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Friday, August 9, 2013

Book Review | Pep Guardiola: Another Way of Winning by Guillem Balague

Image courtesy of Orion Publishing Group Ltd.
" 'The ball runs faster than any human, so it's
the ball that has to do the running!' which,
in seventeen words, just about encapsulates
his philosophy." (Page 71)

"One thing I have noticed about Guardiola - crucial to his immense success as a manager - is that he has been very humble. He had never tried to gloat, he has always been very respectful - and that is very important. It is good to have those qualities and, looking back, it is apparent that he has been unassuming throughout his career. As a player he was never the type to be on the front pages of the papers.

He played his game in a certain way; he wasn't tremendous quick but a fantastic, composed footballer. As a coach he is very disciplined in terms of how his team plays, but whether they win or lose he is always the same elegant, unpretentious individual. And, to be honest, I think it is good to have someone like that in this profession." --- Sir Alex Ferguson, page x.

"Pep left Barcelona and all he had shaped because, Sir Alex, he is not like most managers. He walked away because he is, quite simply, not your typical football man... He was no longer as spirited and impressionable as on that morning in Switzerland, when you offered him some words and fatherly advice.

Did you know that he still talks about that chat, those fifteen minutes with you, as one of the highlights of his career? He was like a star-struck teenager, repeating for days afterwards: 'I was with Sir Alex, I spoke to Sir Alex Ferguson!' Back then, everything was new and exciting; obstacles were challenges rather than insurmountable hurdles."  --- Guillem Balagué, pages xv and xvi.

"There's clearly a bit of Pep in Santpedor, but there's also clearly a lot of Santpedor in Pep... 

When it comes to analysing or judging Guardiola, you must bear in mind the fact that underneath the elegant suit, the cashmere jumper and the tie, is the son of a bricklayer. Inside those expensive Italian shoes there is a heart in espadrilles." --- David Trueba, pages 27 and 28.

--- "Pep Guardiola: Another Way Of Winning: The Biography," written by Guillem Balagué and published by Orion Publishing Group Ltd. in November 2012, with a list price of £20.00 and $29.95. Also available as an e-book for £11.

Please click here to learn more about this book at Amazon UK.

Please click here to learn more about this book at Amazon.com.

Josep Guardiola and Sir Alex Ferguson at the 2011 Champions League Final

From Santpedor, Catalonia, to Global Stardom

He is a bricklayer's son who grew up in the small Catalan village of Santpedor. He was a young boy who idolized a French star. He is a man who took a rare and unforeseen journey from the youth team at La Masia, to ball boy at the Camp Nou, to iconic stature as a player at FC Barcelona. He established a new management standard, set coaching records and received a trophy from his former childhood idol, Michel Platini.

In this wonderfully written and researched book, you will learn how the bricklayer's son, Pep Guardiola, took a foundation of excellence at FC Barcelona and elevated it to a new level. If you were betting on winners in football, you would get no further than the man from Santpedor, Spain.

Organized Format

There is an intriguing Forward by Sir Alex Ferguson, a prologue in response to Mr. Ferguson by the author, along with three parts which contain ten chapters. The author also included two interesting appendices: One about the famous FC Barcelona youth academy, La Masia, and the other that outlined statistics of FC Barcelona under Josep Guardiola. This book is rounded out by a very detailed index and an acknowledgments section.

I liked how the author and his editors structured this book. Part I concisely discussed why Guardiola left FC Barcelona. Part II takes the reader on a journey from Guardiola's youth in the small village of Santpedor to the fabled Blaugrana bench. Part III is a comprehensive dossier on Guardiola's managerial career.

In many respects, this book is a How-To manual about Guardiola's coaching methodology and technique. No doubt it will be studied by fans, media and other professional coaches with great interest.

Detailed and Engaging Writing Style

Guillem Balagué is a respected voice in world football commentary and analysis. My expectations were high for this book given the author's reputation and the work's  protagonist. I was not disappointed. The author's writing style is anecdotal, detailed, informative, witty, and engaging.

Balagué spent four years on this book and interviewed a Who's Who of world football luminaries from Johan Cruyff to Louis Van Gaal. The author provides a comprehensive analysis of one extraordinary manager, his innovative methods, and a team that is "
Més que un club."

