Martí Perarnau culminates a decade as the shadow of Pep Guardiola with ‘God save Pep’. This is the book that covers the seven years of the Santpedor coach at the head of Manchester City. But first he published a couple dedicated to the three seasons in the Bayern Munich. It is the end of a cycle for the Catalan journalist and writer based in Madrid who has dissected the evolution of Guardiola as a trainer.
In ‘God Save Pep’ (now on sale), Perarnau reviews the English career of an extremely brilliant figure who has imposed overwhelming dominance in the competitive Premier League (he has won 5 of the 7 leagues), crowned with the treble of the last season, and that has transformed the way of playing in England while he has been constantly modifying his scoreboard, his way of approaching games and even the attitude in his relationship with his players. If something is clear after reading the book, it is that Guardiola is a coach in permanent evolution.
‘God save Pep’ is a very footballing book, very tactical, with few incursions into day-to-day controversies or Guardiola’s personal sphere. Why has he approached it like this?
I have tried not to interfere with the football character and the person. I have authorization for the football profile. I am not Pep’s biographer. Everyone tells me that I am Pep’s biographer. Is not true. I do not intend to act as a biographer. It would be another perspective and is not part of the unwritten pact that he and I have. Controversies? There are so many after seven years, that if I got into all of them I would fill the book with issues that deviate from the portrait of his evolution as a coach, which is the objective.
Let’s talk about it. After reading the book, one comes to the conclusion that Guardiola has been changing the way he plays more than one tends to think. He is very ductile, very undogmatic and his experience has made him evolve.
The thing is that he is less of a guardiolist than the guardiolists. Basically he has managed to summarize the essence of his football ideology in a few fundamentals, if any in one: I have the ball, it is mine, they cannot take it away from me, through it I organize myself, through it I subdue the rival and if I I try to get it back as soon as possible. That would be roughly the great essence of it. Everything else is secondary, changeable, random, modifiable, year by year, game by game, even within the same game or when necessary. It doesn’t matter three or five defenders, a pure nine or a false nine… The team has bought into it and everything else flows better or worse depending on the day.
It is clear that he has immense talent, but he puts a lot of hours into it. Would you say he is a perfectionist?
He has defined himself as a ‘workaholic’. My theory is that he knows that his great teacher, Johan Cruyff, had an enormous intuitive talent, that he does not have that quality and seeks it through work. ‘I will put a lot of hours into it and, through experimentation and trial and error, we will get to where Johan was. The only thing Johan achieved was with his hands in his pockets.’
Guardiola has always been characterized as someone very intense and demanding, but he explains that lately he has calmed down.
It has been a gradual evolution. He becomes aware – although he takes some steps back in this process – that he perceives that by putting pressure and pressure on the player, which was his methodology when he was at Barça, he can no longer extract more and begins to realize that perhaps with Contrary methodology can obtain the same or a little more. And in fact in recent years there have been important moments, such as the last Champions League final, or the outcome of the previous League, in which his behavior in the locker room with the players is more calm and serene. He tells them more: ‘you are very good, do what you know, let each one bring out the best in himself.’ But he doesn’t do it by pressing but rather by facilitating the way. From time to time he gets angry, like in January-February when he punches and makes a speech that if we continue like this we won’t win anything, but in general he is less irritable and lashes out less.
Is that why you say that Pep’s worst enemy is Pep himself?
Pep was the most expelled player in Barça history. And all for protesting [en realidad es el tercero detrás de Piqué y Stoichkov]. He is very sanguine, he is irritable. Notice how he gets on the sidelines when there is a referee decision that he doesn’t like. It is the impulsive character that he has and this is combined with this effort that he makes that from serenity he will achieve more. These two faces coexist. Little by little the calmer profile is emerging.
He is very self-critical. But over time I have seen that perhaps this constant self-demand ends up doing more good than harm. Because even though he has a hard time, even though he is dissatisfied with not achieving the excellence he expected, in the end it is the food that makes him modify, progress and improve. I am seeing that in the short term it is his enemy but in a broad perspective it is what helps him improve. If he conformed perhaps he would not have progressed so much.
Has that innate intensity burned any players?
I wouldn’t dare say so much, but he has pushed players to the limit of their demands and you can’t do that with everyone. Kyle Walker, for example, is now giving a great performance because Pep took him to dinner and told him that he liked him a lot and wanted him to be the captain. Walker feels accomplished with the bracelet on his arm and gives it his all. If he had put more pressure on him maybe he would have gone to Bayern.
How much does all his charisma influence his success as a coach?
He has it and makes players who might be skeptical stick with him to the death, because this charisma is attractive. But I would ask another thing: can a coach be great without this charismatic capacity? And reviewing the history of football, I can’t find a single one who didn’t have a brutal charisma that almost covers up his other qualities: Chapman, Cruyff, Michels, Ferguson… Tactically, what has Ferguson contributed? He doesn’t have wonderful tactical stories, but his personality is indisputable. Everything that Guardiola has – craftsman, worker, tactical ability… – put it in a guy without charisma and he would surely stop being one of the best.
