FC Barcelona’s “Pep Talks”

I’m not sure. I prefer to take more time. If you respect that, good and if not, bad luck.

I can’t work in a club that is so demanding if I’m not sure that I feel it fully.”

I’m grateful that the people want me to renew, but if we hadn’t been winning so much, they’d be throwing stones at me.

These were the words expressed by FC Barcelona Coach Pep Guardiola on Sunday before his sides 5-1 mauling of Valencia CF later that evening…it seems that this latest slightly cagey and cloudy response regarding his FC Barcelona future had an effect on the team, who stepped out at the Nou Camp and put on one of their finest displays of the season. Perhaps this was a response by the players to remind their much loved coach we still have a lot more to give you…if you want to stay.

The Fan, The Ball Boy, Youth Team, First Team, The Captain, The Manager…A Legend?

The story of Josep “Pep” Guardiola who was born on 18th January 1971 is quite remarkable, and his meteoric rise to the top of the managerial tree even more astonishing. There cannot not be many managers around the globe who can not only say they are managing their boyhood club, but who have also been a ball boy, youth product, senior team lynchpin/captain and now manager of such club.

After a distinguished playing career that has seen him play in Spain, Italy, Qatar and Mexico and just shy of 50 caps for the Spain National Team, Pep Guardiola was appointed coach of the FC Barcelona B Team in the summer of 2007. At that time Barça’s B Team played its football in the “Tercera Division” which is Spain’s 4th tier, and it certainly didn’t take him long to make his mark – so much so that after the team went on to finish the 2007/08 season in the playoff places and later win promotion, then acting FC Barcelona Chairman Joan Laporta announced Josep Guardiola would be appointed the new manager of FC Barcelona and replace the outgoing Frank Rijkaard for the 2008/09 La Liga Season.

Most Barça fans will tell you that they felt mixed emotions about his appointment; on one hand they were happy to welcome back one of the clubs greatest players and ambassadors, but on the other hand wasn’t he a little inexperienced? How would he handle the pressure and expectations of managing one of the biggest clubs in the world and its star studded squad…?

Guardiola did not waste any time in stamping his mark on the club and its senior team. Many were surprised to see him in the space of weeks off load current stars and icons Ronaldinho, Deco, Gianluca Zambrotta and later Samuel Etoo. It was clear that Guardiola felt a shake up was needed and the club needed to take a new direction, a direction which it certainly has not looked back from since…and any of those doubt’s Barça fans had of Guardiola’s appointment are long forgotten…his record since the summer of 2008 speaks for itself;

Pep's FCB Coaching Record as of Feb 2012 - Wikipedia

The Philosophy Behind The Man

It would not be an exaggeration to say that in the past 4 years Pep Guardiola has not only transformed his FC Barcelona side into one of the world greatest modern days teams and possibly ever, but has also taken the ideals of the pure football fan, player, and coach and turned them into reality – playing beautiful aesthetically pleasing football and winning titles year in year out. The Barcelona “Tiki Taka” slogan can be seen, heard and referred to across the globe and many managers at the top are proud to say they hold Barcelona’s style and way of football as their own example of the levels and standards they themselves aspire to.

In terms of footballing identity and blueprint FC Barcelona’s is now one of the clearest and strongest in football, and whist most of the plaudits fall on to the lap of Pep Guardiola he will be the first to admit that his ideas and ideologies were influenced by his idols as a player and coach – during his career at FC Barcelona he lived and breathed first hand the philosophy of the great Johan Cruyff who’s ideas of the game and developing players has since been woven into the fabric of the club. Marcelo Bielsa is another man whom Guardiola has great respect for, the Argentinean manager who now faces Guardiola in La Liga as manager of Athletic Bilbao has been a someone Pep has drawn a lot of advise, ideas and examples from.

Another important factor in the make up of Pep Guardiola is the constant pressure he puts himself under on a daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal basis. Since arriving at the helm in the summer of 2008 Guardiola has worked on a “year by year” deal never committing to long term contracts. He believes that long term deals for managers can be a breeding ground for slipping standards, comfort zones and a lack of focus – his beliefs have certainly paid off for the club despite the media hype that arrives every February/March time around his future…the proof of his high standards, work ethic and results is in the pudding;

