Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona were the greatest team many have ever seen, but Guillem Balagué reveals in his new book the former Barca coach is a workaholic beset by a sense of never being quite good enough.
By CHRISTOPHER DAVIES
THE SPECULATION will intensify as the season progresses, there will be exclusives about his next destination with “sources” confirming it will be Chelsea, Manchester City, Inter Milan or whoever, but right now even Pep Guardiola does not know where he will be working next season.
The man who coached the Barcelona team that most (outside of Madrid) rate as the best they have ever seen will end his self-enforced sabbatical next summer and return to football. Guardiola will not be tempted by the highest bidder because, as Guillem Balagué explains in a superbly researched and highly readable biography Pep Guardiola – Another Way Of Winning, the Catalan will choose a club that seduces him with football rather than finance.
“Pep only moved once in his career for money, when he went to Qatar,” Balagué told footballwriters.co.uk. A 33-year-old Guardiola joined Al-Ahli on a two-year contract worth US$4 million, but as Balagué explains in his book: “After playing 18 games and spending most of his time lounging by the pool in his complex…he went for a trial at Manchester City, spending 10 days under Stuart Pearce’s eye in 2005. Eventually Pep turned down a six-month contract in Manchester, wanting a longer deal that the City manager was not prepared to offer…and joined Mexican side Dorados de Sinaloa.”
Balagué, a lifelong Espanyol fan and a familiar figure in English football because of his regular appearances on Sky Sports’ coverage of Spanish football, admires Guardiola, a complex character who invested so much into his first experience as a manager he needed pills to help him sleep.
In the biography, Balagué outlines Guardiola’s self-imposed work-load: “Despite having 24 assistants he worked longer hours than most of them. His players will tell you he is a coach whose care for the smallest detail improves them, who can see and communicate the secrets of the game. They see a complex man with so much on his mind, always mulling things over, excessively so sometimes. Players say they are sure he would like to spend more time with his wife and kids but he can’t, because he dedicates the vast majority of his time to winning games. He lives for that, but sometimes even they wonder: does he overdo it?
“He would go for walks with his partner and their children to help him find some sort of emotion balance.
“‘A manager’s work is never done,’ Pep was often heard saying. One morning, the enthusiastic Pep seen the previous day had made way for a silent Pep whose words said one thing but his sunken eyes another. ‘What’s wrong?’ one of his colleagues asked him. ‘Yesterday I should have gone to see my daughter in a ballet and I couldn’t go.’ ‘Why not?’ his friend asked, surprised. ‘Because I was watching videos of our opponents.’”
So would being a slave to the cause, which contributed to him taking a year off, not remain with Guardiola when he returns? Balagué said: “Many people in this day and age overwork, we do too much. It can reach a point where you stop loving what you are doing and he lost that.
“When you are the sort of person who has to give absolutely everything, you take that with you everywhere. You go to the next club and you still have to do 120 per cent. Pep will not just want to keep learning about the game, he will want to know about the club’s history and the culture of the place where he lives. So he will immerse himself again with work, trying to gather information because that’s how he does it. The hope for him and his family is that he can balance it more so he can last a little longer.”
Balagué writes in the book: “Pep sets impossibly high standards and is beset by a sense of never quite being good enough. Guardiola might look strong and capable of carrying a club and nation on his shoulders but he is very sensitive about the reaction of the team and about disappointing the fans by not meeting their expectations. Or his own.”
He said: “At his next club he cannot fail. To him he would be failing himself, failing a nation, failing the club, failing his family…so he’d have to work even more to achieve this.”
Having reached footballing utopia at the Nou Camp, there will inevitably be the belief that the Guardiola magic can be transferred elsewhere and he can create Barca II. “It is impossible,” said Balagué. “I’m not sure how he will approach this or what message he will give the people at his new club. He will produce good football and he believes in a way of playing football. He will take that with him, he will maximise what he has at his disposal, he will improve the players, look at every detail to beat the other team…that kind of thing.”
In 2008 Guardiola took over a successful team put together by Frank Rijkaard, albeit one with signs of ill-discipline which was soon sorted, starting with the departure of Ronaldinho. Balagué said: “He took some significant decisions which not everyone was in favour of but as a manager from the first minute Guardiola did the right things, then as a coach he took the team to a completely new level. He combined the lessons he had learned from everyone…from Johan Cruyff, from his close friend Juanma Lillo who was his coach in Mexico, from people in Italy [where he played for Roma and Brescia] and applied all this to his own football philosophies.
“I have never seen a better team than the one Guardiola produced. He took a side that was maybe 7/10 to the limit at a time when everyone knows everything about each other, about the players, the tactics and still took them above everybody else in the world.”
His four years as coach saw Guardiola win 14 major honours. At Barcelona, the motto is “more than a club” and Guardiola, a key member of Cruyff’s Dream Team of the Nineties, is a symbol not just of Barca, but Catalonia. Balagué understands Guardiola’s decision to leave a team with players such as Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi (you could name the entire squad) but “I don’t completely agree with it.”
