The greatest soccer managers have a very special trait, they easily manage to get their players playing according to the philosophy they have set their vision upon. They lead by example and more than just soccer managers, they are leaders.
One such great manager of the modern day soccer is Josep Guardiola, nick named ‘Pep’. Pep earned glory during his four years in the Barcelona dug out. He gave the sporting world a near to flawless soccer team, a team which won hearts all over the world with its spellbinding style of play and left a mark in soccer history forever.
Josep was given the keys to the club after the end of the 2008 season which saw his clubs rivals Real Madrid winning their 31st Liga title and the departure of David Beckham to the MLS. The Champions league was won by Manchester United who had knocked out a dominant Barcelona in the semi-finals. Barcelona finished the season at the third spot in the Liga.
The Barcelona board despite of its initial reluctance to sign the relatively inexperienced Guardiola, somehow placed trust in him and gave a chance to the man who won a Champions League with Barcelona as a player in 1992 under his master, Johan Cryuff. Under Johan Cryuff, Guardiola’s Barcelona played the brand of total football and won many glories in the early 1990’s. The time had finally come for the pupil to become the professor. Guardiola came with the motive of implementing the philosophy of ‘total football’ in this generation of Barcelona, something which his predecessor Rijkaard did not consider important. Given that it was the traditional philosophy of Barcelona, the one which is ingrained deep into the roots of La Masia(their youth academy) Guardiola right from the start had shown clear intentions of repeating the feat performed by Cryuff almost twenty years back. The youth players were valued, fair and beautiful soccer was being craved for and Catalonya once again starting developing a sense of a large family represented by the name of their much loved club.
Pep Guardiola in Barcelona
Barcelona gave a shaky start to their season under the new manager, but Cryuff still admired the way Barcelona played under Pep, requesting patience from the media and fans. During the same period, Pep was surrounded by a dilemma concerning Messi’s participation in the Olympics of 2008 for Argentina, which would be his last chance to represent his nation in the Olympics considering the age constraints set by Olympics soccer committee. Almost the entire squad and board were reluctant to risk Messi as they were scheduled to play a Champions League playoff too. But Guardiola did what the best managers do, he asked Messi his decision and Messi spoke out his desire to play for Argentina, Pep willingly allowed him to play in the Olympics, Messi won the gold for his country and at the same time Barca comfortably qualified for the Champions league. Messi couldn’t resist giving a hug to his considerate manager upon scoring his first goal for Barca after returning from the Olympics. Pep was known for his straightforward decision making, having made it clear that all the members of the team are equal. He sold the likes of Ronaldinho and Deco upon coming to Barcelona as he believed their superstar mentalities were creating unrest in the dressing room. Pep demanded utmost discipline from his players in training, with strict fines for any sort of misconduct.
Barcelona was finally on track in Guardiola’s first season by the month of September. He cleared the doubts of everyone by comfortably winning the league outclassing Real Madrid in both the legs of the Clasico, a Copa Del Rey and the Champion’s League. By the end of the year they completed the club history’s first sextuple by adding Spanish Supercopa, Uefa Supercup and Club World Cup to their list of titles.
Guardiola made one of the deals that’s still regarded his worst deal in Barcelona by selling of Samuel Eto’o to Inter Milan in return for Swidish Striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Throughout the season Ibra found it difficult to gel with the fast paced game of FC Barcelona. He ended up developing a tense relationship with the coach within just a season. Despite of having scored a crucial goal against Madrid in the Liga El Clasico that season, Zlatan wasn’t considered an influential replacement for Eto’o. The second season was quite a disappointment for an all-cup-winning Barcelona as they managed to retain only their Liga title this year. Ibra scored a goal in the Spanish Supercopa at the start of the new season in the game which saw Barcelona lose 3-1 away to Sevilla. But Barcelona retained the Supercopa title by winning the game at Camp Nou by 4 goals, which included a Lionel Messi hat trick.
