* When Pep became the manager of FC Barcelona, his first contract was worth one million euros – fourth lowest paid manager in Spain and a small fraction of what Samuel Eto or yet to be established Lionel Messi was getting! But Pep stayed committed and always looked for commitment. Anyone who didn’t believe in his ideas or the club’s principles would be quickly distanced; and slowly edged out – as what happened gradually with Ibra, Eto & Bojan. Pep didn’t possess the star management skills. All his team meetings were led by the homegrown players and that sort of hurt the other stars. But Pep was rookie and so in his first year, he purely followed his heart. In one crucial match early in the season, at a key stage, Barcelona missed scoring off an easy chance. Pep turned and looked towards the bench. There were some players who had jumped up in excitement and others sitting least bothered. Each of the players from the latter bunch was sold in the following summer. Pep always looked for commitment.
* Xavi always told Pep that he would be a good manager. He felt the worsening Barcelona team (under Rijkaard) needed the Pep dosage. Often he would get irritated at how the team was playing and how Deco, Eto and Ronaldinho were ruining the squad. There were adequate whispers around that Xavi was headed to Manchester United, who had knocked his door. The day Pep Guardiola was appointed, Xavi needed to know if he was a proper fit in the boss’s plans. Having seen Pep establish his authority by getting rid of some of the troublemakers, Xavi soon went up and asked ‘Do you count on me?.” Pep smiled and replied “I don’t see this team without you in it. I just don’t see this working without you.”
* Valdes was next to get worried. In Pep’s idea of football, the centre-backs would often be near the halfway line exposing the keeper badly in the firing line of counter-attacks. Goalkeeping is a tough job. Their errors are more noticed, criticized and stay longer in memory than their saves. Worse, in Pep’s case, he instructed that play would necessarily need to start from the back. It was all too revolutionary for a team in tatters and trophyless, the previous two seasons. Victor walked up and asked Pep. ” .. all that you are talking is fine, only if the centre backs want the ball …” Pep stopped him and said ‘I will make sure they want the ball”. The conversation ended and Valdes went on to become the first ‘sweeper keeper’ of the modern era and permanent keeper of the best club team, the world ever saw.
* The legendary 2-6 El Clasico win at Santiago Bernabeu was virtually the title decider that season. Real Madrid were coming to this game with a run of 17 wins out of 18 games and were just four points behind Barcelona with four games to go after this. Madrid had to win it and were slight favourites. Barcelona could not afford to lose it. The game saw a Xavi masterclass – who created goal numbers 2, 3, 4 and 5. The second goal was straight from training sessions where Xavi (about to take a free kick) was wildly gesticulating. Puyol then started walking away from the crowded penalty area, distracting the Madrid defence. Xavi lobs the ball between Puyol and the crowd; Puyol suddenly comes back running and heads into the goal. This was the same technique, the same set of players used for Spain, a year later, to get the same result; and beat Germany in the semifinals of World Cup 2010. 1-0. Pep must have smiled! Check out the videos!
* Pep’s famous motivational techniques/speeches in his first season:
- Before the World Club Cup final 2009, “If we lose, we will continue to be the best team in the world. If we win, we will be eternal”. Barcelona has lost both previous World Club Cup finals in 1992 and 2006 seasons.
- Whenever players showed tiredness towards the end of the season, Pep would go on to explain to them how Abidal had played 13 games carrying a ‘monster that was eating him from the inside (a tumour)’. “Look at him, Him!” he would often say.
- Before the semifinal clash vs Chelsea, Pep asked his players to send a text message to their wives and girlfriends that “We’re going to go through”… it obliged the players to give their all, as they had made a personal commitment to a family member.
- He often said during the season, “When we lose our fear of losing, we’ll stop winning.”
* Iniesta’s winner vs Chelsea was rated the best moment of the year by Barcelona fans. Even better than the Clasico or the Champions League final wins. In lead up to that Stamford Bridge game, Iniesta walked up to his boss worried that he wasn’t scoring enough. Pep answered, “You asking me? Me? I didn’t score more than four goals entire career. What do I know?”.
* Between 2009 and 2011 Champions League finals, Sir Alex Ferguson often expressed his desire to face Barcelona again. He kept saying in press conferences that he knew what exactly he had done wrong at Rome (2009) and dearly wanted another crack. Barcelona won both finals but Pep felt Ferguson’s team has a role in Barcelona’s greatness story. “Sir Alex couldn’t play any other way than they did. In Rome. In Wembley. It is Manchester United after all we are talking about. They dignify football with their approach as a club and as a team”. United started both matches strong: attacking with vigour and refusing to play second fiddle in Club football’s greatest showpiece event. At Rome, their bench had .. Rafael, Evans, Scholes, Nani, Berbatov, Tevez! At Wembley, Sir Alex had virtually two equally strong teams within his squad!
To be continued…Part 3