Guardiola Replies Mourinho In Style
There is only one way Pep Guardiola can approach Sunday’s Manchester derby and football in general. As if we were ever in doubt that he might one day compromise his obsession with possession-based football, on Friday he reaffirmed that it is not just the best way to succeed:, it is, for him, the only way he can play.
Asked what would happen if his passing football no longer produced results, Guardiola was unequivocal.
“If that is going to happen, I’m going to retire,’ he said. ‘Because I don’t feel it another way. I could defend more deep but I want to have the ball and I want to play.’”
Right from the beginning, when he was being schooled by Johan Cruyff as a player and then started out 10 years ago as coach of Barcelona’s B team, it has been this way.
“If you saw the Barcelona B team I coached [from 2007-08], from the first game always I try to look for that. Sometimes it doesn’t work. But that’s because the other team is good or we are not good enough.’ Could he change? ‘Never. Never in my life.’”
It is what makes his clashes with Jose Mourinho so fascinating. Mourinho hates the fact Guardiola is styled as the purist, he as the pragmatist. The Manchester United manager’s proudest achievement is his Real Madrid side breaking the La Liga scoring record to win the title in 2012 with 121 goals.
But Mourinho, who first met Guardiola in 1996 when the Portuguese was assistant coach to Bobby Robson at Barcelona where the Catalan was a key player, will adapt his style when necessary.
Guardiola sometimes comes across as a missionary armed with the zeal of absolute truth, such as when describing why he wasn’t a coach ‘for the tackles’ having been swept aside by Leicester City on this day last year.
On Friday he did reveal that he has harboured doubts about his playing style in the past; albeit they only lasted 48 hours.
In his first coaching job, in 2007, the Barcelona B team had just been relegated to a regional Catalan league, Guardiola was unsure as to whether he could persist with the ideas he had imbibed as a player under Cruyff.
Barca’s B team, including Pedro and Sergio Busquets, were travelling to play part timers on cramped, artifical surfaces in the remote outposts of Catalonia. It was no place for high-minded principles.
“Guardiola said, “I did have doubts a little bit in the beginning. But I was lucky because it was the B team, not like here, at a high level. We played one game a week. ‘You had time to think and to review from each match, from Sunday to Sunday. When you play every three days you don’t have time.”
“I remember the first three games, I won, drew and lost. We played on artificial pitches in the fourth division and they were so small. I said, ‘We have to change because the pitch is so small.’ But I arrived the next day and said, ‘No, I’m not going to change.’”
“The alternative to play in a different way to my belief didn’t convince me enough. And it was so good because by the end of the season we were champions and promoted to another division.”
“I said: ‘If we were able to win quite well and play quite good football on these small, artificial pitches, then we are able to do it at a higher level, better players, better pitches, better stages.’ So, I doubted for two days! That was an important moment because I was new. I had no experience even if I had beliefs. I still had to prove myself, 37 years old, never trained with big players.”
“I have said many times the managers have to do what they believe. So, the managers cannot judge what other managers do.”
“The managers have to do what they believe, that is the most important thing. When a manager or player come to visit me and wants advice, I always say the same: “Do what you believe”. That’s the only way I can work. The people who have success in many aspects in life, it’s because they believe 100 per cent in what they do.”
“Whether teams make success with attacking, defending, it doesn’t matter. They make success with the manager convincing the players to do that, 100 per cent. And you cannot convince the players of something you don’t believe: it’s impossible.”
The City boss was trying to acknowledge that he doesn’t consider his style superior to Mourinho’s, just different. And that the style itself isn’t the key to a successful team — rather, the clear and passionate direction a coach gives. Mourinho and Guardiola are both masters in that skill.