At the end of the season, Henry left for the MLS and the legendary Barca trio of 2009 formed by Henry, Eto’o and Messi finally dissolved completely. There was a burning need for a striker and Pep proved his worth as an opportunistic manager soon. Following the 2010 World cup in South Africa, David Villa was among the hot prospects in Spain. Barcelona bought Villa from Valencia and he became the new first team striker.
The new season was soon to get underway and Guardiola had the frontline of Pedro, Messi and Villa at his disposal. Zlatan was finally shown the door, as the manager considered it right for him to leave Barcelona. Villa was an instant impact on this side as Guardiola rectified his mistake of losing Eto’o by bringing a younger and a relatively brighter talent as the new striker of his competitive system. This only showed that Guardiola was a person who rarely repeated mistakes and had a great sense of player selection, though Zlatan was an exception due to his own behavior. This season also saw the arch rival manager of Guardiola, Jose Mourinho take reigns at Real Madrid. Guardiola’s Barcelona whitewashed Jose’s Madrid in the first leg of the Liga El Clasico 5-0 at the Camp Nou. These eternal rivals faced each other again in the Champions league Semi-final where Messi’s two stunning away goals in Bernabeu in the First leg almost placed Barcelona in the Final at Wembley. The tactical genius of Guardiola resisted a highly aggressive Madrid side at their home and the brilliance of Messi sealed the deal with a valuable away victory. Guardiola’s diligence at the start of the league season was already paying off as Barcelona was comfortably cruising towards their third consecutive league title.
However, Guardiola’s hopes of winning a major treble again this season were curbed by a Ronaldo header which came in the extra time of the Final of the Copa Del Rey. This was certainly a huge blow to an ambitious Barcelona.
In the Champions League final at Wembley, Barcelona were up against the opponent beating whom they began their glorious journey in 2009. Manchester United was playing on its home soil. Guardiola made sure that the Copa Del Rey defeat didn’t hamper the morale of his side before facing United in such a big game.
United played a very high pressing game earlier in the first half but once they lost their energy it was Guardiola’s total footballing Barca that ruled the show. Pedro scored the opener arriving at the end of a wonderful Xavi through ball. Rooney equalized before half time with a stunning individual display. The second half again witnessed Barcelona dominating the game and Lionel Messi ran rampant on Van Der Sar by hitting a shot from outside the box straight into the goal. Later Villa paid back Guardiola’s faith in him by a masterclass finish that left the United players ball-watching. It was Guardiola’s Barcelona that rocked Wembley.
Guardiola had shown the world how soccer is meant to be played. They went on to win the Uefa Supercup against Porto and also the Spanish Supercopa in what was a dramatic two-legged affair against Real Madrid. It was clearly evident that Mourinho’s Madrid was getting better and better every time they met Barcelona and were clearly on track to break their Liga dominance of the last three years.
In his fourth season at Barcelona, Guardiola bought Alexis Sanchez the Chilean from the Italian club Udinese. He didn’t prove an exceptional signing as the Barcelona already had the artillery in attack. At the end of the year, there was a catastrophe as Barca’s influential striker David Villa was severely injured playing in the FIFA club world cup in Japan while playing against Al Sadd. The injury ruled out Villa from the Euro 2012 stint with Spain. Fabregas the Arsenal Captain who was originally a La Masia product was signed from Arsenal for 29 Million Euros. Messi became the first player to win the Ballon D’or a record three times by the end of the year.
This season the Liga was a very tough fought race, which Madrid won at the end of the season beating Barcelona at Camp Nou 2 goals to one, where a goal was scored by Sanchez and Madrid’s winning goal was scored by none other than Cristiano Ronaldo, who invented the famous ‘Calm down, I am there’ goal celebration of his. Barca faced exit from the Champions League following a semi-finals clash with the English club Chelsea who went on to win the Champion’s League the same year in a very dramatic manner. The semi-final fixture was a very tough one and it only displayed the hard luck of Barcelona despite of their efforts to make it to the finals. Messi was in tears after the match as his penalty miss at the Camp Nou proved very costly for Barcelona. But Guardiola, again displayed his strength as a human being as he was humble enough to accept defeat and to congratulate Chelsea to make it to the finals and also wished them luck. The only piece of Silverware this year for Guardiola 3-0 was the victory in the Copa Del Rey final against Athletic Bilbao which earned them the cup for the record 26th time. This was the last consolation for Guardiola before his farewell from Barcelona as Guardiola had announced his desire to leave soccer coaching for personal reasons earlier this year.
