, motives, or reasons respectively why we designed, developed, and implemented our individual Football Strategy Board (FSB) for our club FC Ingolstadt 04 which are outlined subsequently. Firstly, it is our unequivocal aspiration to utilize and further develop the football knowledge and football competencies of our club’s sports management protagonists. We are convinced that “absorbing” their football fundamentals and assumptions in a structured and rather formalized way will contribute to a successful development of our club’s football department. They are highly involved in a variety of football operations and therefore experts in their respective fields of activity. Secondly, we strive for establishing a strategic platform to discuss, analyse, evaluate, and advance important and potential rich football-related core topics and projects. We believe that these in-depth, guided conversations will generate an added value. Thirdly, we want to leave aside the short-term orientated, fast-paced professional football inherent mechanisms – at least to a certain extent. Surely, being at the core of a professional football club inevitably comprises the frequently so-called “momentum” which refers to the relevance and urgency of recent performances and results. We are absolutely aware of this condition, but we consider it as our responsibility to contemplate our club from a meta level perspective from time to time to exploit potentials and contribute positively to our club´s business strategy and development. We endeavour to catalyse time and space for developing a mid- and long-term vision for our club and set milestones which guide us on our path. Furthermore, in establishing the FSB we see the opportunity to instal an “operative supervisory board” that is responsible for measuring and evaluating the self-paved road. 

The above outlined main motives are surrounded by a few key questions which are strongly connected with the core of the FSB: What is an appropriate, target-focused way to define, evaluate, and potentially adjust our strategic goals within the football department? From a meta level point of view, to what extent are our club’s football executives and leaders able and willing to reflect upon our club’s basic football principles? How can we create a vehicle to evaluate our training philosophy and training concept without being biased by recent results of our teams and short-term developments? What competencies need to be represented in the board and could a too tight special competency aggregation lead to an “overkill” in terms of reaching the goals of the FSB?

After presenting our main motives as well as the key questions related to the FSB of our club, FC Ingolstadt 04, we now take a thorough look at the key functions the FSB is intended to comply with. The kick-off itself relates to the critical evaluation of existing and the identification or definition respectively of new strategic goals for our club’s football area. We aim for deriving operative sub-goals that should flow smoothly into the different departments of our organization. Furthermore, the FSB functions as a board for discussing, evaluating, and assessing superordinate football- and performance-related topics (e. g. training concept, academy player to pro transition, player development pathway, athletic and strength training, cognitive/mental performance). The FSB is also intended to be an intermediary between our club’s football sub-departments “first team”, “youth academy” and “sports strategy, development and innovation” that helps to link and compress relevant, “all-encompassing” information appropriately. The actual flow of day-to-day information takes place at the operative level through scheduled, rather formalized meetings as well as informal conversations. Making major decisions with impact on a variety of stakeholders are one essential part of leading and managing a professional football club. Thus, our club’s FSB is an important platform to prepare necessary, upcoming decisions as well as to evaluate and reflect upon taken decisions ex-post. Identifying possibly trendsetting, potential rich (mainly from a football development but also from a commercial perspective) and performance-optimizing thematic areas are further key tasks for the members of the FSB. 

You might wonder why we have not addressed the personnel composition of our club’s FSB so far. Here is the simple reason: We enormously focus on the key content elements of the FSB. First and foremost, it should not depend on specific persons in the long-term; it is more about the strategic approach and superordinate direction of FC Ingolstadt 04. But of course, a theoretically designed model like the FSB does not work without forward-thinking, competent, and football-loving people who develop ideas and concepts, have fruitful discussions, and aim for shaping the future of the club with serious interest. The following positions form the core of FC Ingolstadt 04’s FSB: Managing Director Sports, Sporting Director, Head of Youth Academy, Head of Sports Youth Academy, Head of Sports Strategy, Development, and Innovation, Executive Assistant to the Managing Director as well as Head of Play Concept and Coaching Practice. The prior mentioned positions play key roles in our club’s football department and are responsible for short-, medium- and long-term results on and off the pitch. In the daily, fast-paced football business it is a perceptible, often significant challenge to deal with superior focus topics and projects. Thus, it is even more important that our club’s football executives have a “free-floating”, kind of independent space to bundle and expand their football-related expertise.

In this article’s final paragraph, we briefly address the structure and procedure of our club’s FSB meetings. Our regular meeting, taking place every six weeks, lasts 90 minutes with some extra time possible and consider this as our own “strategic football match”.  Additionally, there are special meetings with internal or external speakers who contribute a keynote about topically appropriate contents. The alternating guest speakers shall ideally provide inspiration and stimuli from an outside-in view. It can be managers, coaches, analysts, scouts, psychologists, technical directors, and other highly skilled and qualified people with a specific expertise in a particular topic. Each regular meeting starts with a short intro about the agenda and a recap of the last session. All participants receive the agenda in advance to prepare themselves. It is deliberately chosen that there are not more than two key topics on the agenda. In a co-operative manner, the FSB members determine which of the discussed aspects should be communicated with other people within the organization. Because of the FSB’s inherent “strategic element” with mid- to long-term orientation it is necessary and important to spread new insights at an appropriate time. As expressed at the beginning, we need to and want to achieve the optimum and maximum performance on the pitch against each opponent, every weekend, with all our professional and youth teams. Concurrently, developing our club’s future in a strategically structured, target-oriented, and enduring manner is our clear ambition. Our Football Strategy Board is one of our impactful and beneficial vehicles that accompanies us on our journey to perform at our best as team.

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