“Fasten your seatbelts,” Pep Guardiola told the media at his unveiling as Barcelona boss. “Because we are going for a ride.” He wasn’t wrong. What followed exceeded the imagination of everyone as history was made in spectacular style – and football revolutionized in a fantastic four-year period. Today we look back at his glorious reign.
Since taking over as the Barcelona manager in 2008, Guardiola won 14 trophies in all – three La Liga titles, two Champions League trophies, two Copa del Rey, three Spanish Supercups, two UEFA Super Cups and two FIFA Club World Cups. In fact, in 2009 the club won the most number of official titles, six – the La Liga, Copa del Rey, Champions League, Spanish Supercup, European Supercup and Club World Cup – as Guardiola became the first manager in history to win six honours in one calendar year. Although his legacy goes beyond mere numbers. Pep’s revolutionary tactics and the way his teams play made way for a brand new type of football that is being played today.
On the 17th of June 2008, FC Barcelona announced the appointment of Josep “Pep” Guardiola as the manager for the first team of FC Barcelona. Guardiola had just a year of coaching experience by then, where under his guidance FC Barcelona B ended up winning the Tercera division. But to appoint a former club icon who had just one year of coaching experience and that too with a B team seemed like a huge risk that Barcelona were willing to take. Furthermore, his decision to sell players like Deco, Zambrotta and their long term talisman Ronaldinho gave the indication that Barcelona were spilling their water and were on course to slip on it. Guardiola, having worked with the B team of Barcelona and having guided them to the title, decided to promote players like Sergio Busquets and Pedro Rodriguez and worked his team around the core of La Masia – Xavi, Andres Iniesta and of course the diminutive genius – Lionel Messi. Despite the scintillating football played in Pep’s debut match against Numancia, the Catalans lost 1-0 and ended up drawing their next game 1-1. These incidents led to widespread outrage among the fans across the globe, but club legend Johan Cruyff came to the defense of his prized pupil and remarked, “This was one of the greatest performances by Barcelona in a long time”. The team responded by winning 29 and drawing 3 of the next 33 games, storming towards an unprecedented treble.
The first season saw some otherworldly tactics which included the use of Leo Messi as a false 9; this tactic would go on to shape Leo to the player he is considered now as it was only under Pep that he developed a knack for goals. Other game-changing ideas included the use of Javier Mascherano as a center back, and playing traditional center forwards like Thierry Henry and David Villa as wingers. He also made use of inverted wingers in Pedro, Sanchez and Tello, and midfielders like Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas were often played as false wingers. He frequently promoted players from the youth academy, including the likes of
and Sergio Busquets. Over the course of the next 3 years, this team of talented individuals would continue playing the “Barcelona Way”, dominating the ball, playing quick one-twos and triangular passes. In the process, they would demolish top class teams like arch rivals Real Madrid, winning 14 trophies in Guardiola’s 4 years at the Catalunyan club, including 2 UEFA Champions League titles. This Barcelona team under Guardiola was considered by many as the “Greatest Club Team of All Time”. Their style of play was synonymous with the “Tiki Taka”, which stresses on the art of working the ball through various channels while also retaining possession. However Pep himself never liked branding his style of football as ‘Tiki Taka‘, remarking, “I loathe all the passing just for the sake of it”.
His team was well oiled machinery with roles properly defined for all of its parts. In goal, Victor Valdes became more of a sweeper-keeper – a libero – clearing his lines and helping his defenders. There was the odd mistake, but the shot-stopper performed his new role remarkably – even setting up attacks for his team-mates on many occasions. At the back, Carles Puyol consolidated his place as the team’s leader and organiser, while Rafa Marquez and Pique shared the duties as the ball-playing, distributing defender alongside the courageous captain. From his role at right-back, Alves offered the team another attacking dimension, balanced by the more defensive-minded Eric Abidal on the left. In midfield, the increased pressing and possession allowed Xavi and Iniesta to do what they do best, forming a wonderful tandem ahead of the brilliant Busquets, whose role was akin to that of Pep the player, a deep-lying defensive pivot also adept at creating and organising, dropping into defence when necessary. And in attack, Messi marvelled alongside a fired-up Eto’o who still with a point to prove and the excellent Thierry Henry, who adapted superbly to his role on the left.
The club’s football philosophy ingrained in him since he joined the youth system at age 13, Pep polished the Barca blueprint with knowledge picked up from many of his own managers – including Johan Cruyff, Bobby Robson, Louis van Gaal and Juanma Lillo – as well as figures he had spent time with ahead of his coaching career, including Marcelo Bielsa, former Mexico boss Ricardo La Volpe and Argentina’s World Cup-winning tactician Cesar Luis Menotti. He won total of 14 titles from a possible 19 in four ultra-successful seasons. There have been a many great managers in the history of the game, each implementing their own vision and tactics into the sport. Very few would argue the inclusion of Pep in that list; the results, trophies and the attractive style of football speaks for itself. His ability to change the way the sport is played, his vision, his passion and his style is what makes him one of the best managers in the history of the game.