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Mariel Koerhuis, General Manager Johan Cruyff Institute: It is very important that institutions and entities are aware of the value of education for the present and future of our young people

In the spring of this year, RFH Sports & Management signed a contract with Johan Cruyff Institute, becoming a regional partner of the prestigious Institute. Johan Cruyff Institute was founded at the initiative of the former great player and manager in order to expand and capitalize the knowledge and sports resources. To find out as much as possible about the programs organized by Institute and about the values that are the foundation of sports performance, we’ve talked with Mariel Koerhuis, General Manager within The Institute.

As a player Johan Cruyff was very well known in Romania, but unfortunately Johan Cruyff Institute is less known nowadays. How would you briefly describe it in order to give our readers an overview of the organization?

Johan Cruyff Institute is the result of Johan Cruyff’s efforts to offer athletes the possibility to get academic training in sport management and have a future career in the sports industry after they retire, and to professionalize the world of sport through efficient and effective business management. Johan Cruyff Institute was founded for this purpose in 2002. We have been implementing Johan’s vision for almost 20 years, we are the academic initiative of his legacy. We train athletes, sport managers and professionals from other business fields in sport management, sport marketing and sponsorship, football business and coaching. The more qualified the professionals in this ecosystem are, the better the sports industry as a whole will be, and this can only be achieved through education.

It seems that in Eastern Europe Johan Cruyff Institute does not have many partners compared with in Latin America. If that is correct, is it a part of a strategy or rather a lack of interest from sports entities from this part of Europe to build on a healthy base?

In recent years we have been pursuing an intense strategy of expansion and internationalization. We started in the Netherlands, with only 35 students, and from there we established our international headquarters in Barcelona and have since opened centers in Peru, Mexico and Sweden. It is true that our presence in South America is greater because the market has required it up to now, but we continue to open up new markets in Europe, Oceania and the Middle East. In Eastern Europe, we have B2B agreements with entities from Romania (Sport Advisor, RFH Sport Management, George Ogararu Association and Sport Business Chain), Moldova (AFAN Moldova) and Greece (Panhellenic Professional Football Players Association), to name a few examples. We currently have 12 regional offices around the world and international agents in 13 different countries. And from those initial 35 students we have become a community of more than 10,000 students who have studied with us in the three study modes we offer: on campus, blended and online.

How are the Johan Cruyff’s principles reflected in your learning model? In particular I would be interested especially in his principle that says: Sport develops the body and soul. Developing the body is intuitive, but what about the soul?

We remain faithful to the mission that Johan once outlined, based on those values that defined him as a person and were present in all his actions, with his particular way of seeing the world. He was an optimistic, pragmatic, very intuitive and common-sense person. All these values were to be reflected in our teaching model and they have remained so over the years. We are not an average academic institution; our teachers and all the industry professionals who collaborate with us share our vision of making teaching a constant challenge for the student. We work with practical cases, with institutions from the world of sport, and we motivate our students to be part of that evolution that our industry demands on a daily basis and to which teamwork always contributes. Johan used to say that „you play football with your head, and your legs are there to help you”. You must face challenges with an open mind, anticipate and contribute from your own self for the common good. Theory is necessary to give us the knowledge, but only really effective when you are able to apply it. And that is what we are looking for: to prepare our students, from a very practical perspective, for what they are going to find when they are managing the world of sport.

Johan Cruyff Institute offers quite a large spectrum of courses: Coaching, Football Business, Sport Management. What kind of courses would you recommend for a Romanian seeking to expand and improve his/her knowledge, considering the weak local professionalization of the sports industry and low income?

Depending on the area in which the person would like to expand their knowledge, we would recommend starting with a specialized course such as Sport Marketing, Strategic Management in Sport Organizations or Financial Management in Sport Organizations. Another option would be to start with one of our foundation courses in sport management or football business which cover the fundamental concepts of these two areas.

Speaking about courses and specialization, and given the Covid-19 situation, what kind of areas do you think will be in demand in the near future?

Covid-19 has impacted on all business sectors to a greater or lesser extent, but it has also accelerated certain changes that were already intuitive and has opened the door to new opportunities. Digitalization is clearly a trend that, while it was already an added value for any organization in recent years, has become essential today. eSports is a sector on the rise with a great future and which needs professionals to lead its management. The areas of innovation and entrepreneurship are also a very interesting outlet in these times of uncertainty. And also data analytics in the sports industry, and content marketing.

How effective and important is the Alumni Network for those looking for a job in the sports industry?

I would say that it is vital. Networking takes time in any profession and having direct access to sports professionals while you are studying and having fellow students who have made the same journey as you and are already working opens many doors. If that alumni network is international, as in our case, the possibilities are endless. We collaborate with around 300 sports bodies—federations, clubs, companies and agencies—who partner with us to create knowledge and establish connections within the sports industry worldwide.

For a young company like ours that focuses on youngster’s development what would be the recomended approach in order to be successful ?

Starting with a solid foundation is extremely important and, in terms of education, there is much to improve on from the past. It is very important that institutions and entities are aware of the value of education for the present and future of our young people. The fact that they have a talent for sport and that this could be a professional career for them should not divert them or detract from the need for further academic training. Looking after their interests should be everyone’s responsibility, and sports organizations play a very important role in this.

Mariel Koerhuis, General Manager Johan Cruyff Institute

  • Core Member of the Global Management Team, responsible for corporate strategy and execution by developing educational programs for sportspeople worldwide.
  • Responsible for strategic relationships with global stakeholders (academic institutions, sports federations and entities, public administration, companies, international sports associations) enabling talent and knowledge transfer, for the best of education within
    the sports industry.
  • Responsible for network- and business management of academic institutions worldwide: 4 Cruyff Colleges (Vocational Education), 3 Cruyff Academies (Higher Education) and 5 Cruyff Institutes (Postgraduate and Executive Education).
  • Responsible for process improvement and strategic planning of study programs driving
    the mission into action: Educating the next generation of Leaders in Sport Management.



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