Guardiola’s farewell came at the Camp Nou on the 6th of May, 2012 and it was quite a nostalgic affair. In his farewell speech Guardiola took centre stand on the Holy pitch of Camp Nou and thanked the thousands of fans present in the Camp Nou and also all the viewers across the world. He very humbly credited the success he witnessed at Barcelona to all the fans and to the wonderful people he worked with day in day out. He also consoled Barcelona by mentioning that the one who was going to lose the most was him, and he said that the philosophy of Beautiful soccer which he successfully re-installed at the Catalan club would last in this club in the many years to come even without his presence. He received a very warm farewell from everyone which was echoed by the applauses of thousands in the Camp Nou. He was also hoisted and bounced into the air by the traditional Spanish celebrations of players gathering around their manager. Guardiola left the field waving to the entire crowd that were not tired raising banners thanking him for everything and giving him a very well deserved standing ovation. He entered the club four years ago as relatively newbie and an untrustworthy person and left the club as one of the greatest soccer managers of all time.
During his four years, Guardiola impressively re-invented Barcelona’s traditional soccer philosophy and along with magnetizing soccer fans to the stadiums with his hypnotizing style of soccer, he managed to win 3 Liga titles, 2 Champions League titles, 2 Copa Del Reys, 3 Spanish Supercopas, 2 UEFA Supercups and 2 Club World cups. He gave this world the significance of a ‘regista’ by re-inventing the dying role in the form of Sergio Busquets, who is still an influential deep-lying playmaker. Guardiola as a player himself was a master of this role and his management clearly showed how influential he is in getting his ideas and philosophies across to the players of his team. He proved to the world the importance of adhering to the morals and virtues that make up a club. He re-defined modern day soccer by inspiring millions of coaches across the world to imitate his ‘playstation style soccer’ among their teams. He gave the world a flawless soccer team which was potentially the best team the game had ever seen. He not only earned silverware for Barcelona but tremendous respect in Spain by clearly outweighing Madrid on El Clasico successes. The Catalan exemplified sheer hard work, man-management and commitment which are the very necessary elements of every successful soccer manager in the modern game. He gave equal opportunities to the players of his youth setup and was never biased towards the star players of his team. Under his management, La Masia became the first youth academy in the World to have all of its graduates for the Ballon D’or contention in 2010(Xavi, Iniesta and Messi).
Following the last season of Guardiola, Messi was chasing a tremendous record set by a soccer great Gerd Muller, a record of scoring the most goals in a calendar year. The philosophy of tiki-taka reinvented by the managerial genius of Guardiola brought together the likes of La Masia talents like Andres Iniesta and Xavi to conjure a game play that allowed the Argentine to make the most out of goal-scoring chances. Messi himself has often attributed Guardiola for his success along with Ronaldinho and the Spanish Duo of Xavi and Iniesta. It is quite evident from the fact that Messi won the Ballon D’or for every season that finished under the management of Guardiola. Guardiola left Barcelona handing over his glorious heirloom over to his most trusted assistant coach, Tito Vilanova.
Guardiola was more than just a soccer coach, he was a leader, a proud Catalan an innovator and strong decision–maker. During his time as a coach, Barcelona was never a team; it was more of a family whose head and Godfather was Guardiola. Guardiola was a considerate personality who was keen to understand the problems of his players and to give them optimal solutions. He was perfection personified and probably the greatest and the most successful Managers Barcelona ever had.