We’ve got mail: An homage to Pep

We’ve got mail: An homage to Pep

There have been numerous articles on Pep’s departure from FC Barcelona.  To round things out, we are pleased to feature a very personal piece from Ivan, a medical doctor from Split, Croatia, in this edition of We’ve got mail.

Pep’s World

I’m watching the UEFA Champions League semi-final second leg match between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich at the Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid and I see…Guardiola. I’m watching Schweinsteiger dropping deep between the widely spread Badstuber and Boateng so he can organise his team’s attack freely on one side and Xabi Alonso doing the same between Pepe and Ramos on the other side – again, I see Guardiola. I’m watching both teams pressing high, even in the opponent’s box – again, Guardiola. I’m watching space being opened for young Alaba by retracting a wide offensive player in the middle – Guardiola…

It is quite interesting that some football experts don’t actually mention all the trophies that Pep has won, but instead focus on the style of play he created. They say that Pep largely changed the game itself, that he imported a whole new way of looking at football by “[showing] us a brand new dimension of the game“ as Unai Emery put it.

That is exactly what makes Guardiola great, the one among the greatest, at barely 42 – the way of play he created. Creating an incredibly charming, sexy style, so brave and valiant, even seemingly hazardous, and yet so attractive and of course, efficient. A style based on skill and bravery which makes you look for all kinds of adventure with the ball. Back and forth, when the pitch is fine and when it is not, when it’s your day and when it’s not, when your opponent is top notch and when they are below par, when you play just another game and when you play a final – always the same, no compromise – because “we are Barca“ and this is “the style we believe in“.

Bear in mind, the ones who attack do so by trying to put the ball in a 7.32M x 2.44M net and those who defend have a whole remaining space to send a ball to. Those who attack as a team can’t afford themselves a moment of weakness because when they lose the ball they usually have only 2 or 3 players behind it, and the opponent has a whole pitch to counter. Therefore, when the attacking team is just a bit below its best it shows on the pitch and it shows on the scoreboard.

Let me ask you:  how much do you think a bad performance will bear consequence with defending teams that build up their play using long balls and counterattacks? How many players do they have behind the ball when they lose it? Seven? Eight? Sometimes even nine! Then why? Why insist on such an attacking and dangerous style of play when there is an easier way?

Because of football. Because of all of us who enjoy it deeply. Because of something that is far more important than the bare results; aesthetics and the life of the game itself. Estilo en el que creemos.

Great Cesar Luis Menotti reflects:

“I maintain that a team is above all an idea, and more than an idea it is a commitment, and more than a commitment it is the clear convictions that a coach must transmit to his players to defend that idea. So my concern is that we coaches don’t arrogate to ourselves the right to remove from the spectacle the synonym of festival, in favour of a philosophical reading that cannot be sustained, which is to avoid taking risks. And in football there are risks because the only way you can avoid taking risks in any game is by not playing …

“And to those who say that all that matters is winning, I want to warn them that someone always wins. Therefore, in a 30-team championship, there are 29 who must ask themselves: what did I leave at this club, what did I bring to my players, what possibility of growth did I give to my footballers?

“I start from the premise that football is efficacy. I play to win, as much or more than any egoist who thinks he’s going to win by other means. I want to win the match. But I don’t give in to tactical reasoning as the only way to win, rather I believe that efficacy is not divorced from beauty …”

The ball above everything else. The ball you love and hold tenderly like you hold your darling.  The ball you accept as a part of yourself and not only as a mean to fulfill your team’s or your own personal ambition. The ball you let lead you so you don’t get lost. The ball you crave for; the ball you’re always looking for. The ball whose company you enjoy and not the one you can’t wait to get rid of. The ball as a medium to offer to the world your character, your personality, but even more the ball as your responsibility for all those who follow. The ball which tells of beauty and harmony, not as ever elusive flaws of dreamers already defeated, but as foundations of life, pardon me – football.

That’s Guardiola’s ball.

Hobbits from Barcelona were so clearly aware of their on-and-off the pitch identity. They understood so well who they have been and what they have had to do, like no team in the game’s past. What was so intriguing was the iconic ability of 11 individuals blending so effortlessly into one whole. How is it possible that one whole is so…ONE, and then again, made of 11 parts. Unity of many or polyphony of harmony.

Legendary Bill Shankly used to claim that football is so much more than a matter of life and death. It is, indeed, for those who are willing to see it, for those who can look beyond trophies and victories. Because there are more important things than life and death, and those are: how you spent your life, what you did with it.

