Basking in the warm glow of the May sunshine, Josep Guardiola Sala was on top of the English game. Gabriel Jesus’s last minute lobbed goal against Southampton had helped Manchester City secure a 100-point season, a feat not achieved in the modern Premier League era.
This completed a domestic double for the blue side of Manchester and this was rightly followed by adulation from all corners of the football world. Guardiola would allow himself a moment to enjoy what he had achieved, but knowing the man, he already had eyes and thoughts on what he and his club could achieve in the next season.
The success and the style in which his team has achieved everything is the perfect reflection of the man who is the pinnacle of football management. This has come as a surprise to absolutely no one and has left so many teams looking to imitate and implement his style, effectively changing football all over the world.
But what shaped this ethos and style? This is where we’re looking at his progress from a youth-team player to a world class midfielder, both at Barcelona, and then his foray into management where a spell at the club’s B team would shape his future and inspire a brand of football that would be revered around the world.
Football managers come from all backgrounds and histories. From superstar ex-players like Zinedine Zidane and Frank Rijkaard to ex-amateurs like Arrigo Saachi and José Mourinho, but Guardiola from the very beginning was born to dominate the football world.
Born in Santpedor, Guardiola joined the Barcelona youth academy at the age of 13. It wasn’t long before the young midfielder caught the eye of the first team manager Johan Cryuff who would go onto be one of the main protagonists and teachers behind Guardiola’s management philosophy.
The young man would go onto spend six years in the youth academy before finally being promoted to the first team going on to a glittering professional career amassing 41 caps for the Spanish national team and 14 trophies.
During his playing career he would come into contact with some of the games leading minds in Johan Cruyff, Bobby Robson and even a young Jose Mourinho and each of these would have an influence on Guardiola’s education.
Guardiola’s first taste of management came as the head of the Barcelona B team. He was appointed on 21 June 2007, with the familiar face of Tito Vilanova joining him as his assistant.
During this period in charge of Barca B, Guardiola would not only introduce a template for a style of play and success for this team, but one that would eventually be introduced from top to bottom of the football club.
This period in Guardiola’s management career is often overlooked, but it is one the man himself credits for setting him on the right path to succeeding at the highest level.
“Definitely. Definitely, it was so good for me. It was good because I had one game a week, I had time to analyse my process, and I did not have spotlights, I did not have media.”
The Terecera division is a difficult league. Many of the teams in the league include hardened veterans, either coming back from injury, having lost their way or form or simply weren’t at the standard required. The Barcelona B side was largely comprised of youth players and the team had suffered a humbling relegation the season before, so the burgeoning manager had a lot on his plate before he had even begun.
The manager didn’t waste anytime setting about his task and brought a new level of professionalism and organisation that had not been seen under Rijkaard’s tenure and his continual focus on the first team.
Quickly introduced by the manager was a scouting system of opponents, technical breakdowns of players, tactics and game plans, his meticulous eye and passion for detail quickly became a hit amongst the players and soon changed the fortune of the clubs results.
All the young players at the Catalan club are drilled with the Barcelona mantra of possession football, to give the ball away is equal to death in the eyes of some coaches and it was with this base that Guardiola was able to implement his ideas onto, creating his first winning machine.
”Tactics are so important because everybody has to know what they have to do on the pitch. The relationships and behaviours off the pitch between team-mates have to be as good as possible.”
After Guardiola’s short lived last playing season in Mexico he returned to the B team, to a squad that had been ridiculed but Pep set about promoting young players who he recognised to have the base skills he desired as well as the ability and aptitude to learn new ideas and techniques that he believed would take his side to promotion.
The squad would go onto house a number of stellar names; the 3 biggest were Sergio Busquets, Thiago and Pedro but the team also featured other quality players such as Iago Falque, Chico Flores and Xavi Torres.
Out of this side, it would be Sergio Busquets that would go on to be the man that reflected Pep’s ideas out on the pitch. Just like Cruyff using Guardiola as the fulcrum in his side it would be Busquets that would fill this role for the first team.
The buzz generated by the new manager and the promise of new up and coming players saw the turnout for the crowds treble as well as the expectations from the board and Catalan press.
His first game saw a crowd of 2,000 flood the stadium to watch a club legend take the dugout. Although the game ended in a stalemate, the hallmarks of a Guardiola side were already evident. The cries of “pass pass, change change,” or do it faster and the gesticulating encouraging movement side to side were being displayed on the touchline.
This draw would be one of a collection of mixed results, including a loss to Manresa (a side that were relegated at the end of the season) representing a sign of the growing pains and lessons that Pep would have to overcome in his attempt to impart his style and ideas on the team. During this period for one of the rare times in his now illustrious career did the man begin to question his beliefs.
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It was these challenges that would form a major part of the man we see before us today.
His methods, though, shone through winning the players over quickly and they remarked at the penchant for attacking football. Confidence soon began to course through their veins and the results began to turn, especially in the second half of the season. Gai Assulin, one of the young stars of the side quoted,
“It was definitely the best time of my career,” says Assulin, who was capped by Israel as a 16-year-old during a campaign in which he netted 10 times. “It was not just the goals, I really enjoyed playing under such a great person. He was very close to all of the players. I think that is one of the reasons why we gave everything for him”
These testing times and young players taught Guardiola so much. Although he had captained great sides and played with stars, nothing could prepare him for leading an actual team. Now he was responsible for everything, the player’s mindsets, the game plan and also the welfare of his staff.