Honors – FC Barcelona 

Pep Guardiola - The Midst Touch

LA LIGA; 2008-09, 2009-10, 2010-11

COPA DEL REY; 2008-09

SUPER COPA DE ESPAÑA; 2009, 2010, 2011

UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE; 2008-09, 2010-11

UEFA SUPER CUP; 2009, 2011

FIFA CLUB WORLD CUP; 2009, 2011

Honors – Individual 

IFFHS World’s Best Club Coach of the Year; 2009, 2011

Don Balon Award for Best Coach of the Year; 2009, 2010, 2011

Onze d’Or Coach of the Year; 2009, 2011

World Soccer Magazine World Manager of the Year; 2009, 2011

UEFA Team of the Year Best Coach; 2008-09, 2010-11

La Liga Coach of the Year; 2009, 2010, 2011

FIFA Ballon d’Or Best Coach; 2011

Catalan of the Year Award; 2009

More then a Manager…but a Mentor

Despite all of the titles, the media accolades and the rise of FC Barcelona to the top of the footballing ladder Guardiola is always first to praise not himself but the players he works with. He is constantly reminding the media and his followers that without the players he works with on a daily basis he would not be where and who he is. After FC Barcelona 5-1 mauling of Valencia yesterday evening he was quick to once again remind everyone of his thoughts on yet another masterclass performance;

It’s a privilege to be able to watch Barça play football. We’re so lucky to be living in a time when these players play. This team dignifies the sport.

What is also impressive about Guardiola and his role as manager is the total belief and confidence he has in his players. This confidence is reflective not only in the performances of the players on the pitch but also the philosophy of the club when it comes to the transfer market to bring in new players…yes like all the big clubs in Europe and compete with them they spend big money when needed on “key” players (Alexis Sanchez £22million, David Villa £33million to name a couple in recent seasons) but most noticeably it has been the faith in FC Barcelona’s very own “La Masia” Academy products. No other Barcelona coach in recent history has promoted so many from the famed Barcelona academy then Guardiola, and this not only keeps the accountants books happy but more importantly further strengthens the fabric of the club and the feeling of pride the players have when they reach the senior team.

Pique(top L), Cesc (top R) & Messi (bot R) - La Masia Days

In the space of four seasons the list of Guardiola’s “La Masia” promotions is vast and if you factor in the returns to the club of Gerard Piqué and Cesc Fabregas the FC Barcelona team consistently fields 7 “homegrown” players in its starting XI week in week out. In last nights La Liga victory over Valencia 14 of the 18 players in the match day squad where former Masia players/products (highlighted); Starting XI; Valdes, Montonya, Pique, Puyol, Abidal, Busquets, Cesc, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Alexis and on the bench; Pinto, Thiago, Xavi, Oscar Tello, Issac Cuenca, Bartra, Adriano.

It is easy to probably say that FC Barcelona have one of the best Academies in the world so promoting these players is easy, but they are not the only club who has a famed academy. Why do we not seen more clubs give more opportunities to their youth products on a regular basis? It is the trust and confidence Pep Guardiola gives these players, the culture he has instilled to the senior players that they have a responsibility to take these players under their wings, as after all they were once in their position and fully understand what it means to be part of the FC Barcelona culture.

The Future…with or without Pep

The player who has passed through La Masia has something different to the rest, it’s a plus that only comes from having competed in a Barcelona shirt from the time you were a child.

– Josep Guardiola

With the seemingly never ending talent coming off the Barça conveyor belt season after season it would seem that the club still has a bright future ahead, will be able to continue competing at the highest level and winning important trophies…this is in no small part down to the Guardiola influence over the past four seasons. Just as Guardiola puts the players before himself he also understands the importance of putting the club before himself and the players also, and this is why with or without him the club is in good stead.

The player development pathway which has been instilled in the club combines the “Total Football” philosophy of Johan Cruyff and the traditional spanish one touch play ” Tiki-Taka”. This pathway was there before Guardiola and will continue long after he goes, be it this summer or the next…but what Guardiola has done is reinstall the importance of this pathway and his faith in La Masia has gone a very long way towards the clubs recent successes. His reluctance to dip into the winter transfer markets when injuries, loss of form or suspensions have been in the forefront shows just how deep his faith in the clubs youth system is, but also highlights just how much quality there is available when given the opportunity…after all talent thrives on opportunity.

The Barça fans who in the summer of 2008 were a little unsure about Pep Guardiola’s appointment will be getting there yearly nervous twitch right about now as to whether he will renew and stay for another season…but whatever happens one thing is clear, what Josep Guardiola has done in the past four seasons at FC Barcelona will not only go down in the history of the club and the sport, but will also give the club the confidence, stability and structure to not miss him that greatly if he does indeed call it a day come summer and follow its beautiful blueprint.

 

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