Pep Guardiola first took the football world by storm as a manager when he was catapulted from Head Coach of the Barcelona B team to the hot seat across the road at the Camp Nou. Having introduced a Cruyff-inspired playing style whilst winning a total of six trophies inside his first 12 months with his boyhood club, Pep’s appetite for winning hasn’t exactly eased up; picking up another 23 trophies since then, including seven in his three year stint at Bayern Munich and seven (and counting) more at Manchester City.
The tactical genius sat down for an in-depth chat with GOL over the summer and we’ve translated the interview into English.
Part 1 is here:
Part 2 is here:
Here’s part 3:
Q. VAR has been introduced to the Premier League this season. How do you think it will affect the team psychologically when negative decisions go against them?
A. It already fucked us last season in the Champions League. It can knock the wind out of your sails when you’re celebrating to be told the goal is disallowed, but it can have the opposite effect if it works in your favour. The best action in football is always the next one, always; you can’t just live in the present, you must always be preparing for the next action. VAR is a fantastic demonstration of this. I hope it brings justice to the game. If people cannot accept the decision of the VAR team then we may as well just get rid of it now.
Q. With the amount of penalties being given for handballs and fouls of minimal-contact since the introduction of VAR, do you think it will become a tactic for teams to play with more attack-minded football?
A. Evidently, yes. We saw it in the first minutes of Champions League final with the penalty awarded after a few seconds. But this isn’t just a question of VAR; the more you attack, the more chances there are of these things happening and goals being scored. (Laughing) Although, I remember qualifying for the Champions League final in 2009 with Andres’ shot being our only effort on goal all night, then three years later, we had thirty-something shots and we were out. Seriously though, it’s simply a question of possibilities. If we attack more, with the ball always further away from our goal then there is no reason more logical that we win more than we lose. I want to live in the opponent’s half. I feel more secure that way.
Q. That invites opposition to play on the counter and look for the spaces in-behind you. Don’t you ever want to play deeper in possession to avoid this?
A. No. I don’t like that football. I think when a team drops, it’s because things aren’t going well. The other team can launch the ball forward and then work off the second balls and you’ll spend the full game playing deep and worrying. I remember the game against Leicester when we knew (Kasper) Schmeichel is spectacular with his distribution and can put the ball wherever he wants, looking for Vardy in the channels behind our wing-backs. I said, “Boys, today’s game is a fucker because we don’t know where Schmeichel will play out to. We have to read his body language and move ourselves rapidly, reacting to his kicks.” In this game, we ended up playing deeper out of possession in the first half, but as soon as we changed to press and win the ball back higher, we had more chances and dictated the game.
It’s like those that say, “When he was at Barça, he never used counter-attacks.” Leo (Messi) destroyed teams on the counter! But Xavi and Iniesta weren’t counter-attacking players, I had to adapt to them! Now I have Kevin De Bruyne who is a beast in chasing the ball down and robbing it back for us. If you think I’m not going to utilize this for our team then you’re crazy. I love the counter attack! I use it, but it’s not I style to set-up in. But yes, I’ll always use it. At Barça, as soon as we won the ball we’d look to attack quickly down the middle. People say “Pep only plays this way..” It’s not true. Sometimes we play more direct, of course.
Another thing, people are so educated in ‘playing without the ball’ and ‘being aggressive without the ball’. But when we sit back and wait to be attacked, we convert into a passive mentality. Then we aren’t aggressive, and when we win the ball back we play slowly.
Q. You seem like a guy that likes changes and new challenges. You only did four years at Barcelona and you’re now entering your fourth at City, having signed a contract until 2022. What is it about the Premier League and City that makes you want to stay?
A. I have everything. I wouldn’t be able to find another place that gives me so much. I have the person most important to me during my career, Txiki Begiristain, alongside me. I’m at a club that supports me whether I win or lose; I remember when we finished third in my first year and the club asked me what they can do to help. I have a young team. I feel loved. In England they have a culture where you feel part of the family if you wear the same shirt, whether you win or lose. I’m left to do my work on the training ground and have great relationships with everyone around the place.
