In May 2009, FC Barcelona defeated England’s Manchester United 2-0 to claim the UEFA Champions League crown. In addition to their victory over Man U in Rome, the Catalans won the Spanish Cup and The Spanish League to claim their first “treble”. It was a historic and rare feat, one that had only been done four previous times since 1967.
Barcelona’s lineup that evening in Rome featured an eclectic mix of superstars, international champions and unproven youngsters.
The midfield was anchored by Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta who were less than a year removed from helping Spain claim their second Euro Cup. Upfront, internationally renowned Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry lined up with Lionel Messi (who was then on the ascent to becoming the best player in the world) to lead the Catalan attack.
Three unproven players would also make their mark on the match. Gerard Pique, then 21 and Sergio Busquets, then 20, would get be a part of the starting eleven. By the time the final whistle blew, 21-year-old Pedro Rodriguez would make an appearance as well.
At the onset of the 2008-2009 season, Pique, Busquets and Rodriguez were unproven and unknown commodities who had been a part of Barcelona’s famedLa Masia Youth Academy.
Gerard Pique, who began his career in the FC Barcelona youth ranks, had just returned to Catalonia after spending four so-so years at Manchester United. Pep Guardiola brought him back to serve as a backup defender. But an injury to starter Gabriel Milito prior to the season forced Pique into action. Over the course of the season, Pique would go on to establish himself as one of the best center backs in not only Spain, but in the world.
Before becoming manager of FC Barcelona in the summer of 2008, Pep Guardiola had been managing the reserve squad, aptly named, FC Barcelona B. It was with the B squad that he first took notice of Busquets and Rodriguez. So it only made sense that he took those players with him once he was at the helm of the senior squad.
Busquets played so well in his debut campaign that he made Yaya Toure, one of the best holding midfielders in the game, expendable. Xavi, one of the most iconic players for the club and Busquet’s former teammate said that
“his game intelligence on the pitch is a wonder. And off it, I don’t know anyone else whom I have the same affinity with. I think he’s my natural replacement in the dressing room and on the pitch.”
Pedro Rodriguez didn’t have as much of an immediate impact as Pique and Busquets, but he still played in 14 games that year and slowly saw his responsibilities increase with the team. During the 2009-2010 season, he became the first player in history to score in six different official competitions.
Busquets and Pique are still at the club. Before the start of the 2015 season, Pedro was sold to English club Chelsea for 21 million pounds. But all three players would be a part of the Spain teams that won the World Cup in 2010 and the Euro Cup in 2012.
Perhaps in due time they would have gone on to become stars, regardless of whether or not they got playing time that fateful season. But the opportunity handed to them in 2008 put them on the fast track to success with both FC Barcelona and the Spanish National team.
You’d be hard-pressed to find another club that puts such an emphasis on its youth players. La Masia, as the academy is known, has produced an impressive alumni list. Pique, Busquets and Rodriguez weren’t the first to blossom after being introduced as unknown and unproven graduates. I mean, it was ten years ago that a 17-year old, shaggy haired, Argentine named Lionel Messi scored his first goal for the club.
FC Barcelona won the treble in 2008 with mostly internal and homegrown talent. And they are a case study for why organizations should invest within and hire internally. So the next time your startup is searching for its next director or needs to fill another leadership position, start by looking at talent around you.
This post originally appeared on my LinkedIn page.