Manel Estiarte, Barça’s former Head of External Relations and a close friend of Pep Guardiola, spent the last four years of his life being a sort of bridge between the dressing room and the coaching staff, thanks to his proximity to the players. Manel was an exceptional sportsmen in his own right, being the biggest star in waterpolo for years, a kind of Maradona/Messi in the water. He is leaving with Pep, after four intense years, with a bit of a bitter taste, primarily related to Barcelona’s press behavior to him and Pep. Here is an excerpt of the first part of an amazing interview published on Thursday in El Periódico. The original can be found here.
How does it feel to leave this team?
I feel good now, as we are leaving after winning la Copa, and everything is quieter now. I leave proud of what we did and convinced of my commitment to Barça. But at the same time, there is some sadness to leave something so big, something that will never happen again, leaving the best player in the world, the best team in the world, and the best club. I won’t work with my best friend anymore but we are leaving in a good moment. Pep chose this, it was his decision, arguably or not, although I can justify it. I didn’t see him as happy as he was before, and that was nobody’s fault, not the players nor the club.
How did you spend your last days at Barça?
I was disappointed by some things I read and heard. I realized they didn’t get it, they didn’t know anything of what I did those four years, and that they didn’t even want to know… Some people that said stuff about me don’t even know me. I have felt…
Sports have taught me what is really important in life: your old friends and people who care about you. So Pep and the players have been my first priority. I was in the middle of it. It may have been hard for the players to trust me [at first] knowing I am the best friend of their coach, they could have thought I was his spy or something… but my biggest triumph was that they respected me. I was one of them down there [in the dressing room].
You said you have felt lonely…
Yes, but it lasted like a day. You know what has been more painful to me? Having to hear that “you’ll see when you start to lose!” sentence from journalists, from papers directors! It is not fair to claim exclusivity of Pep or anyone else in this team. I have also heard I had a bad attitude in press conferences. Well, if I have to listen to Xavi being asked about a possible link between Abidal’s tumor and doping, yes, well, of course I will have a bad face!! I have felt that two or three influential journalists have been always trying to compromise Pep, asking things over and over again to see if he would fall into some kind of trap.
How do you explain the final tension, when Pep announced he is leaving and Tito is appointed as coach?
That tension lasted an hour, maybe a day. Since October we have been considering two options: if we still have it, we will stay. If not, we will leave. But if a third option arises, then you get surprised. I spoke from my perspective. I do believe this is a huge opportunity for Tito and for all the people who will stay with him. But not all react the same way: some people need an hour, or a day to take it, and some just don’t.
Even being such good friends, is there anything about Pep that has really surprised you?
His ability of managing all of what is needed to conduct this team. One of the sentences that Pep used to say that made a big impression on me was “if you help them, you will help yourselves” and he said that both to the squad and to the coaching staff. Maybe he took it from a book, but he used it and made it real every day… And then I read he was selfish, or arrogant… but he just lived to help other people!
Not everybody liked Pep…
Look, maybe he won’t speak to me in two weeks, but as now he is only my friend and not my boss, I will tell you this: We had an argument when he was renewing his contract last season. He wanted to share part of his wages with the coaching staff and other people at Barça who have helped him. I refused that. We [those people] already had wages, some incentives, we were in a good position and felt recognized by the club. There were many people on that list: not only almost his entire coaching staff, but also janitors, club employees, and people from Barça B… well, instead of that Pep shared all the money he received from that advert for Banc Sabadell. And we also had to listen to Iturralde (yes, a referee!!!) criticizing Pep for doing a commercial, saying “well, he doesn’t speak to anyone, but money is money…” Pep has a lot of flaws, he is not perfect. He has made mistakes in lineups, in players preparation, but accusing him of other things is just. . . .
But people have said bad things about him, and not only “there” (Madrid), it has also happened “here”…
I insist: Pep has only wanted to defend his club. Whoever was in charge of it. He said that once about the people who were not in the club anymore (Laporta’s directors), when those people and their families were suffering for the economical repercussions of a vote of censure against the previous directive board (which lead to a lawsuit from Rosell to Laporta and his directive board, something that almost made them go bankrupt). And a huge thing was created out of it. So yes, sometimes he said he wanted to come back to the B team, so he could be focused only on football, which is his thing.
Do you value more the experiences or the titles won?
There are some secrets I am not willing to reveal. But I will explain one of the most shocking moments we had to live in that dressing room. Maybe Pep will get mad at me, but here it is. I remember one of his talks to the squad, in one of those difficult times we had to live, when they were too tired, and when there were talks about referees helping us, so Pep gathered them and said: “people, do you realize that now, when you are here feeling tired, thinking life is too hard, there is one of you that has played 13 games living with something that was eating him inside out (a tumor)? Okay, I know we are tired, but there are priorities: we are healthy, and Abi is setting an example for all of us.” I could remember a thousand of his phrases. People say Pep knew how to motivate his players, but the real motivation has been on working hard every day, setting an example, being honest and being professional. He once said: “Manel, we can’t fool these people because we will get caught, and when we do, we’re out.”
Is he leaving because he is tired?
It’s been four years, you know. Pep told me once: “Beyond me feeling tired, it’s the fact that I could give a lot to this team next season, but not all of what I have. I know I am walking away from something unique, but I cannot betray them, or me, or the club. But we will keep winning. . . .”
Image: EFE/Marta Pérez