He considers that his great contribution in terms of tactical innovation is the internalized side. Do you agree?
If we talk about innovation, yes. We all remember Messi’s false 9 in 2009, but in reality there were 50 before. He simply reused something that had already been used. His main movement is that, yes, although he has been constantly creating new versions of his equipment.
In England many articles have been written about the transformation experienced by English football with the arrival of Guardiola, but you barely talk about it. Because?
In the book ‘The Metamorphosis’ I tried to expand on that. Pep’s influence on German football, which everyone said was very strong, and I said: ‘yes, maybe it is very strong, but we have to let the years pass to see if it consolidates.’ And now that seven years have passed since he left, that influence is not as valid, because there is no one who has taken over. It is indisputable: English football has made a tremendous change that I deal with little. But will there be heirs? Or when Pep leaves, will there be a return to the classics? I don’t know, I don’t have an answer. For me this influence is still provisional.
Guardiola is often accused of benefiting from Manchester City’s financial power.
At the end of the book I offer some figures that are indisputable about the spending of all Premier clubs in recent years. That they have spent a lot of money? TRUE. That many have entered? True too. Txiki Begiristain is a hidden genius. What he has done is outrageous. Of course, if Pep had not been in Barça, Bayern and City, powerful clubs with great players, he would not have achieved all his successes, he would have achieved other things. He would still be a very good coach, but not this.
I could do a Girona¿no?
Yes, but it wouldn’t win him a treble. I would make him play very well and maybe win the League, but I no longer see the triplet. You already need much greater solidity.
In the book he gives details of a meeting in Barcelona, at Guardiola’s house, with Messi, at the player’s initiative, during the summer of the burofax, that of 2020..
Yes, it was a six-hour meeting in which the player spoke more after the frustration over the 2-8 of one and the elimination in Lisbon by Lyon, of the other. They agreed that if Messi managed to fix his situation with Barça, he would be welcome at City. Then, as far as I know, in later days, messages were sent and that’s it.
He says that Guardiola was dejected when the operation was not completed.
In some ways it was a reunion of football father and son, if you can say that. It was exhilarating. Pep was coming off a strong blow in Lisbon in the Champions League and had to find new incentives for himself and the players. He had gotten used to the idea and hence the disappointment. The same didn’t happen with Cristino Ronaldo, who was offered it and he said no and that’s it.
After last season’s treble, the second of his career, he and his staff will have a feeling of fulfillment.
There is this ambivalence. There is the feeling of: ‘that’s it’, which seems like fullness, but he is the first to say in July that something very cool is coming now, which is to start over and not be left with a full belly. He doesn’t want to make a fool of himself after the treble and lose the league by 20 points. He wants to win it. When he was on vacation he had a strong downturn because he had experienced great stress. On vacation he took a deep breath but as soon as he arrived in Manchester he got back on his feet and he is very happy to see that the team has reacted with the same hunger. A collapse could have occurred.
European wounds had to weigh their own.
Yes, it seemed that when it wasn’t for one thing it was for another. The club did not have the demand to win the Champions League but he did say that it had to be finished, it had to be achieved. He did not dream of the triplet. It’s like the cherry on top. There was the feeling that the Champions League was already upon us. And curiously it doesn’t come for Haaland. He wins because the team reaches a maturity that allows it to overcome the good and bad moments. The final was poorly played, but the team had the body to hold on.
Net investment for the period 2018-2023 in transfers (expense – sales income)
Chelsea: 716 million
Manchester United: 613 million
Arsenal: 549 million
Tottenham: 378 million
Liverpool: 284 million
Manchester City: 259 million
Do you think Guardiola cares about his legacy?
I think so. I don’t think I’m in football just to win titles. He cares a lot about the titles, it would be missing, but he cares a lot about the identity, the way of playing, the emotions it generates in people, and all of that is a legacy. I wouldn’t say he cares on the level of being considered a certain way in history.
Your contract with City ends in 2025. Do you think it will really end then?
I think so. With Pep you can never know. But I believe yes. She wants to fulfill the contract. He is happy, he is comfortable. When he looks into the eyes of the players, he doesn’t see passotism. He will want to finish.
In addition to all this, there is a powerful personal sacrifice on his part that is little commented on, which is family dispersion.
As you explain it, I reproduce it. He wanted to renew until 2025 but he says that the family must decide. There is an indisputable personal family sacrifice, of all the members, and of him, who at the end of the day stays there in Manchester. In the end you go to sleep in a very big house but you are alone.
And after City?
He will play golf and it would be good, as he has said on occasion, to take a selection.
It has many attractive elements. Let’s see: Rico Lewis, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden… It’s tempting. He has half his team and knows them perfectly. And since he’s been there for seven years, so are the others. He gives the impression that English is an environment that, being very critical, is not fierce. And Pep, although the first year he was a strange character, now he is one of them. It would be reasonable. I see it.
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