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Guardiola: The Football Modernist

April 27, 2012

When Ange Postecogolou quit Brisbane Roar, who have won the Australian A-league the past two seasons, he stated that ” “I’m a restless soul … a bit like a shark. If you stop moving you die, so I considered I needed a new challenge,’’ The statement immediately reminded me of Pep Guardiola, who a few days later resigned as manager of Barcelona. Guardiola was, above all , restless. His restlessness was what drove him to turn Barcelona into one of the greatest teams of all time and it was his restlessness that drove him to quit, believeing he had taken Barcelona as far as he could, leaving it to someone else to see if they could eveolve Barca further.

Some immediate reaction was that Guardiola was bottling it, that it was just a sudden and immature reaction to Barca being knocked out of the Champions League and losing the championship. Arsenal Manager, Arsene Wenger had this critique when responding to Guardiola’s resignation, he said “The philosophy of Barcelona has to be bigger than winning or losing a championship.

Guardiola is one of the representatives of this philosophy and made this philosophy triumph so I would have loved him, even going through a disappointing year, to stay and come back and insist with his philosophy”

This lead to the obvious question, what exactly is Guardiola’s philosophy? Jonathan Wilson has written an article on this question that seems quite close to the truth. Wilson wrote “What marks Guardiola out is his awareness of the future, not in the sense of positioning himself for a move to another club or even in terms of youth development – although he is clearly acutely aware of that – but in terms of understanding the sweep of history, of recognising that what is good now will not necessarily be good in a year or two’s time.  Dress it as the lesson of Bela Guttmann (“the third year is fatal“) or Karl Marx (“all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned”*), but that awareness marks Guardiola as a true dynastician.”

As if anticpating reactions like Wenger’s weeks before his resigination, Wilson wrote “he wants to erect an edifice for the ages, something, paradoxically, strengthened by his refusal to commit to more than a 12-month rolling contract  he will not become a weary leader, governing by convention, but leaves open a perpetual route to step down for a fresher man when the occasion calls for it.” which is exactly what has happened.

I am  unaware of Guardiola refering to Communist Manifesto as a particular source of inspiration but it seems clear that Guardiola is the ultimate football modernist. The inexcasapble logic of modernism or being aware ” that what is good now will not necessarily be good in a year or two’s time” is that it also has to apply to yourself. That, you, yourself can become a barrier to progress must always be a consideration for a modernist. That Wenger couldn’t understand that isn’t that surprising, he has brought the world some of the finest football the world has seen but Arsenal now have stagnated and are pale imitators of what they once were but sticking true to a philosophy.

Guardiola has always been aware of this danger, he referred to this at his press conference announcing his resignation ” “I have always wanted short-term contracts. Four years is an eternity as Barca coach. In the month of October I announced to the president and to the sporting director that I thought my spell was coming to an end. The main reason I have taken this decision is because four years is many years. I have given everything and I have nothing left and need to recharge my batteries. The demands have been great and I have not been able to rest much. I have to recover and the only way I can do that is by distancing myself.  Otherwise, we would have ended up damaging each other.” That is, he realised that it wasn’t him that could push Barcelona beyond where they are. His decision far from being a sign on of a coward, was an incredibly brave one, as he put what he has contributed to build, the current Barcelona team, above himself.

It also wasn’t his lack of commitment that forced him to quit but rather too much commitment, as Barcelona player Xavi pointed out ”  “I swear it. He’s a perfectionist. If Pep decided to be a musician, he would be a good musician. If he wanted to be a psychologist, he would be a good psychologist. He is obsessive; he would keep going until he got it right. He demands so much from himself. And that pressure that he puts on himself, those demands are contagious – it spreads to everyone. He wants everything to be perfect.”

Guardiola‘s resignation immediately raised speculation about where he was going next, with much of the English press fantasying that he will be on the next plane to London to manage Chelsea. This seems laughable on many levels, he has been clear that he wants to take a break. A perfectionist surely wouldn’t want to touch Roman Abramovich and his meddling into football affairs with a bargepole, as well. The assumption, though, is that he will go somewhere, at some point, if not Chelsea, than Manchester United, Liverpool etc. Perhaps he will at some point but the other unexplored option is that this will be it for Guardiola as a football manager. This is an option because Guardiola‘s success wasn’t just about his tactical abilities, immense though they are, nor about just having drive in the abstract, it was fundamentally linked to his love and understanding of Barcelona as a club and its interaction with Catalonian nationalism

Sid Lowe in the Guardian wrote about some of those links ” During one match against Madrid he (Guardiola) ran up to the referee and told him he was playing with the emotions of an entire nation, and he was not talking about Spain.”  and also that  “In a recent speech at the Catalan parliament, where he was awarded the medal of honour, Guardiola described how he hides away in a dark room for hours watching videos before each game, studying and thinking until the eureka moment arrives. “If we all work hard,” he said, “we’re an unstoppable country.”

No other job could ever be like that for Guardiola, success for Guardiola wasn’t about himself or even just for the club, it was for his nation, a nation that is not recognised as one.. The prospect of not seeing Guardiola manage again is sad but Guardiola wouldn’t be Guardiola if he accepted any prospect that came along, nor could Guardiola’s end at Barcelona come in any other way. For a modernist, stagnation is worse than death and it is for this reason that Guardiola’s resignation is sad but ultimately, right.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Damien permalink
    April 30, 2012 8:38 am

    Couldn’t agree more. Guardiola made the right decision and Wenger should have moved on a few years back too.As a Liverpool fan I wish Fergie would toddle off into retirement too!

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