The Pep Challenge A Superstar Football Coach Comes to Munich


By and

Part 2: 'It Takes Courage'

European football has changed considerably since Guardiola began his coaching career at FC Barcelona in the summer of 2008. He was one of the worst-paid coaches in the Primera División, without professional experience and faced with the legacy of an unruly squad trained by his predecessor, Frank Rijkaard. The change has something to do with Guardiola's record, which reads like a sugarcoated biography. In four years, he won 14 out of 19 possible titles, including two Champions League victories, three national titles and two FIFA Club World Cup trophies.

But the problems began to accumulate in early 2011. Both French defender Éric Abidal and Guardiola's friend and assistant coach Tito Vilanova were diagnosed with cancer. The team lost some of its intensity. Guardiola's talks sometimes lacked persuasiveness, and he started having trouble motivating his players. Guardiola is a strong communicator. He can be witty, glib and sometimes even funny.

In the meantime, rival club Real Madrid had bought itself the world's most expensive team, and its top priority was to defeat Guardiola's Barcelona. A dispute with José Mourinho, Guardiola's adversary at Real, escalated. During one of the matches between the two teams, known in Spain as El Clásico, there were scuffles between players and coaches.

Even golden boy Lionel Messi was causing problems. Guardiola was increasingly tailoring Barcelona's game to the Argentinean player. Messi shot 73 goals in the 2011/2012 season, and Guardiola had molded his system around a single player. It troubled him increasingly, and he began to enjoy work less.

In the fall of 2011, after a Champions League match against the Belarusian team FC BATE Borisov, Guardiola mentioned to Barça's president, Sandro Rosell, that he might not renew his contract. The club's management was in turmoil.

In one of his very rare interviews -- for a film about his old club, Brescia Calcio -- he said: "It takes courage to manage such an important institution for four years. The players tire you out, you tire out the players, the press tires you out, and you tire out the press."

On Jan. 13, 2012, there was a party at the Postpalast building in Munich for a belated celebration of Hoeness' 60th birthday. Giovanni Branchini, the Italian agent -- and middleman -- was among the 475 guests. He sat down next to Rummenigge and told him what Guardiola's brother had asked him to say, namely, that what he'd mentioned at the Audi Cup was still true.

After that encounter, Rummenigge began calling Guardiola regularly. Sitting in his office, Rummenigge recalls that the conversations were somewhat odd. "They were really trivial, blah-blah conversations," he says. "You keep beating about the bush but never really get to the point."

A Private Person

Guardiola already had the makings of a coach when he was an 18-year-old player. He was physically inferior to most of his opponents, too slow and much too thin. But there was one thing he could do faster than his opponents: think. His only chance was to read the game better than the others. Johan Cruyff, the coach of his first team, soon made him captain. Guardiola became the head of the legendary "dream team" that won Barcelona's first European Cup. He played with Romária, Michael Laudrup, Ronald Koeman and Zubizarreta. Until Guardiola's debut as coach, the team was considered the best in Barcelona's history. Guardiola was still with Barcelona when Louis van Gaal was hired as coach, but then he moved to AS Roma because he wanted to play under Fabio Capello. At the end of his career, he even moved to a wretchedly bad club in Mexico called Dorados de Sinaloa, because a certain Juanma Lillo worked there. Guardiola thought he was a genius among coaches.

"My brother can be unbelievably stubborn, almost obsessed, and he's always thinking about football, ever since I've known him. It was always clear that he would eventually become a coach. Off the football pitch, he likes his peace and quiet," says Pere Guardiola in his office. He describes Pep as reserved, more of a listener than a talker, and determined to keep his private life private. Once, when he was asked which word he associated with "fame," Pep Guardiola replied: "shit."

He is still together with Cristina Serra, his adolescent sweetheart, who he met at 18. He has three children, wears snugly tailored suits, listens to Coldplay, is considered politically on the left and, like most members of his family, wants independence for Catalonia. He doesn't believe in the existence of God, except in the form of Messi and Maradona, and if he hadn't become a pro footballer, he might have completed his law degree and would be an attorney today.

In late April 2012, Guardiola announced that he was leaving FC Barcelona. He said that he was tired and needed some distance. After that, Pere received daily calls from agents for other top clubs, but the only club Pep wanted to discuss with his brother was Bayern Munich. Pere met Christian Nerlinger, the club's sports director at the time, for a cup of coffee at a Madrid hotel on May 25. The encounter did not make a lasting impression on him.

Pere Guardiola was more interested in the Premier League and tried to convince his brother of the advantages of the "very respectable English." He said that they had small, efficient decision-making bodies and press that, while louder than the German media, was "actually easier to handle." Besides, he said, they had money -- a lot more money.

An offer from Manchester City was especially appealing. Txiki Begiristain, Guardiola's former sports director at Barça, was representing Manchester City. He knew that money wasn't the key to signing Guardiola -- or at least that it wasn't the only factor. They discussed a "project" and the club's plan to invest €150 million, or possibly even more, in new players.

But Pep remained fixated on Munich. With Branchini still acting as go-between, he let Rummenigge know that, after taking a year off in New York, he was eager to work as a coach again -- and that it wouldn't hurt to have a conversation. Rummenigge wanted to know whether it would make sense to meet with Guardiola before his departure to the United States. It would, Branchini said.


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pmoseley 06/15/2013
1. Not the same
Bayern Munich is not the same as Barcelona. I honestly don't believe that the ticky-tacky style of football that Guardiola is a genius at will suit the German game. It's a latin style that relies on individual specialised skills that the latins are good at. And Guardiola can't change his style any more than the Germans can. Guardiola will be back in Spain or in Italy within a few years. He won't make it to England, well not for long, anyway, as the pressure that he abhors would be too much for him.
ashcroft_house 06/18/2013
2. optional
@pmoseley: If Guardiola is good enough to coach Bayern, he'll know that he can't just duplicate his approach from when he was at Barca. Bayern tried their own version of tiki-taka under vanGaal and tactically moved on since, something Pep's predecessor in particular is responsible for. Guardiola's stint in Munich will be an interesting venture at the very least. I hope that it will be a successful one, too ;-)
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