Exactly this unbelievable harmony of so many different individuals melted into one Pep’s symphony. How diversities fulfill and complement each other, how they complete each other. Pep’s football is childly innocent, poetry in motion, but above all, the one it is meant to be, the one you genuinely enjoy. It is the football of artistry, imagination, constant hunger for the ball, for the game itself. It’s football that has purpose to itself, like a sunset on the sea, like a beautiful woman, like a drop of dew on the leaf. Goals and victories come only as a consequence, although, sadly not always.

Albeit, far from it that such an ideal is easily attainable, like any other in life. Because it’s not just about recieving, passing or dribbling the ball.

Guardiola showed us how in a world in which we bow to drunk, narcistic and arrogant millionaires, you can create a style based on virtues almost forgotten: dignity, respect, modesty and humbleness. That man never said anything bad about his rivals, never missed an oportunity to congratulate his opponents, not to mention that even with someone’s escapades poked eyes, metaphorically and literally speaking, he always remained decent and consistent. He showed by his own example how courage and creativity can pay off, even when majority, not only disagrees with you, but also considers you crazy because of your ideas which, by the way, resulted in champagne football we were honoured to watch these past four years. He demonstrated how important it is to be self confident, to be yourself. Instead of blindly following world trends of money doing the job, he created his triangles and inverted back his pyramids on the foundations of La Masia.

But above all else his work rested on the grounds of self respect. During his first season, a few players arrived late for a training session for just one minute, some of the biggest team stars among them. They all paid the fine and did not complain about it, but defending the coach’s decision as not the right decision, but the only possible decision.

From the very beginning, Pep insisted on work and discipline so as time was passing it became a habit and players realised how stupid and dissrespectfull to their very selves it would be to simply run over the huge amount of effort, physical and mental, they put in daily. There was respect towards everything they achieved and their every day work so the order within the team became self-attained as a result of a respect towards their own effort, and not as a result of a coach’s police-like control of players behaviour.

That’s the basis of this team’s success during these four years. That’s the reason why this team didn’t go through any major slumps of form during this time, and why they won everything they did.

I always knew what was the right way. But I never took it. Wanna know why?! Because it was too damn hard!“  - Col. Frank Slade, Scent of Woman

That’s why Pep is leaving, because “the right way“ wears you off. The world we live in is often auto-destructive. Faced with positive example which wandered into this time of ours, instead of treating it with due respect, not to say, admiration, and instead of diving deep into one’s self to become reborn better, this world of ours just keeps on splashing mud around itself even more. Trying to take that “intruder“ down to its level so it can prove we are all the same, and by doing that, justify its own darkness because we are all the same.

Yet, we are not.

It’s hard to keep away from the mud, it consumes huge amounts of energy. Which Pep simply used up.

Let’s take a look at things from another perspective: The man won so many trophies and captured the world with Barca’s game so sublimely that the club president offers him carte blanche for his new contract. How much money do you want, buying players, selling players, youth academy, scouting, preseason…it’s all your call, Pep, just sign. Actually, the easiest thing would be to sign and to a longer contract, not these one seasoners. You’d get at least twice the amount of salary because even if Pep didn’t manage to collect any trophies next season, he would be excused and still allowed to continue on the account of all he had achieved in past. Not to mention the huge amount of money the club would be obliged to pay him in case they decided to fire him eventually. But Guardiola, living in some different world of his, says no because he thinks he can not continue leading his team on a level sufficient enough, according to his own criteria.

Pep didn’t leave for his sake, he left for the sake of the Club.

Tell me, how many people you know who are so clearly ready to put general good in front of their own?

Pep is an artist, maybe not intentionally, but he is. Artists don’t take orders. If you are lucky enough to witness the joint performance of the inner circle of brilliant, let’s say musicians, who enjoy playing together, you have a chance to experience something special. Magnificent music aura that takes your breath away. Then and there. With those artists in those conditions. But you know you will hardly witness something that special ever again. It doesn’t even occur to you to demand from those masters to repeat all that somewhere else, in some other time, in different conditions, in different set up with different people. You simply enjoy and you feel over the top because you witnessed something overwhelming. Something spectacular that can not be repeated.

That’s why Pep says he doesn’t feel the need to prove himself anywhere else. Indeed, perhaps neither he nor any of his future teams get to shine so intensly like his Barca, but his Barca as that idea from Menotti’s reflections and his Barca as a model will never die. I am convinced that is exactly what is most important for Pep, as an artist, perfectionist, el filosofo - not results, nor trophies, but his idea, the style we believe in.

After all, that is why Pep exists in this football world. To make it his own, as much as possible.