We call him Pep.
Oh sure, sometimes it’s Pep Guardiola, or simply Guardiola. But more often than not, it is simply Pep. You won’t often see this convention used among professional sports journalists. But the people working on projects like totalBarca, where the writing comes from the heart rather than for a paycheck, are all on a first name basis with the coach of the team they adore.
I read a lot every day about the world of European football. I don’t believe I have ever seen Sir Alex Ferguson referred to as “Alex.” Arsene Wenger is never “Arsene.” Even in Spain, it would seem almost disrespectful to refer to Mister Mourinho as “Jose.”
Not so with Pep. Sure: its fun to say; it sounds almost like a nickname. But I suspect that the intimacy people feel for Guardiola has to do precisely with the things he, and the club, bring to the table that make them different from a United or an Arsenal or a Real Madrid.
And its also why its so hard to see him leave. When Frank Rijkaard was ushered from the dressing room in 2008, I was intrigued at how a new chapter in the club’s development would unfold. To be perfectly candid, I was also excited, believe it or not, because I felt certain that the club would hire Jose Mourinho to replace him.
When Pep announced his departure on Friday I felt like I had just lost a family member. I realize that on the face of it, this sounds absurd. I have never been in the same room with Pep Guardiola. We have never exchanged a single word of actual conversation. It is unlikely that we will ever meet. And yet there I was: 4:30 am on a workday, watching a press conference that had tears streaming down my face. How is it that someone so far removed from my real life could have such emotional power over me? Given the gulf between us, the spell that Pep Guardiola has cast over me and his admirers world wide is a testimony to his charisma, his integrity and the amazing gift of his football.
Which brings me to the point of this post: Where were you when you heard the announcement? What was your reaction? And how did you deal with it in the days to follow? I personally have found it therapeutic to console and be consoled by my fellow cules about what is certainly the end of an era. Hopefully you will too.
Image: Josep Lago [AFP/Getty]