In the book Balagué writes: “By the end of his tenure he was no longer the youthful, eager, enthusiastic manager Sir Alex Ferguson met that night in Rome [in 2009]. On the day he announced he was leaving his boyhood club you could see the toll it had taken, it was discernible in his eyes and in his receding hairline, now flecked with grey.
“When he took the job he was a youthful looking 37-year-old. Eager, ambitions, enthusiastic. Now look at him four years later, he doesn’t look 41, does he? To be a coach at Barcelona requires a lot of energy and after four years, now that he no longer enjoyed the European nights, now that Real Madrid had made La Liga an exhausting challenge on and off the field, Guardiola felt it was time to depart from the all-consuming entity he had served – with a break of only six years – since he was 13. And when he returns – because he will return – isn’t it best to do so having left on a high?”
Balague said: “I remember something Luis Aragonés said to me. He is one of the wise men and said: ‘I don’t believe Pep when he says he is tired.’
“I don’t believe it entirely, either. When Pep was a player at Barcelona he left the club too late. Cruyff always told him he, himself, should have left two years earlier. Guardiola always had the idea, from minute one, that he wasn’t going to last long. So I think there’s a bit of a strategy behind all this. It was a combination of many things, including the fact there were a lot of very hard decisions that had to be taken. He built this team from love as well as from tactics and everything else. Try telling your kids ‘sorry I don’t want you any more’ or ‘you’re not playing in the team.’ That demanded an emotional investment he was not prepared to do.”
Balagué is adamant the world’s most sought after out-of-work manager will not return to work until next summer. His advisors are constantly in touch with Europe’s leading clubs and Balagué said: “The only thing they are trying to convince him of at the moment is to say ‘yes’ to a club and start working in the shadows.
“Everyone likes money, but Guardiola will be saying ‘show me this club can be taken to the top, show me it can be done in the way that I like.’ There is no point in him going to a club that prefers to play long balls or does not have a squad that is ready to keep the ball.”
The smart money would be on Guardiola’s next stop being England, Germany or Italy. In the book, Sir Alex Ferguson writes in the foreword: “I missed out on signing Pep Guardiola as a player back at the time that his future no longer lay at Barcelona. Maybe the timing I chose was wrong. It would have been interesting: he was the kind of player that Paul Scholes developed into. Sometimes you look back at a really top player and you say to yourself: ‘I wonder what it would have been like if he’d come to United?’ That was the case with Pep Guardiola.”
The longest-serving manager in British football makes no secret of his admiration for man who ticks just about every box needed for his successor.
Ferguson wrote: “One thing I have noticed about Guardiola – crucial to his immense success as a manager – is that he has been very humble. He has never tried to gloat, he has been very respectful and that is very important. As a coach he is very disciplined in terms of how his team plays, whether they win or lose he is always the unpretentious individual. And to be honest, I think it is good to have someone like that in this profession.”
Would Guardiola’s pending availability persuade Ferguson to step down? “I am pretty sure Ferguson and the club have discussed the possibility of that,” said Balagué. “It doesn’t mean it will happen because we all know Sir Alex wants to be there for at least another year or two. He lost the opportunity of getting Guardiola as a player, but would he retire to bring him in to take over? No.
“Pep has not told anyone he wants to go to this club or that club in England. From what I know of him, at 10 in the morning he’ll have made a decision, at 11 he’ll think ‘well, actually…’ and at one he’ll be thinking about another club. By the evening he’ll have ruled them all out. It will take him months to decide to take his family to another country and for him to join another club.
“I think it’s clear Chelsea are doing all they can to convince him, they have probably been the most consistent ones.”
Wherever Guardiola’s next port of call may be, Balagué is sure he will one day return to Barcelona.
“He’s going back, no doubt about it.” As coach? “We’ll see. It’s the kind of thing he has not decided, but I am 100 per cent sure he will go back at some point.”
How Barcelona developed under Guardiola.
The team that Rijkaard left in 2008 was: Valdes – Zambrotta, Milito, Puyol, Abidal – Yaya Toure – Xavi, Iniesta – Messi, Eto’o, Henry.
The starting XI for the 2009 Champions League final against Manchester United was: Valdes – Puyol, Toure, Pique, Sylvinho – Busquets – Iniesta, Xavi – Messi, Eto’o, Henry.
By 2010 it was: Valdes – Alves, Pique, Puyol, Abidal – Busquets – Xavi, Iniesta – Messi, Ibrahimovic, Pedro.
In 2011: Valdes – Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Abidal – Busquets – Iniesta, Xavi – Pedro, Messi, Villa.
Guardiola’s last season: Valdes – Alves, Pique, Mascherano, Puyol – Busquets – Xavi, Fabregas – Alexis, Messi, Iniesta.
*Pep Guardiola – Another Way of Winning: The Biography by Guillem Balagué (Orion £20).