HR Grapevine - Workplace lessons from Liverpool-Barcelona's Champions League semifinal

An extract from another interesting article from the team at "HR Grapevine". Click on the link to find our more or register for their regular updates:

For fans of Liverpool FC, and even interested neutral parties, Tuesday May 7 2019 will go down in history as a stand out night of footballing emotion.

The club entered the Champions League semifinal – Europe’s most prestigious football competition – three goals down from the first leg of a two-leg tie.

Not only that, they were up against Barcelona FC: one of the strongest teams in history who can boast of current stars such as Luis Suarez, Gerard Pique and, of course, Lionel Messi – considered one of the greatest footballers, if not the greatest footballer, of all time.

So, how did they do it? On paper, Liverpool were the weaker team. They also were down on goals from the first leg. Footballing fans will also point to the fact that Barcelona had Messi – which many consider akin to starting several goals down if you have to face him.

Whilst some will say it is Liverpool’s Manager, Jurgen Klopp, who masterminded the win, others will point to individual performances, such as that of striker Divock Origi, as being key.

The likelihood is that it is a mixture of both – with all parts working in harmony for the betterment of the team. As a result, there are some key lessons that HR practitioners can take from this historic night.

Trust in talent

There are just over ten minutes to play till the end of the match. You’ve played 80 minutes and are tiring. It’s match number 38 of the season – the lactic acid is most definitely building up in your legs.

For the past 80 minutes you’ve been running around at full pelt trying to keep some of the best players in world football at bay. On top of that, you’re only 20-years-old and there are some supposedly wiser heads around you; you’ve not been in many situations like this before. The crowd are baying for a goal and the pressure is, most definitely, building.

Whilst the prior two paragraphs are probably not quite the monologue that went through Liverpool defenders Trent Alexander-Arnold’s head just before he set-up the winning goal, it’s a good guess. And, crucially, there is a HR lesson here too: trust in talent, whatever form it takes.

Whilst Alexander-Arnold is very young, he is obviously good enough to be playing on the greatest stages. For HR, apprenticeships, fast-track schemes and flatter working structures should be implemented to allow the best talent to shine – improving the company you work at. Rigid structures and outdated modes of working won’t allow the best to come to the top.


For anyone watching last night’s match, it was easy to see that Liverpool came out with a positive mindset. They scored in the seventh minute and only look up from there – there was no defeatism.

Whilst studies exist that show being forced to portray happiness work can have a detrimental impact on performance, there are countless business leaders who espouse the benefit of having a positive mindset.

Perhaps the most famous is Tony Robbins. With aphorisms like “the path to success is to take massive, determined action” and “persistence overshadows even talent as the most valuable resource shaping the quality of life” it clear that Liverpool’s pal espoused the belief of many business leaders in this type of thinking.

L&D is worth it

Jurgen Klopp, Liverpool’s Manager, is renowned for playing a brand of football called gegenpressing – it’s fast and aggressive. In Klopp’s own word’s he describes it as ‘heavy metal football’.

It’s clear that Liverpool’s players have been put through their paces by Klopp on the training ground. Every player knows what they’re doing, everyone knows their role, every player is clearly carrying instructions that have been drilled into them time and time again.

The benefit of good training should tally with HR. CIPD’s recent research on productivity found that 91% of the best learning organisations had goals set in step with the strategic goals of the organisation.

But good training should align with good communication. Andy Lancaster, Head of Learning and Development Content, CIPD explained this.

“L&D shouldn’t lose sight of the organizational goals and also should communicate to employees how it [training] helps them to their job, and both supports them in their journey and wider organisational success,” he said.

For Klopp, training would be sold to players as helping them reach professional goals – such as their upcoming champions league final.

Are there other HR lessons that Liverpool’s victory highlighted? Please tell us in the comments…