”I am not dealing with footballers, I am dealing with people. They have fears and worry about failing and making fools of themselves in front of 80,000 people. I have to make them see that without each other they are nothing.”
As a football obsessive, Pep was prepared for this challenge and his passion came through to the players, giving his now famous debriefs to fully formulate his strategy. Anyone who has seen the All or Northing series, looking inside the workings of Manchester City will see this in every episode. There is one scene in particular that comes off wonderfully as Guardiola is seen explaining to Kevin de Bruyne about the positions he should take up in the second-half to generate a greater goal threat.
Low and behold that little movement he showed on the white board came to life ending in such a splendid goal that all fans and pundits alike could do is sit back and applaud, as De Bruyne glided into the space between midfield and defence to the left side of the box before firing a 30-yard thunderbolt into the top corner with his left foot.
“That is how I prefer to play football, we are on the same wavelength”, said the Belgian after the match.
At the conclusion of the season Pep achieved his goal in winning promotion with his young charges. This was enough to convince the senior men at the club, that he was the man to lead the club forward.
The decision did not come without trepidation. Although a favourite son and club legend, he had only one year of coaching under his belt and it would have been easy and also understandable for a club the size of Barcelona to overlook Pep in favour of a more experienced coach.
Joan Laporta spoke about the period before Pep was appointed “Everybody around me, I’m talking about Johan Cruyff, about Txiki Begiristain, Rafael Yuste, who was on the board of directors and followed Barca Atletic, all of them told me that Guardiola was ready to be the coach of the first team,” the former president told Goal.
So the summer of 2008 saw the game’s best and most captivating manager take over the first team of his boyhood club. Some men are born leaders, others have it thrust upon them, but Pep took it all in stride taking on and building upon his successful start as Barcelona B manager and creating the perfect football powerhouse.
The same template of discipline and detail was introduced again, bringing with him the trusted staff he had lent on in that first campaign alongside his youth team stars – Busquets, Jeffren and Pedro.
The jump from B team to Senior team was seamless and although the playing field changed, the mantra and goals did not and that season saw the side go on to claim the treble including a 6-2 drubbing of fierce rivals Real Madrid at the Bernabau that shook the world and made them take notice of the magic brewing in Catalunya.
The players brought in with the aid of Tixi Begiristain, his Director of Football, who is now at Manchester City, also shone a light on the type of player he wanted to work with stressing a high work ethic and ability to learn a style of play and execute their manager’s instructions to the letter. Daniel Alves, Seydou Keita and Gerard Piqué were the first of many and their development as players is a testament to the ability of Guardiola to not only get the most out of his squad but to compete and win at the highest level.
His spell in charge of Barcelona lasted 4 years and ended in the team winning 14 trophies including two Champions League titles, producing scintillating football and a team considered possibly the best club side to ever take the field.
The way in which Guardiola works is so intense, scrutinizing details and focusing the rest of his attention on his own players, leaving him exhausted and in need of a rest.
The eyes of footballs giants watched with great interest as Guardiola unwound in New York. Manchester United and Bayern Munich were the front-runners and had it been for a better understanding of Sir Alex Ferguson’s advances he could well have been guiding the red side of Manchester.
After over a year of rumours, guessing and waiting the Spaniard finally settled on Bayern Munich as his next destination and this would produce the same outcome in terms of trophies and plaudits for the style in which he would dominate another league.
This was another step in the evolution of Guardiola. He was taking over a team that was used to an expansive end-to-end style of football, with less emphasis on the control of the ball and therefore the match. Although it had done the side from Munich no harm in the previous season, winning the treble Pep ensured the sides domestic dominance did not wane.
He did this by combining the sides lightning fast breaks – Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben on the wings and David Alaba at left back with intelligent, controlled players at the heart of the side. Phillip Lahm, was moved to central midfield with Javi Martínez to act as his fulcrum.
There has been a belief of Guardiola that he has tried to change football wherever he has gone and this couldn’t be further from the truth. The manager has his beliefs and a template for how he wants his team to play and what it takes to be successful.
His time at Bayern Munich would last three seasons, joining the side for the 2013-14 season and winning the domestic double that year as well as the Super Cup and FIFA World Club Cup. After the conclusion of the 2015-16 season in which his side again dominated the league but failed in Europe, Guardiola decided the time had come to take up a new challenge and to pit his wits in another of Europe’s elite leagues.
The success he had at Barcelona and Bayern Munich was more than enough to convince Manchester City that this was the man to create the dynasty the owners from the Middle East desired.
Although the first season was trophyless, it showed that Guardiola was human and like any manager needed time to implement his ideas, draft in players who could execute his instruction and learn about the English game.
Fast forward a season to Jesus’s goal leaves no one in doubt of the special nature of this manager. With the new season just underway, Manchester City are competing on all four fronts and Pep is targeting trophies once again.
Anyone who has had the privilege to watch one of his sides in the flesh at their peak is akin to watching a concert at Carnegie Hall. The harmony in which the side plays is inspiring and possesses the perfect balance of allowing individuals the freedom to express their talent but not at the sake of the team. This is what Guardiola believes is the key to being the best.
Only time will tell to see how far Guardiola can lead this team, but one thing is for certain the eyes of the world are fixated on him and we are ready to be entertained.
BY ED SUMMERS
ARTWORK BY VARDHAN CHULANI