Pep Guardiola has often said that he wouldn’t be where he is today without the influence of the man who shaped his football philosophy - Johan Cruyff. On Cruyff’s coaching work at Barcelona, he has an evergreen take:
Johan Cruyff painted the chapel, and Barcelona coaches since merely restore or improve it.
He was part of the same chapel as a member of the 1992 Barcelona 'dream team' and then later when his turn as the coach came, he built the best-ever side at the Nou Camp that won six titles in 2009. Guardiola has revolutionised football in his own way - by going to Bayern Munich and changing the way a big club plays, just like his idol did with Ajax and then Barcelona.
The work ethic and ethos that he brings are of the highest order. Critics argue that he had Lionel Messi and Andrés Iniesta to help him win the Champions League. Well, so did Ernesto Valverde as the coach of Barcelona, but the outcomes he met with were vastly different. 7 of Guardiola's players at Barcelona were part of Spain's World Cup win in 2010, and 6 of his Bayern Munich players were part of Germany's triumph in 2014. It can't be just coincidence. There is a lot to admire in the man and look up to. He delivers titles.
Born and raised in Santpedor, Guardiola is a proud Catalonian. The ongoing Catalan independence movement asks for the region's right to self-determination and freedom from the administrative control of Spain. The ex-Barcelona manager is known for wearing a yellow ribbon on his lapel in solidarity with the cause.
This simmering issue of discontent has threatened to bring civil unrest in Spain as the Catalans pushed for a referendum and dialogue. Massive protest demonstrations led to the Spanish authorities jailing 9 high profile members (a few being Guardiola's friends) of the Catalan independence movement. The matter was so flared up that it led to El Clasico being postponed in fall last year.
For a man of such insight and one with a knowledge of history and a keen sense of dignity, Guardiola somehow divorces himself from the reality of the money that fuels his current club. It violates the human rights of labourers working in the Gulf under the Kafala system. Howsoever much he wishes it, that reality is not going away. This is being selective with ethics, one set for Europe, another for the Middle-East.
The Kafala is an exploitative system used to monitor unskilled migrant labourers, working primarily in the construction and domestic sectors system to have an in-country sponsor, usually their employer, who is responsible for their visa and legal status. This creates easy opportunities for their exploitation explained in detail by James Montague of Tifo Football in this video essay.
There seems to be a willingness from him to look the other way as long as it serves the purpose. This is the same as England refusing to accept that their country's resources have been historically accumulated and built on the loots of imperialism. Money is made through the toils of the less-privileged. Just as the iPhones are not possible without the human-rights violating, relentless, and robotic labour of the Chinese workers of Zhengzhou.
Without the Kafala's back-breaking exploitation, there would be no petrodollars to shovel into the super-club hell-bent on achieving European glory.
Kafala is no different and runs with impunity in the gulf nations. Sure there's oil underneath the sands, but someone has to man the rigs and work the refineries in baking hot temperatures. Someone has to build the infrastructure that helps desert outposts to be counted as bustling cities of commerce. Invariably it is the cheap, bonded, sub-continental labour which does the job, shipped in as they are by an unjust system that strips them of freedom and dignity.
Money is generated through unjust means, which is then routed through spurious channels to buy a world-class four-man defence because the club had been shipping goals the previous season. Win at any cost. And keep winning. That's the motto.
In November 2018, Football Leaks, a website founded by Rui Pinto claimed that Manchester City were openly flouting FIFA's Financial Fair Play (FFP) rules introduced in 2011. The revelations brought to the fore the obvious, that the club was circumventing the rules with the money that was blotted with the misery of fellow human beings, to begin with. That's shady work at both the generation and distribution of the petrodollars.
Football Leaks brought to light the shady nature of the club enterprise which was published by German newspaper Der Spiegel in a 4-part series which exposed its fine details in November 2018. There was a specific project code-named Longbow designed to tide over the FFP restrictions. This involves back-dated contracts, shell companies, subterfuge, secret payouts, and Icelandic banks, with oil money lubricating every process, across the tax havens around the world. It is confusing and opaque, and deliberately so.
Following this coverage by the Hamburg-based magazine renowned for its investigative journalism, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) launched its investigation in March 2019. City reacted by branding it as a smear campaign against themselves.
A scholarly man such as Guardiola can't be so naïve to not have known this. If former City coach Roberto Mancini knew, so must Guardiola. When the repercussions hit in February 2020 with the UEFA slapping City with a two-year ban in Champions League, he was still vehement that he trusts the club hierarchy.
The Spaniard is Cruyff's greatest disciple and has followed in his footsteps, restoring his foundational work in Barcelona. However, Cruyff himself might have disapproved of the path his student is on. For the Dutchman, philosophy came before everything else and tainted money is something he would have not have been okay with. Style and titles are important, but at some point, one needs to pause and ask - at what cost? How many inhumane man-hours would it take to jolt you? How long till the balance tips and beautiful football is no longer justified? It is an ethical problem.
Yes, Guardiola is a genius, but him winning the Premier League is probably not the best example of it. There is no doubt that he improves every squad he takes under his tutelage. However, there has never been the case that he was short of resources to execute his plans. He was blessed at Barcelona, well-funded at Bayern Munich, and has a genie at Manchester City who sees through his wishes.
What Claudio Ranieri did at Leicester City is genius too and it is untainted - the greatest underdog story ever in English football. Guardiola could, but won't do what Marcelo Bielsa (who he acknowledges as his inspiration) is doing so wonderfully at Leeds United in England's second-tier - away from the limelight, with lesser money to spend. It has more resonance with what Cruyff believed in. Had he been alive, he would have told Guardiola so.
European success evades Manchester City. Additionally, it must surely irk Guardiola and the hierarchy, which includes his friend and director of football Txiki Begiristain, that for all the beautiful football on display at the Etihad Stadium, the bucket seats are still going empty. Success has not brought support the way they expected.
It is quite apparent that Guardiola is in the knowledge of how things work. His duplicity comes through in this willing complicity. His trophies at City will always have an asterisk in from of them. One that signifies that it was achieved flouting something - whether its financial fair play or his conscience or both? That's up to him to decide and for us to think about.