By Jay Bea
Pep Guardiola is a football (soccer) manager of Manchester City Football Club, the current champions of the Premier League in England.
He is a man of principle, practices a human-centered method, has social consciousness, and raises the level of the beautiful game.
Josep Guardiola Sala is Catalan and was born in Santpedor 45 miles from Barcelona. He loved football as a boy and played in the village square with his friends. At age 8 he was accepted into the Barcelona Football Club youth program and lived at La Masia in Barcelona.
He moved through the youth ranks and joined the first team at age 18 and played for the club for 8 years, winning titles and captaining the club. He was appointed team manager in 2008.
From the book Pep Guardiala Gullem Balague writes, “…it was the first time that a kid from La Masia had progressed through all the junior categories to finally end up as the boss of the first team.”
Before Guardiola managed the team Barcelona played what was called Total football. That style was brought to the club by Rinus Michels who managed Ajax in the Netherlands and then Barcelona in Spain. Johann Cruyff, the great Dutch player and manager, then continued and developed that style when he became Barcelona’s manager.
In Total football, a player who moves out of his position is replaced by another from his team, thus retaining the team’s intended organisational structure. In this fluid system, no outfield player is fixed in a predetermined role. It requires intelligent and technically diverse players.
Although football history shows that other teams prior to Guardiola’s team had played this style it is the 2008-12 Barcelona FC that brought it into the modern era. Their style had evolved even further under Guardiola and was called ‘tiki taka’ or possession football.
Speaking of Johan Cruyff Balague quotes Guardiola as saying, “We are a little bit like disciples of the essence that Cruyff brought here. Cruyff wanted us to play that way, on the wings and using the wingers, and I apply that whole theory ahead of everything. It was he, Johan, who imposed the criteria for quick movements of the ball, the obligation to open up the field in order to find space. To fill the centre of the pitch in order to play having numerical superiority…so that everybody knew how Barca played and, above all, so that it would be known how to do it in the future. And that, in short, is the greatest thing that Cruyff left us. The idea of playing in a way that no team has done before… It is a sign of distinction, a different way of experiencing football, a way of life, a culture.”
In the book Barca, The Making of the Greatest Team in the World the author Graham Hunter quotes Alex Ferguson, then manager of Manchester United who had just lost the final of the Champions League to Barcelona, saying, “In my time as manager, it’s the best team we have played. They play the right way, and they enjoy their football. They do mesmerize you with their passing and we never really did control Messi…”.
Ferguson had won over 40 trophies.
After winning that famous trophy Guardiola led his team by linking arms and danced around the centre circle of Wembley Stadium in a version of the traditional Catalan sardana – a dance that symbolizes unity for the Catalan people.
There are professional football leagues in many countries around the world. Some leagues, such as the Premier League in England, La Liga in Spain, Bundesliga in Germany, Ligue 1 in France, have the few elite teams that have most of the best players.
These elite teams are owned by international financial capitalists with the team often being only one of their many holdings. The average market value listed for these top clubs is between 1 and 2 billion dollars.
For the period between 2022 and 2025, the domestic broadcast media rights for the Premier League were worth 6.3 billion U.S. dollars, while the value of international rights reached a record 6.55 billion U.S. dollars.
It is in that world that Guardiola sticks to his principles. In Pep Guardiola the film director David Trueba is quoted as saying, “Perhaps everybody is tired of cheats, of profiteers, of villains, people who impose selfish values, opportunism and selfishness, from the privileged platform of television or the media, business or politics. He belongs to that society. But he dignifies it, in a very simple way, trying to do his job well, helping to make common sense prosper from his place in the public eye, with the same quiet dignity with which a good bricklayer, without anyone looking or applauding, lays bricks.”
Both players and managers alike are considered disposable by club owners. On average the owners of Premier League clubs in England fire 8 managers out of 20 per year.
Erik Ten Hag manager of Manchester United Football Club on being asked what he thought of a colleague just having been fired said, “It’s always sad when a colleague gets sacked. In general, I don’t believe in it – that you sack a manager – that you get better results. Most of the times it doesn’t work. Let managers do their work, finish their work and then do a good evaluation. If you see the stats, see the facts, most of the time it doesn’t work out well.”
Players are bought and sold in two ‘markets’ yearly with no consideration as to their own interests nor their mental or physical health.