Q. Like the other leagues around the continent, there seems to be a gap that’s getting bigger between the power-clubs and the rest in the Premier League due to economical-side of the game. Does it worry you that we’re moving closer to a Super League becoming reality?
A. No. The Super-League will never happen. It wouldn’t be good. The English won’t let that happen as they have a huge culture of ‘football of the town’. If you watch games from the Conference, League 1 or League 2, the stadiums are packed. The English take care of these aspects and have a huge respect for the fans. They have a love for the game there that I’ve never seen anywhere else.
Q. The two 2019 European finals were contested by English teams, do you think they can maintain these levels of domination over the next few years?
A. Spain has dominated over the past 10 years, but England have shown progress with their youth teams recently winning tournaments and the senior team reaching the World Cup semi-final in Russia. I believe that a problem English teams have had in the past is they didn’t believe they were good enough, and last year’s European competitions have now given them the belief. I’m very optimistic about the future of English football. There’s a new generation of coaches who are very well prepared and extremely brave. The difference between good football and bad football is the brave coaches and those who aren’t brave. I think the new generation of people who are young and starting from the bottom in grassroots will give us good football – positive football. When you have two teams and both play and give everything to win, it’s always a good game.
Q. What does Brexit mean for Pep Guardiola the coach? What does it mean for Pep Guardiola the family man living in the UK?
A. It’s a worry, to be honest. Nobody knows how it will start or even what will change in our daily lives. Similar to the Catalan Independence movement, nobody knows how it would work or what would really happen if it went ahead. I don’t know how either will end up.
Q. When we look at the spine of the current Barcelona team; Pique, Busquets, Suarez and Messi, do you think they could play in a high press-system, defending with 40-metres behind them and with the energy required to do so?
A. Yes, I think so. I speak a lot about the game over the phone with Ernesto (Valverde) and also whenever we see each other. He knows exactly what he wants from the group. I watch as an outsider and certainly think that he has the team playing how he wants them to. Remember, this is a team that’s won eight of the last 11 Spanish league titles! Who can doubt these numbers?
It’s so easy to say, “They only reach quarter-finals or semi-finals in Europe.” But those tournaments are about small moments, missing one chance or one mistake. This team won eight of the last 11 La Ligas because they have the energy to be there every three days; to have more energy than that doesn’t exist. We can’t doubt a team like that because of knockout football. If they got past Anfield then we’d be talking about a triple-winning team.
It’s not easy to coach at Barça. I still get so pissed off because even coaches from other teams make comments about what I should be doing. What do they know? They aren’t there everyday in every training session, dealing with players who lack confidence, players going through divorces, players with problems at home. There’s a million things that can affect the performance of a player and the people on the outside know nothing about it.
Q. In the world of today where everything is about getting more followers and likes, winning the Champions League is given much more value and significance than winning a league title. What is your relationship with the Champions League? How do you value it?
A. Every single year, when it arrives, I say, “Wow. How great is it to be in the Champions League?!?!” I love the thing; from group stages to the knockouts. When we were knocked out last season, I was left saying “Mother fucker, playing Ajax in the Johan Cruyff stadium would have been the semi-final of my life!” The league is different though. When you lose in the Champions League it’s bad for two or three days, but in the league, you win on Sunday, then immediately think about the game on Wednesday. Monday and Tuesday you’re walking about excited, thinking “How great is this?!”
This is what sport is about; how you enjoy victories whilst preparing for the next one. This process when you’re winning is brilliant. The league is eternal. For example, if you’re out of a title race by February, you have nothing. It’s terrible. Luckily, it’s not happened to me too many times, but how do you motivate your players? In the end, I love my work and I know the league title is awarded to the best team. If I win that then I know I’ve deserved it.
I’m not going to spend a year waiting to see if we can win the quarter-finals, then the semi-finals and then the final. Of course, we’ll try to win them all, but the league is what helps us live better, and I want to live better. I like my job and I want to go home and enjoy life around my family and friends having won a game, thinking “how can I prepare better for the next one?” or “why did we win the last game?”. League wins help us do this.
Here’s part 4:
Translated by Alex Clapham