Manchester City coach, Pep Guardiola delves deep into his philosophy, revealing how he revamped an ‘old’ team and outlining why he craves success over style, but has no room for trophies in his office.
If there is one word that people at Manchester City use more than any other to describe manager Pep Guardiola, it is ‘intense’. After that comes ‘detailed’ and both are intended as compliments.
‘I love my job,’ says Guardiola, fiddling with a plastic bottle cap on his desk. ‘I am a Latin guy. I express my feelings, so people know exactly how I feel just by looking at my face.
‘It’s easy to understand me. I love my job, I put all of myself into it and I try to do my best. I don’t want to lose.’
Contrary to popular opinion, Guardiola says there is no aesthetic motivation behind the beautiful football for which his teams are famous.
‘No, no, I want to win,’ he says. ‘That phrase, “beautiful football”, I don’t use that. Never. So, I want to win but from my experience the best way, and the way I believe brings us closest to winning, is the way we play.
‘We want to express ourselves and sometimes when it happens it is attractive for the people that are watching, but to play in that way you need talented players. Without that, it’s not possible to achieve what we achieved. So, we need quality, but what I want is to win.’
It is hard to believe that there is no artistic strand to how Guardiola thinks about the game and he points to the defensive records of his teams as evidence that he doesn’t prize attacking flair over other aspects of the game.
‘No, no, no,’ he says. ‘I’m not romantic or aesthetic. In the period since 2008 or 2009, always our teams were the best defensive team in the league. Just one season we were not. And for that you have to work a lot defensively. But when you talk about beautiful football, you are not talking about this kind of thing.’
‘The way we want to play with the ball,’ he explains, ‘is because I believe that all of the players decided once in their life, when they were kids playing football, that they enjoyed playing with the ball.’
Although Guardiola’s players spent a lot of time with the ball in his first year at City [2016-17], they fell short of expectations, with a third-place finish the pinnacle of the team’s achievements.
‘It was the first time I did not win one title in a season,’ he says, ‘and the expectation was so high. We didn’t accomplish our goals and always you reflect. Are we going in the right direction, or do you have to change something? I felt the club, the people here, the staff, all the people who surround me, said, “It’s OK. It’s going to be well”.
‘I didn’t feel anything was wrong. We understood it was part of the process. Sometimes you [snaps fingers] get it quicker, sometimes you need more time.’
Guardiola feels there wasn’t a moment when he knew things had turned around. However, he suggests the renewal of the squad had a big impact.
‘Football is not a process, it’s not a finished business. Of course, in the middle of the first season we realised that we were an old team. Magnificent players, but we were an old team, that lacked a little bit of energy, and that’s why we invested last season. This season we’re going to invest less. Much, much less.’
On transfer business, Guardiola relies on two of his closest confidants: CEO Ferran Soriano and football director Txiki Begiristain, both of whom he worked with at Barcelona and who were instrumental in bringing him to City.
He has also developed a close relationship with City chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak, which both men describe as a genuine friendship.
Soriano says Guardiola has changed in subtle ways since they last worked together and seems more patient. Guardiola agrees. ‘I think I have changed more than them,’ he says.
‘Before, I wanted things right now, right now, right now. I want a player, right now, tomorrow he has to be here. I want to sell a player, tomorrow. It was age, you know? Now, I am more understanding. They are the same nice guys.’
After a slow start, City enjoyed a record-breaking 2017-18, winning the League Cup and the Premier League and becoming the first team in the history of the competition to reach 100 points in a season.
However, Guardiola doesn’t spend much time thinking about the titles he has won. ‘Normally, the trophies only count to give you more time to continue to work, and to express more of your ideas,’ he says. ‘Titles help you to win time. Time to keep going if you want to stay. But, a title for itself?’
There are no trophies in his office. ‘I’m not a guy who looks at the curriculum vitae, and says, “Oh, how many seasons have I won?” That doesn’t make me happy. I’m not the guy who goes to… I don’t know, the bank… to see how many I have.’
Guardiola seems to be in it more for the stimulation of the contest and the timeless challenge of developing winning strategies and then coaching and cajoling his players to execute them.
‘That is the reason we are managers,’ he says. ‘The convincing them, the seducing them, the tactics we want to play, the way we want to play. I am a manager for that — for the tactics, for understanding the game. It is chess.’
Some of this can be hard to reconcile. One moment, Guardiola says he is driven only by the desire to win. Minutes later, he appears enthralled by the complexities of the game.
Ultimately, what he seems to be saying is that he loves the game, intensely and in detail, and the objective of the game is to win. ‘The important thing is the process,’ he says.
‘How we do what we do to win. Trophies also help to make the brand, Manchester City, stronger around the world, and that is so important for stability. It is important for the players.
‘A lot of players hadn’t won anything and we were able to win the Premier League. It was amazing for me too. It was a dream to win the Premier League but after two or three weeks, I say, “OK, now we are thinking about the next one”.
‘That’s life. That’s sport. The difference is the way we did it, and how consistently we can do it in the future.’
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