Graham Hunter quotes Albert Benaiges, former youth coach at Barcelona FC, “When we look at a kid, Barca doesn’t just see a footballer, but a young lad with a family and a community behind him. We believe it is really important our boys develop personally and academically.”
“One of the things that makes me proudest is that so many of our young players have university educations,” La Masia director Carles Folguera points out. “In England, when a team selects a young talent, they don’t take care of that side of things. We aren’t just there to teach them football, we’re there to educate them. From 11 to 18 La Masia is their home, we have to get to know them and teach them, be their family.”
At a press conference in February 2023, when the press had their knives out due to the 110 charges laid against Manchester City FC by the Premier League, Guardiola didn’t answer the first question, but, rather said, “Good morning everyone. My first words on behalf of the club are for are our thoughts for the people in Turkey and Syria at this terrible moment.”
That was Pep. None of the other 19 managers mentioned the earthquake tragedy in their press conferences that day.
Whenever asked about one of his players Guardiola always says he is a good human being first and then comments on his football ability.
In 2021, when asked if this season’s titles will be won by the team who suffers the least amount of injuries Guardiola answered, “We compete in all the competitions and it is so important to have fit, healthy players but it is so impossible when they play every three days for 11 months.”
“There are injuries at all clubs and we know it. We try to avoid it, we have more medical advice than ever, more nutritional advice, we try to take care of the players, but they are human beings and at some point, the bodies say it is enough”, he continued. “It’s too many games and competitions, in the end, the players suffer.”
The broadcasters are in a position to dictate to the leagues how many games are played.
Guardiola fills his teams with players who play for the love of the sport, have humility, are highly skilled and want to win. Lionel Messi is one such player.
In Barca Hunter quotes Maniel Esterte, former captain of the Spanish water polo team and a close colleague of Guardiolas saying, “Messi has humility – you can see it when he plays. He accepts that the core group is the life and soul of the club. Meanwhile, his teammates are happy to recognize him as the best player in the world. There is no jealousy – that is very difficult to achieve.”
“I was the best water polo player in the world…I was arrogant…I thought it was all about me. You often find that with sportsmen at the top of their profession. …they have a level of personal ambition…and selfishness.”
“But it’s not something you have to think about with Messi.”
“That is a powerful combination: the best player in the world, who is comfortable working alongside a core group which has such a strong emotional sense of what it means to play for FC Barcelona.”
The world saw two different outlooks on sport in the famous El Classico matches between the Real Madrid team managed by Jose Mourinho and Barcelona under Pep. Mourinho disrespected Barcelona and Guardiola in press conferences and instigated violence on the touch line. The two ideologies were clear for all to see.
Messi won the World Cup with Argentina in December 2022 in Qatar.
Balague writes about Guardiola’s first training camp as the new manger where one rule he imposed was, “Insisting on the use of Castilian and Catalan as the only languages spoken.”
Catalunya developed as an area comprising parts of Spain and France as far back as 300 CE. Catalan is a language in its own right and today is spoken by 10 million people in Spain, France, Andorra and Sardinia. The language dates from the eighth century.
Centre Escolar Catalanista was set up in 1886 by activists who would eventually be major nationalist leaders and the Unió Catalanista was established in 1891 to bring together numerous nationalist centres.
In 1907, the Institut d’Estudis Catalans codified the Catalan language and published Catalan dictionaries and grammar guides. The Second Spanish Republic in 1931 allowed Catalonia to be recognised as an autonomous community in Spain with Catalan holding official language status.
The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and the fascist General Franco’s victory put an end to Catalan autonomy. Under his dictatorship, Catalan was banned from being used in public until Franco died in 1975.
On 25 March 2014, the Spanish Constitutional Court ruled that the Declaration of Sovereignty and of the Right to Decide of the Catalan People was “unconstitutional and null”, and therefore did not allow a self-determination referendum to be held in Catalonia.
The vote did go ahead and was an overwhelming success. Catalan President Artur Mas said, “We have earned the right to a referendum. Once again Catalonia has shown that it wants to rule itself.”
After the referendum the Spanish state took action and Mas, former Vice-President Joana Ortega and former Education Minister Irene Rigau were all banned from holding public office and fined.
“In the Spanish state, the law is not the same for everybody,” Mas told a press conference at which Ortega and Rigau also appeared. “We have been condemned for defending ideas that are not liked.”
In September 2017 the Catalan parliament decided to hold another vote for autonomy. Catalan activists were determined to hold the vote on October 1 even though the referendum had been ruled illegal by Spain’s Constitutional Court.
