A young skinny boy of just 19 years of age training with Barcelona senior team under Johan Cruff, arguably one of the greatest visionary of the modern football. The boy went on to establish the idea and the concept of Cruyffism into the world of football which became the blueprint of many other teams in the years to follow. The boy who is none other than Josep Guardiola Sala, popularly known as Pep Guardiola.
A Visionary CDM
Pep as his peers would often mention him was a master with the ball. He redefined the position of defensive midfielder with his vision, intelligence and instinct; controlling the momentum of the match with his pure footballing knowledge and becoming one of the pillars of the “Dream Team” under Cruyff. Guardiola was an on-field coach even during his young age. Learning his trade at the famous La Masia academy, he became a leader, tactician and a figure to look upon in the all of the teams that he played. He won everything at the club level as a player during his stint with FC Barcelona and was always looking towards the future. The pure satisfaction of winning was not enough for him and he always wanted to learn the different concepts of football. His stints in Italy, Qatar and Mexico was more focused on coaching and understanding rather than playing.
After 5 years he returned to Barcelona as head coach of B team which was relegated to third division that particular season. The management of Barcelona was very much interested in reviving the B team as it was considered as the perfect opportunity for the players who graduate from the La Masia academy to prove their worth to be selected for the senior team. Guardiola’s football was based on a simple idea of time and space by keeping the ball and circulating it and thereby creating an opening for the attacking players to thrive. So it was very much evident that he wanted to create the pure form of football. It was the time with the B team his connection with Sergio Busquets was established. The youth players found that the demands from Guardiola was very much different from the previous other coaches. The mere expectation of perfection in keeping the ball in the small pitches was very tough for the young boys. But as the time passed they got used to Pep’s system of playing and were promoted to second division as champions.
The Big Step
The 2007-2008 season was a disaster for FC Barcelona as it was nearly two years without any major trophies and the time for Frank Rijkaard as a manager was nearing its end. The fans were not happy with the players because of their high wage bill and their ability to not transform their quality on to the pitch and it was clearly reflecting in the stadium attendance and the chorus of boos towards the end of season. The management was looking for a replacement and Jose Mourinho was a strong favourite because of his strong mentality which was very much needed for the players. But then President of FC Barcelona, Joan Laporta, was convinced Pep Guardiola was the right man for the job.
The appointment of Guardiola was not taken well by the media as they termed his as inexperienced and was not the right man for the job.
To add fuel to the fire, the departures of Deco and Ronaldinho was also criticised. The beginning of 2008-09 season was not very good as they lost their first match and drew the second match but clearly dominating both the matches. It was at that time Johan Cruyff came in support of his protege and asked for patience from the fans. What then followed was one of the most beautiful versions of football the world has ever witnessed. Guardiola’s Barcelona won all the six trophies they competed that season and the highlight was the victory against one of the most fearsome side in the name of Manchester United in Champions League final at Wembley.
Four years and fourteen trophies later, Guardiola shook the entire world by announcing his departure from FC Barcelona. But his name was already in the history books as the most successful manager in FC Barcelona’s rich history. More important was that of creating a blueprint for the modern football and establishing the idea of his mentor, Johan Cruff.
The real contribution
The most overlooked aspect of Guardiola’s coaching stint with FC Barcelona (2008-12), FC Bayern Munich (2013-16), Manchester City FC (2016- ) is that the success of the respective National teams. The core of the Spanish national team was FC Barcelona’s powerful midfield of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets which is to date considered to be one of the most successful midfield of all time. The golden generation of Spain domination from 2008 to 2012 winning two European Championships and a World Cup is still attributed to tiki-taka style of football that was played to perfection by Spain team created by the legendary Guardiola. His time with Bayern also improved the players individually who formed the core of German national team. A proof to this fact is that the winning goal was scored by Mario Gotze who improved drastically under Pep Guardiola.
A similarity between 2010 and 2014 world cup winning teams were that the core of team was part of the club Guardiola was managing at that time. His impact on England’s run to semi-final in 2018 WC can also be partly attributed to the genius of Guardiola.
Guardiola’s appointment as the manager of Manchester City FC was considered as one of the coups of Premier league. But the pundits were harsh on him and his style and even going to a point that possession-based football would not succeed in England. However, as ever this was proved wrong as usual by Pep by winning the league by a record 100 points is atestament to the fact that “SIMPLE IS POWERFUL”.
The contribution of Guardiola in his short managerial career to the world football is unparalleled.