Sunday, 26 April 2009

Guardiola, the apprentice among sages

author: Ian Hawkey
source: The Times

date: 19 April 2009

Pep Guardiola speaks excellent English. The Barcelona coach does so with impressive fluency for a man talking in his fourth language and, evidently, can do so with the spontaneity of a native.

Just ask Martin Atkinson, the English fourth official during the first leg of Barcelona's Champions League quarter-final against Bayern Munich. "You're crazy!" erupted Guardiola, responding to a decision. He duly spent the remainder of Barcelona's 4-0 win in a seat in the stands, not much calmer until he apologised, gracefully, afterwards.

The gracious Guardiola, articulate and urbane, is the one this European season has grown accustomed to. On the touchline, he can be an excitable, animated patroller of his technical area, but as most things he has surveyed from there between September and mid-April have been pleasing and positive, the demonstrations of anger must be interpreted as the irritations of a perfectionist.

When he quarrels with referees, it tends to be in the role of protector. Howard Webb, Atkinson's senior colleague, had riled Guardiola in the match against Bayern because he punished Leo Messi for diving when the player had been fouled. "Do you want me to take the entertainer off, or are you going to protect him?" Guardiola asked referee Medina Cantalejo when Real Madrid came to Camp Nou and took it in turns to kick Messi.

It was the smooth, unruffled Guardiola who on Friday shared his thoughts on English football and the imminent reunion of Barça with Chelsea. The one thing he cannot help but feel conscious of, he suggested, will be how inexperienced he will seem next to the man on the other bench. Barça are not only the odd men out for their membership of a league that is not the Premier League; they are the odd men out of the remaining quartet for having a novice in charge.

Arsène Wenger, at 59, is 21 years older than Guardiola; Guus Hiddink had already won the European Cup as a coach three seasons before Guardiola made his first-team debut as a professional player. Little Josep Guardiola i Sala was a cheering 12-year-old probably smirking at the defeat of Real Madrid in front of a television on the night in 1983 when Alex Ferguson, then at Aberdeen, won his first European trophy.

The two factors are linked, he suggests. Why is the Premier League so powerfully represented in the world's leading club competition? "Because their teams are all well managed by head coaches who have fantastic experience in the game," says Guardiola, "and they are allowed to go about their work calmly and in a good professional environment."

Guardiola is a man so culé - so staunchly Barcelonista - that he used to work as a ball boy at Camp Nou, such a loyalist that pictures exist of him tugging at the sleeves of the players of the time as they left the pitch just to offer congratulations. By that stage Guardiola, a Catalan from Santpedor, to the north of Barcelona, had enrolled in the club's youth academy. He was a tall, slender teenager, willowy and set on making a role at the attacking end of midfield his own.

The then Barcelona head coach, Johan Cruyff, made the apparently counterintuitive suggestion that Guardiola reshape his game as a defensive midfielder. It worked. His precise distribution from a deep position would be a feature of Barça's football for the next 11 years, a period that brought the club's first European Cup in 1992, the same year a young Guardiola helped Spain to an Olympic gold medal in the Barcelona Games.

He captained the club from his early 20s, and is probably the footballer cited as an idol by most of the many local players in the current squad. Xavi, the midfield organiser of the present team, says he grew up aspiring to do what Guardiola could. Andres Iniesta says the same. Cesc Fabregas, now of Arsenal, came through the Barcelona ranks saying he admired Iniesta, who admired Guardiola and so on. The club's academy talks legitimately of the "Guardiola school", strategists who shape a playing style from midfield.

By the time Guardiola was seeing out his later career in Italy, with Brescia and briefly under Fabio Capello at Roma, and then in Qatar and Mexico, there was an assumption that this cerebral footballer would become a brilliant coaching strategist too, and that he should logically manage the club of his boyhood, teen and peak years.

There are plenty of instances in football where this sort of logic fails. Clever players make good coaches with an arbitrary irregularity; a good captain does not directly develop into a great manager. When Guardiola was appointed to succeed Frank Rijkaard last July, Barça were trusting heavily in instinct.

The new head coach had never taken charge of a senior club side in a competitive match before the opening of the new season. He had merely performed well with Barça B, the feeder side made up of youth footballers. In August, he lost his first Liga match. Since then he has barely looked back. Barcelona led the table, as they have since November. They have played beautifully, too, outscoring their peers in Spain and across domestic leagues in Europe.

"It is a privilege to be up against Chelsea" says Guardiola. How courteous. Then he explains: "I mean it's a privilege for us to be up against a team as strong as them in the semi-final. Chelsea are a side who, but for one slip, we would be calling the reigning European champions. It's one of the games you want to go out to enjoy." To enjoy the privilege, as he sees it, of being the outsider, the apprentice coach among sages, the foreign team among Premier Leaguers.

read the full and original article here

Read more:
Leadership lessons from a Catalan hero
Barcelona are overrated
Barcelona Is Winning With Style


sashi said...

Amazing article... We worship u Pep!!! U are the man to take us to our European glory!

Anonymous said...

who all in the barca squad know english?

Gussy said...

Here's another nice article from the Guardian . . .

Good job, Pep. Indispensable blog!

pep said...

Thanks, Gussy. The Guardian article was already planned.

Many good articles out there lately, hope they will continue for some more weeks...

FAL said...

hey, check out this wicked new site on how to become a premiership footballer,

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