Guardiola gave a speech at a mass rally of over 40,000 people in Barcelona. He read a manifesto in Catalan, Spanish and English in which he said, “We have tried on 18 occasions to reach an agreement on a referendum and the answer has always been no. We have no other option but to vote. We call on the international community to support us and on democrats the world over to help us to defend the rights that are threatened in Catalonia, such as the right of freedom of expression and the right to vote. We will vote, even if the Spanish state doesn’t want it,” (His full speech is linked below.)
The Spanish state deployed troops and police to block the referendum including troops from the Logistic Support Group 41 (AALOG 41), members of the Guardia Civil housed in two liners docked in the harbour, and two contingents of the National Police arriving in 20 trucks.
The Spanish Navy sent two frigates into Barcelona harbour.
On voting day, the police seized ballot boxes, clubbed men and women outside polling stations, fired rubber bullets, smashed doors and windows of polling stations, arrested people and injured over 800.
The internet is still filled with videos showing the state organized violence against the Catalan people. (The links are posted below.)
Speaking about the police brutality Guardiola said, “They broke one woman’s fingers. There were more than 700 people injured, people went to cast a vote, not to rob a bank!”
Two days after the successful vote King Felipe VI of Spain addressed the nation denouncing the vote saying, “Their irresponsible conduct could even jeopardise the economic and social stability of Catalonia and all of Spain.”
2,262,424 valid votes had been cast and counted — 90 percent of them in favor of independence from Spain. Ballot boxes seized by the Spanish police in an effort to block the referendum could have contained up to 700,000 more votes.
Football Club Barcelona condemned the crackdown. “FC Barcelona, in remaining faithful to its historic commitment to the defense of the nation, to democracy, to freedom of speech, and to self-determination, condemns any act that may impede the free exercise of these rights.”
Barcelona’s motto is the famous Més que un club and means ‘More than a club.’
Carles Puigdemont, President of the Catalan government, along with other cabinet members fled to Belgium when faced with criminal charges. Nine members of the Catalan government involved with the holding of the referendum received prison sentences ranging from 9 to 13 years on charges of sedition.
“Ciutadans de Catalunya, ja teniu la copa aqui.” (Catalans, you have the cup here), cried Pep Guardiola from the balcony of the Generalitat Palace in Barcelona that houses the offices of the Presidency of Catalonia. It was no accident that Barcelona’s returning heroes presented their first European trophy in 2004 to the city on the exact spot from where, almost fifteen years earlier, the former Catalan president Josep Tarradellas had used a similar expression to announce his return from exile “Ciutatons de Catalunya, ja soc aqui). (I am finally here.)
The Catalan Parliament awarded the country’s highest accolade for a Catalan citizen to Guardiola for his representation of Catalan sporting values. He said in his acceptance speech: “If we get up early, very early, and think about it, believe me, we are an unstoppable country.”
Here is what Pep Guardiola has won as a manager and player:
14 titles as manager of Barcelona FC from 2008 to 2012. 3 Liga, 2 Champions League, 2 Copa del Rey, 3 Spanish Super Cup, 2 European Super Cup, 2 World Club Championships.
7 titles as manager of Bayern Munich FC from 2013 to 2016. 3 Bundesliga, 2 DFB Pokal, 1 UEFA Super Cup, 1 FIFA Club World Cup.
11 titles as manager of Manchester City FC from 2017 to present. 4 Premier League, 1 FA Cup, 4 EFL Cup, 2 English Super Cup.
7 titles as a player for Barcelona FC from 1991 to 2001. 6 La Liga, 1 European Cup. Olympic gold medal with the Spanish national team.
Football is the world’s largest mass sport with FIFA having 205 member associations, 300,000 clubs and 240 million players and claiming that 1.5 billion people watched the 2022 World Cup.
It is in the midst of this human endeavour – football – that Pep Guardiola and his thinking brain continues to produce excellence and quality.
“Until we pass away, we can always learn and improve. It’s the only thing in our lives. Never, never stop.” Press conference, February 2023, Manchester.
(This article has been edited to remove a section on Racism and the World Cup.)
Pep Guardiola, by Guillem Balague, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London.
The Barcelona Complex, by Simon Kuper, Penguin Press, New York.
Barca, by Graham Hunter, BackPage Press, London.
State police violence against voters October 1, 2017, Barcelona.