Significant Access to Guardiola and Other Key Figures

This is not a book replete with third-party and/or off-the-record quotes. It is one of football journalism at its highest levels. The active participation of the protagonist, along with many other key figures, was integral to the detailed reporting and analysis found within this biography:

"Typically, meetings with Pep would be a planned 20-minute chat at the end of a training session... His private words mold this book... By his own account (at FC Barcelona), he has sat in front of media for 272 hours, or eleven full days. That amounts to 800 questions a month." (Pages 150-151)

Despite this level of access, the author didn't make this book a one-sided eulogy to Saint Pep. Balagué provided a balanced view of the man especially with regards to famous falling-outs with Samuel Eto'o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic:

"There is a switch in Guardiola's mind that clicks on or off - if you are not with me, you shouldn't be here. Loyal, devoted, when on the same wavelength, and the coldest, most distant person if the magic disappears, if someone switches the light off. It happened with Eto'o. And later with others." (Page 205)

"If you make me stay I'll wait till I'm together with the coach in front of the media and then I'll punch him... I'll do it, I will! My problem at Barca was the philosopher. Pep thinks he has invented Barca's football." (Zlatan Ibrahimovic quoted on page 213).

A Translation Masterclass

Another salient benefit of this book was the sheer volume of previously unseen commentary, quotes and interviews translated from Castilian and Catalan to English. Guardiola and FC Barcelona are global brands; however, even in the Internet age of 24/7 football media coverage, most of the content of this book likely hadn't been seen before in English with such detail.

In terms of language, Eric Abidal had an intriguing quote about Guardiola's insistence that only Castilian and Catalan be spoken within the team:

"He made us change who we sat with at meal times and he made me speak in Castilian to Henry (Thierry) when we were with the group. I went to speak to the president, (Joan) Laporta, to tell him I wouldn't tolerate it, that I wanted to leave, but he told me to calm down, that it was his way of doing things and that everything would work go well. Now, I still laugh with the boss when we think about it." (Page 113) 

Observations from Those who Managed Guardiola

The author introduced early in the book what would become a recurring and unsurprising theme: Pep Guardiola is what the Italians would call, "Particolare." This concept, used in a positive fashion, refers to a special type of person: One who experiences life and his chosen craft somewhat differently than his peers.

One intriguing example the author used was to emphasize how Guardiola's physique, instead of hindering him from a young age, became an asset:. He developed other talents to compensate. Johan Cruyff, who gave a young Guardiola his senior side debut with FC Barcelona, noted that, "A good player doesn't need a strong physique." (Page 39)

The author also made a unique observation:

"Great art is always born of frustration and since he (Guardiola) lacked the pace and strength to overcome the opposition, he substituted physical power with the power of the mind: Instinctively developing a sense of spatial awareness that was second to none... Usually when children learn to play football, they want to learn to dribble. Guardiola didn't: he learnt how to pass." (Page 35)

Former Spain manager, José Camacho, noted Guardiola's attention to detail:

"I saw Guardiola as a mystical type of person. The way he dressed - always in black - he was sometimes very quiet, constantly analyzing things, thinking things over: why we won, why we lost, why he'd lose the ball. Sometimes his obsessiveness was excessive." (Page 44)

Former FC Barcelona manager, Louis Van Gaal, observed that Guardiola spoke a higher language of football:

"I made Guardiola captain because he could speak about football. You could see that he was a tactical player. He could speak like a coach, even then - not many players can do that. Guardiola's best position was as a number four, that is in the centre of the midfield, because from there he can see the game and he had the personality to dominate it." (Page 50)

Fabio Capello managed Guardiola briefly at AS Roma, but it was long enough to see his essential qualities:

"He was a very well-behaved player. He never asked me for explanations as to why he didn't play. He knew what me idea of football was, but he was slow, he had some physical problems. He was a quick thinker, he knew what to do before the ball reached him and was very clever with positional play. And he was a leader." (Page 62)

Compelling Photographs 

There were two sections of compelling photographic images. Most were taken by Miguel Ruiz and captured the essence of Pep Guardiola. My favorites were one of Pep alone in his thoughts on a train, and another, a warm, heartfelt embrace with Eric Abidal. The pictures provide graphical detail of Pep's significant triumphs during his Barcelona tenure (14 trophies) but also the rigors of the job. You can see the visible evidence on his Barcelona coaching journey etched upon his face in before and after photographs.

My only complaint with this entire book was the decision not to include photographs from Guardiola's youth and/or his playing career. I believe inclusion of these images would have added more value to a biography.

