Helmut Brenner: “The academic excellence of Johan Cruyff Institute takes students to another level of professionalism”

June 13, 2024

Helmut Brenner: “The academic excellence of Johan Cruyff Institute takes students to another level of professionalism”

Helmut Brenner, an international agent in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, reflects on his long career in the football industry and highlights how the academic excellence of Johan Cruyff Institute elevates its students to another level of professionalism

In a career spanning 40 years, Helmut Brenner has worked as a football coach in diverse countries such as Germany, Nigeria, the United States and China. The international agent of Johan Cruyff Institute in Germany, Austria and Switzerland played football in Austria before starting his coaching career. On his path to professionalization, Helmut Brenner completed the Postgraduate Diploma in Football Business Online program in 2015. “I learned a lot during the postgraduate program. For me, it was important to have the opportunity to understand football on another level, to see the football business, not just on the playing field, which goes beyond the game,” he says.

A few years after this academic experience, the connection between Helmut Brenner and Johan Cruyff Institute strengthened. As an international agent, he will seek to extend the academic legacy of Johan Cruyff in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, countries with a rich football and sport tradition. “The academic excellence of Johan Cruyff Institute takes students to another level of professionalism. I am very happy to represent those values,” he says.

Can you tell us about your transition from a professional football player to a coach? What motivated this change?

First of all, in the football club, there were excellent players, and I recognized that some were much better than me. So, the way I found to continue working in the football industry was to become a professional coach. I started at 19, coaching the youngest kids, and I had a lot of fun. On the other hand, when I was a football player, our coach made us run a lot, but there were no tactics. So I was very curious to learn different techniques, to expand the game with the ball. I wanted to improve in that aspect.

You have coached in various places like the United States, Nigeria and Germany. What challenges and experiences have you encountered in these different environments?

There are huge differences in sport culture. For example, when I was first in the United States, coaching in California in 1995, football was not as developed as it is today. But the second time, from 2009 to 2011, it was completely different; football grew a lot between those years. My impression is that in the United States, they are very professional. As a coach, I had a highly demanding experience from parents, the club, and the players. They wanted to learn as much as possible, and that is very positive.

On the other hand, Nigeria is a world of its own. I coached in Lagos, a city in Nigeria with a lot of inequality. There are areas with a lot of money, but we trained in a part of the city where it was difficult for the population to pay a monthly fee. So, everything started as a social project. We brought in the kids, motivating them to play football with our players in the streets. But we told them: go back to school, and once you are done, come play. This project started in 2006, and we are still active there. We have kids of all ages and an adult team. But it’s difficult. It often takes effort to get the money and support to find coaches. To summarize, I would say the perfect match would be to combine Europe’s football knowledge, the money from the United States, and the talent of Nigeria.

Helmut Brenner: “The academic excellence of Johan Cruyff Institute takes students to another level of professionalism”

Helmut Brenner with Albert Capellas Managing Director of Cruyff Football.

What is your personal approach to player development?

I have been coaching for almost 40 years. And as football has changed, so has my approach. Honestly, I am very proud of my teams because they are disciplined and highly motivated. I believe a key feature is that they are organized based on the team’s needs. So, the main challenge is not to win or be number one. The challenge is to teach how to manage responsibilities, integrate younger players into the team, teach them how to behave, and show them the importance of representing a club when we play away.

“My approach is that winning is important, but if you have fun in practice and during games, you can achieve better results. So, I aim for my teams to have fun and win. I want my players to enjoy training while maintaining good sport quality.”

What attracted you to join Johan Cruyff Institute, and what contributions do you hope to bring to the organization in your role as an international agent?

My first approach was in 2015 when I looked online for courses offered by Johan Cruyff Institute. At that time, I was working independently in the football business and wanted to enhance my knowledge, reach a new professional level. So, I completed the Postgraduate Diploma in Football Business Online program. It was 18 very challenging but interesting months. The connections I made with other students and professors at Johan Cruyff Institute were very good. I had fun and learned a lot. I still remember the day of the final exam, here in Barcelona. The academic excellence of Johan Cruyff Institute takes students to another level of professionalism. I am very happy to represent those values as an international agent.

You have dedicated several decades professionally to football in various roles. What changes have you noticed, both on and off the field?

In the 40 years I’ve been in football, the game itself has changed dramatically. For example, the team I played for when I was young, in Austria’s first league, could not compete against a U17 team in the Bundesliga or against select teams in the lower categories. Football has advanced on many levels: physical, tactical, even the equipment, whether the field or the ball, is totally different from my time as a player.
Off the field, football has also changed its focus. The professionalization of football means that a club now must have many different departments if it wants to function well. What two or three people did 40 years ago must now be done with a team, a complete department. To run a football team, you need several professionals and specialists. On the other hand, off the field, clubs compete for international sponsorships and viewers, and the fans are very important.

Many things have changed in football, and I am happy to have witnessed this transformation while having fun playing or coaching. Another thing I see in current football is that there are several levels. You have professional clubs with large work teams and ambitious goals. But you also find semi-professional clubs where there is still a bit of romanticism. Lastly, there are amateur teams, which you can go and watch and simply enjoy the game. That allows you, as a spectator or even as a player, to choose the level at which you want to enjoy football, and I think that is something very positive.

How do you balance the demands of working with clubs, players and companies, and what strategies do you use to manage these relationships effectively?

I believe the interaction of all these parts is extremely important to succeed in a football club. First, the club must decide at what level it wants to play, at what level it wants to perform. For example, I currently live and work in Germany, a country where clubs still must be controlled by their members. This has its advantages and disadvantages. Despite being a limitation for German clubs, the power of the fans is very strong. The board members must decide how to work to meet the fans’ demands. And in some cases, there is no permanent need to win or be champions. Some fans just want to enjoy football, and stay in the same league. They enjoy the club, the honorable work of the players and the coaching staff.

What’s important is that the club is at a good financial level. This is the challenge for CEOs. And it’s a significant challenge because often, in a football league, it is difficult to get the money needed for a successful season. You have to know how to manage TV money, sponsorships, and ticket sales. Even if you have a great plan, many things can happen during the season that force you to change it. For example, if you have two or three injuries on the team, that will impact the plan. It’s hard work. Good executives do their homework and don’t just have a plan A but also a plan B or C to adapt to any circumstances.

How was your experience as a student at Johan Cruyff Institute?

It was a very good experience. I learned a lot in the Postgraduate Diploma in Football Business Online program. For me, it was important to have the opportunity to see and learn football at another level. To learn about the football business, which goes beyond the game, which was what I knew at that time. Also, during 2015 and 2016, the years I did the program, Spain was at the forefront of football, both on and off the playing field. Countries like Germany and Austria were closely watching what was happening in Spain with FC Barcelona and Johan Cruyff Institute. That made my decision very easy. I came to learn from the best and then apply that knowledge in my work.


Football Business Online

The main objective of the Postgraduate Diploma in Football Business is to educate you in the proper use of management tools for organizations linked to football. You’ll develop abilities to recognize business opportunities, establish strategies, anticipate changes and optimize resources.

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