Pep Guardiola: Another Way of Winning

Pep Guardiola: Another Way of Winning: The Biography

By Guillem Balague

Orion, 2013

255 games, 194 wins; 14 trophies out of a possible 19, including 3 La Liga and 2 Champions League titles. The statistics speak for themselves but do they speak for the manager? There remains a real mystique surrounding Pep Guardiola. This is a man who followed up a glittering playing career at Barcelona by becoming their most successful manager ever, all by the age of 40. Much has been written about his tactics (the false nine, tiki taka) and his players, but precious little about the calm, classy ‘Philosopher’ himself. This is largely his own doing; during his four managerial seasons at the Nou Camp, Pep refused all one-to-one media and all but one interview for publication.

Luckily, La Liga expert Guillem Balagué is a very well-connected man. Not only does Another Way of Winning have a foreword from Sir Alex Ferguson and countless quotes from the likes of Johan Cruyff, Lionel Messi and José Mourinho, but it also contains the all-important musings of MisterGuardiola. ‘Talking to Pep for this book’, Balagué explains, ‘was the only way I could open up a hitherto closed window on his private world; to reveal what motivates him, what took him to where he is now, what fed his intuition to make the right footballing decisions.’

Another Way of Winning takes an end as its beginning, using Pep’s surprise resignation as the point at which to stop and reflect on his phenomenal career to date. This is Pep’s Greatest Hits; there’s no filler in sight as Balagué takes us from the early successes of his playing days (6 La Liga titles, 1 European Cup, 1 Olympic Gold), through the glory years of No. 1 after No.1 as Barcelona manager (the coverage of the two Champions League finals in particular is incredibly detailed), before the inevitable tensions, rivals and disappointments, and finally the tearful goodbye and the new direction. What he may lack in eloquence and style, Balagué certainly makes up for in zip and punch.

And insight. Although little of the character sketch is groundbreaking, the many details and anecdotes do add up to a clearer vision of both the manager and the man. Any football fan could tell you that Pep is obsessed with tactics, but Balagué offers up the bigger picture. A player who began preparing for management under Cruyff, then Rexach, Robson and van Gaal, growing increasingly confident in his ideas and communication; a player who left the comfort of the Nou Camp at 30 to study the different footballing cultures of Italy, the UAE, Mexico and Argentina; an ex-player who rejected the chance to run the world-famous academy that raised him, choosing instead to gain hands-on experience with Barcelona B, a team in turmoil, newly relegated to Spain’s fourth division; and finally a record-breaking manager with an incredible 24 assistants who still spent hours alone in his office watching video footage, honing the perfect strategy to defeat the next opponent. About Guardiola’s team-talk prior to the 2011 Champions League final, an awestruck Javier Mascherano says, ‘Everything that he said would happen, happened as he said it would.’

As with Arsene Wenger, Guardiola is presented as less a football manager than a football teacher, a genius with a singular vision for his pupils: ‘Total Football’ with a Spanish twist. Brave but ordered attack in the form of flowing, possession football, built upon a base of hard work and togetherness. But it’s one thing to have a philosophy and quite another to implement it successfully. Luckily, Pep had a largely receptive audience (most notably, of course, La Masía graduates new and old, from Xavi, Iniesta and Puyol through to Messi, Busquets and Pedro), and as Balagué demonstrates through a series of invaluable team-talk insights, ‘his ability to communicate is perhaps his greatest talent’.  ‘The coach makes us understand football’, Gerard Pique corroborates.

Many did, however, fall victim to Pep’s strict ‘my way or the highway’ policy. The considerable talents of Ronaldinho, Deco, Eto’o, Bojan, Yaya Touré and of course Ibrahimović were all shown the door; ‘the affection lasted as long as the player’s desire to be a part of the vision’. The Brazilian duo were rightly seen as a disruptive influence (particularly on a young Messi) but in discussing these last two players, Another Way of Winning for the first time questions Guardiola’s perfect judgement, and specifically his unyielding favouritism towards his home-grown talents. Talking of Barca’s ever-increasing reliance on La Pulga as the supreme focal point, Balagué asks, ‘Had Guardiola created a monster in Messi? The Argentinian had absolute power in the coach’s final season, and his behaviour was sometimes out of place.’ As they would soon find out against Chelsea, no matter how good Plan A is, you need a Plan B.

The pressure to succeed took its toll on Guardiola, ‘that need to continue to fuel a competitive group under any circumstances’. What Another Way of Winning brilliantly captures is the sensitivity of the man. In the difficult transition from player to manager, Pep was keen to distance himself from the dressing room itself, but that didn’t prevent a deep ‘emotional investment’ in the lives of his players. As he himself articulates so astutely, ‘The closer I get to players, the more I get burned, I need to distance myself.’ But nowhere was Pep’s emotional fragility more evident than in his intense battle with Real Madrid manager and former friend Jose Mourinho. Balagué sums up their rivalry nicely; ‘Pep took it all personally. For José it was all part of the job’. With his mind games and barbed comments, the Special One wore away at Pep’s principles until he retaliated and soon afterwards surrendered. Mourinho may have outlasted his foe but a vulnerable genius makes for much more compelling reading.

Buy it here

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