Guardiola's Acceptance Speech for the FIFA Men's 2011 Coach of the Year Award


Other Notable Quotes

"A nation starved of contemporary role models, struggling through a recession, elevated Pep into a social leader, the perfect man: an ideal." Page xxi

"Despite having twenty-four assistants, he worked longer hours than most of them and although the club offered him a unit of experts who could analyze games, he could never bring himself to surrender control of that part of the job. 'For me, the most wonderful thing is planning what is going to happen in each game,' Guardiola explained." Page 11

"Frequently, Mourinho would translate the words of (Sir Bobby) Robson, then add extra, clearer instructions - quite a lot extra sometimes. Pep and Jose' quickly identified each other as football people and the pair connected, talked and took coaching decisions among themselves." Page 47

"Pep struggled to come to terms with the sheer force of hatred levelled at the Portuguese star (Luis Figo), the godfather of one of his children, and the atmosphere surrounding the whole affair added to his growing sense of unease." Page 53

"I saw Carletto Mazzone (his manager at Brescia Calcio) speaking with the team doctor. That moment, that conversation, changed my life, but I only knew that later... They came over to me and told me the news. When I went back to the changing room I knew from the missed calls on my phone that the world had already judged me... Do you think I need an illegal substance to play against Piacenza?" Pages 58 and 60

"But Guardiola revolutionized football because he used a Cruyff idea and made it a method: always accumulate more players than your rival right from the start of a move to gain the initiative. So, having three players near the ball if the other team has two, or four players if they have three." Page 119

"Guardiola always addresses Cruyff (Johan) in the 'usted' form - the formal 'you' in Spanish, a very rare, old-fashioned habit these days... When it comes to football, they both talk the same language. If football is a religion, they both worship at the same shrine." Pages 130-131

"A column in the press, instead of a front-page headline, is sometimes more influential on the players' moods than my own opinion. I have to know which headlines have come out about a player. If I have two stars and there are three headlines about one, I'm going to approach the player who hasn't had any." Page 154

"(Victor) Valdés had zero tactical knowledge before Pep arrived. For the keeper the following four years would be like working his way through a degree in tactics." Page 199

"When Pep talks about Mourinho, suddenly an invisible wall pops up. His neck muscles tense, his shoulders hunch and he stops looking you in the eye. Clearly, he is not comfortable with the conversation and it becomes evident that he wants the chat to move on." Page 258

"In this room, he (Mourinho) is the fucking boss, the puto amo, the fucking chief. He knows the ways of the world better than anyone else. I don't want to compete with him in this arena not even a second. I'd only remind him that we were together, he and I, for four years. He knows me and I know him. That's enough for me." Page 262

"He needs a new club to offer him cariñoan expression that doesn't exist in English, a concept between friendship and love, respect and commitment. Affection is perhaps the closest." Page 301

"The translator, a young Spaniard living in London, ran after him: 'Can I have a minute with you?' 'Ah, yes, sorry, I forgot.' 'I am a coach here at Chelsea, Pep.' And Guardiola listened to him for a minute, two or even three, looking into his eyes, attentively. 'I understand now why you translated so well the tactical concepts,' Pep told him. That minute will last a lifetime for the young trainer. The value of a minute, of a gesture." Page 306

Pep Guardiola from A to Z

Pep Guardiola won fourteen trophies in only four seasons as a manager. FC Barcelona earned three points in one hundred seventy-seven games and scored seven hundred twenty-three goals during Guardiola's tenure. An impressive total of twenty-two members from the youth ranks were given their senior club debuts. The sheer numbers attained during the Guardiola era stare at us from printed pages, force us to blink, and then take another glance to convince ourselves they are indeed real.

This biography goes deeper than mere mind-boggling statistics to paint a brilliant portrait about one of the most compelling football managers in recent times: Josep Guardiola i Sala. It will make a valuable addition to your world football library.

Tribute to Josep Guardiola at the Camp Nou

About the Author

Guillem Balagué.
Image courtesy of Guillem Balagué.
Guillem Balagué regularly appears on Sky Sports TV as its pundit on Spanish football. He also broadcasts regularly on Cadena Ser and is a columnist for AS. He is the author of A Season on the Brink, an account of Liverpool's sensational Champions League 2004-2005 season. You can visit his website here and follow Guillem @guillembalague on Twitter.

Guillem discusses his book at Mad About Football in an exclusive podcast interview.

About the Reviewer

Steve Amoia is a freelance writer, book reviewer and translator from Washington, D.C. He is the publisher of World Football Commentaries and The Soccer Translator. You can follow Steve @worldfootballcm on Twitter.

Please Note

I have received a complimentary review copy from a representative of the publisher, Orion Publishing Group, Ltd. in London. I was not compensated by the author, publisher or any other party who would benefit from a positive review.

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

The most perfect person since L. Armstrong. What a philosopher!

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