In purely financial terms, our football clubs are increasingly losing against the top European players. Nevertheless, several Belgian clubs succeed in attracting young talent, in a battle for talent that our companies are now familiar with. Maybe they can learn something from our football?
The new football season has started, but the transfer window continues for a few more weeks. And in fact, the search for reinforcements in football never ends. Clubs are constantly trying to attract new talent. The salary is an important argument in this connection, but not all clubs have the same financial strength. So many clubs try to convince the players in a different way.
The new football season has started, but the transfer window continues for a few more weeks. And in fact, the search for reinforcements in football never ends. Clubs are constantly trying to attract new talent. The salary is an important argument in this regard, but not all clubs have the same financial strength. So many clubs try to convince the players in a different way. “The financial possibilities of the Belgian clubs are too limited to play an important role in the world of football,” says Davy Vanhaen, the commercial director of KRC Genk. “Our club has also had to find its place in the bigger picture. In the meantime, we have been what you might call a stepping stone club for a while. It is also our most important asset when it comes to attracting players between 16 and 22 years. We offer them the facilities and the guidance with which they can take the step from young talent to a full-fledged professional footballer, so that they can lay the foundations for their further football career.” “In our scouting, we really aim for players who don’t see our club as an end point,” continues Vanhaen. “Our business model is very much based on the added value between the outgoing and the incoming transfers. We are very proud of Bryan Heynen, who has completed all our youth series and captains the team at 25, but he is quite an exception. Normally in the start of a partnership with an incoming player, we make it clear that after two or three successful years we will cooperate on an outgoing transfer.” According to Vanhaen, references are essential for credibility during negotiations. “We have the examples of Thibaut Courtois and Kevin De Bruyne, who came from our youth work, but also Timothy Castagne, Sander Berge and Kalidou Coulibaly. They all show that the prospect of a step up after a period in Genk is realistic. In addition these individual names, the club’s sporting achievements are also important. A look at our palmares shows that we regularly compete for the title and European football. So young players know that they can gradually learn to handle the pressure and burden of several competitions where they can also put himself in the spotlight.” For Racing Genk to present itself as a way station for players seems to be at odds with the sense of solidarity that many football clubs, including as employers, like to exude. “I understand the paradox, but the two can really be combined perfectly,” says Vanhaen. “Everything revolves around realistic promises and good agreements. If two parties commit themselves fully to entering into a collaboration for a few years, it creates clarity and there is a concrete objective. But we will certainly integrate the actors into our culture and identity .When they are here, we ask the players to contribute to our club in a positive way. This thinking also permeates the business world: a recruitment or a contract does not necessarily have to aim for the very long term, as long as both parties are committed to doing well with it. A temporary intense connection can have more impact than a long-term collaboration.” A similar sound can be heard from Jean Kindermans, the technical director of the youth academy of RSC Anderlecht. “We mentor children and teenagers, all with their own background. So the approach is different from case to case. But apart from the individual approach, the sense of belonging and community building is central to our youth academy. We want the players to have that good with us and that they are proud of our club. We are realistic enough to realize that at some point young talents will want to spread their wings. We want to guide them in this so that they can look back on their time at Anderlecht with satisfaction even after their departure.” According to Kindermans, the youth coaches are therefore the most important farmers for a football club’s image. “They work with our youngsters on a daily basis and build the bond between players and the club. The experiences our talents have thanks to them, during everyday training sessions but also at big events and foreign tournaments, determine how they look back on and talk about RSCA. That Anderlecht’s youth work is highly regarded is largely due to the fact that we can count on a loyal group of driven youth coaches. If we had a high turnover with them, it would be much more difficult to realize a sense of community in the club.” Professor Eveline Schollaert is researching at Ghent University together with her PhD student Marthe Rys into the way in which employers market themselves. According to Schollaert, the role of own employees as ambassadors is also crucial in business life. “Companies are currently frantically looking for the right people and constantly asking for advice. In doing so, they sometimes forget that existing employees are their banner. Employer branding is often thought to be about communication, but in fact things like media campaigns are just the top layer,” he said. Schollaert. “Most candidates for a vacancy look beyond the interviews and polls with employees and former employees. They find the information they get there much more reliable. If you really want to market yourself as a company, you have to work first. to a satisfied team.” It is therefore no surprise to Schollaert that Vanhaen and Kindermans emphasize the importance of honesty and clear agreements. “Making promises you can’t keep is the biggest pitfall for companies competing for talent. When employees notice that reality has been portrayed better than it is, they become demotivated or leave. Also, it’s hard to shake a so bad reputation. away from you.” Aside from the key do’s and don’ts, Schollaert distinguishes between two categories of assets that employers can use during their recruitment. “On the one hand, there are the tangible things like salary, vacation days and growth opportunities. On the other hand, there are symbolic and emotional assets like the employer’s reputation, a warm working environment and the sense of community. You will find this dichotomy in most employers, regardless of industry.” According to Schollaert, companies can take inspiration from the ways in which football clubs put these assets into practice. Football clubs are not only looking for young talents who can develop step by step, they also regularly bring back experienced players who are in the latter part of their careers. They are often expected to take on a guiding role. “At the moment, companies headhunt either – identifying and extracting interesting profiles from competitors – or they use the breeding ground model, where employees are given all kinds of jobs to prepare them for an internal step up. But I think that a lot of companies benefit from a collaboration. In the first phase of a career, employees are deployed in a smaller company with the prospect of working together with the larger partner. Conversely, employees who are nearing the end of their career and perhaps a smaller one want a demanding rhythm , be summoned by the smaller company for training and coaching of young talents. Just like football clubs, companies often try to radiate a sense of togetherness. “In football, it goes much further,” Vanhaen nuances. “The emotional charge you experience every day as an employee in a sports club, is many times larger than in a typical company. For example, in most companies there is satisfaction when a project is won, but it cannot be compared to celebrating an important victory. , in which all employees and supporters are united. The peaks and valleys are much greater, and everyone in a club sympathizes intensely with the weekly sporting agreement on the pitch. Sports and culture already bring a strong connection between people, which cannot be replicated in some sectors.” Nevertheless, according to Schollaert, it is worthwhile for companies to focus on this, provided it is not done half-heartedly. “Authenticity is again very important. Employees who choose a company that presents itself as sustainable and notice that the company is effectively committed to this will get a boost. Clear communication of goals and shared pursuit of those goals can also be very powerful in creating a sense of belonging.”