Guardiola is an F-bomb dropping, cardigan-wearing genius

Matt Stead

Johnny’s positive look at our managers and how they perform on telly and radio is very knitwear-focused this week, as he pulls on his lovely new cardy and considers a man who is a little odd and a lot brilliant. That’ll be Pep Guardiola, then.


Who Are Ya?
Josep Guardiola Sala is 48 years old and was born in the central Catalonian town of Santpedor. He spent most of his playing career as a defensive midfielder at Barcelona but it is often forgotten that once he left them he also played 74 games for  Brescia, Roma, Al-Ahli and Dorados in Mexico, who were also the first team he actually coached. Also played for Spain 47 times.

Went into management for a year at Barcelona B before moving up to the first team in 2008 and enjoying a four-year reign which quickly saw him become the best manager in the world. As such he is worshipped in a slightly weird way by millions of people. Lost just 21 games out of 247, won three titles and two Champions League trophies. His second season saw them win an incredible 31 league games and only lose one from 38.

Promulgated the whole high pressing thing and as a result now you even hear amateur players shouting to follow suit. Not that he had invented it but the success he had meant it became part of his brand identity along with tiki-taka, a term he absolutely rejects. As he once said: “Don’t believe what people say. Barça didn’t do tiki-taka! It’s completely made up!”

Whether they did or not, his side became synonymous with what Brendan, in between sniffing the air for mince and varnishing his face, once called “death by football”. In fairness, with the emphasis on possession, they did pass the ball around for what felt like for hours at times. Then when everyone was bored, they’d score. The 2008 side was especially adept at this. It was more like watching some kind of sporting expression of complex mathematics, or algebra depicted through modern dance.

He seemed to almost single-handedly invent the possession stats industry. There was a time when people would gasp at possession numbers of 70%, 75% and 80% as though it was a source of entertainment in and of itself. Thankfully, this fashion has lost some of its heat now but for a while it got a bit silly. None of this was Guardiola’s fault, of course. He’d just worked out a successful way to play with the considerable resources at his disposal. The fact other sides tried to copy them was always a bit foolish because they didn’t have those resources to do so and it all became a bit of a laughable fad.

On the touchline he’s always cut a distinctive figure. One of those men who now seems a little odd, almost goofy, when you see pictures of him with hair. Suits the cue-ball look. Was one of the first to wear the expensive-looking slim-fit suits with the grey thin wooly pully underneath which has become a default sort of uniform for any manager skinny enough to pull it off. In fact, he has a long history of wearing interesting knitwear, from multi-hued striped ones to psychedelic jacquard knits. Always worn skin tight.

Recently opted for what a certain age group might know as a Starsky & Hutch type cardigan. Fair play to any manager in a cardigan. And one with a hood at that. Perhaps his gran knitted it for him. I hope so. His scarves always look very expensive, as though crafted from the rarest yak’s hair.

Spends most games looking incredibly worried and stressed out beyond belief. So much so that you could believe that the job gives him little pleasure at all. During the Spurs game this week at one point he was shouting, screaming, flapping his arms up and down in a state of absolute turmoil as his players were not doing things correctly. It looked like absolute torture.


Cunning Linguist?
Speaks good English, though does sometimes look at an interviewer with the sort of expression which suggests he is weeing out of his eyes as he squints to try and understand the overly convoluted, multi-faceted question all too often being asked.

Not afraid to throw a moody or a strop or do a swear. Often seems to look down at some elements of the English press as a rather contemptible bunch and is capable of coming up with obtuse answers to simple questions, or just uttering an exasperated “f**k” at the stupidity of a query. That’s when we like him best.

Seems prepared to keep his counsel over his employees’ abusive regime, which human rights observers have listed as including flogging, stoning, forced disappearances, torture and secret prisons. And that’s just for starters. Still, hey, look at all that money.

Is clearly a thinker and philosopher and sees football as a team game that has no room for people who only want to play for themselves. It also all seems to be about the journey and not the destination for him.


Media Hit or Miss?
Huge hit. One often has the feeling that many an interviewer (and indeed many a fan) has something of a man crush on him, wishing that they could be so successful and wear a nice cardigan whilst being as such.

Sometimes the hero worship leads to a little too much fawning and nuzzling and thus he gets away without being overly scrutinised these days, after that tricky first season where in some quarters he was depicted as ‘Fraudiola’.

As an example of putting someone on a pedestal to later knock them off it was second to none. But these days he does so little wrong in a footballing context that there’s not much to pick at, though some would love to. While things got a bit eggy with the disparity between his support of jailed Catalan leaders and his paymaster’s habit of committing a long litany of human rights crimes, his charm combined with a lack of desire in the media to dip its toe in such polluted waters meant it all died down soon enough.

He never gives the impression of someone who enjoys dealing with the media. There’s an edge of impatience to some of his pressers and, yet, people hang on his every word as though he is a prophet here to tell us the error of our ways. Which he may well be. There is something of the Old Testament about him.


Proper Football Man Rating: Ratings Machine Exploded and Created A Massive Black Hole
No-one holds Pep in more contempt than the PFM who, quite frankly, thinks he could have done a job at Barcelona. The thing is, all you’ve got to do is buy expensive players and let them play and you will win everything. The PFM says he is a massive advocate of training players to improve them, but isn’t really and prefers shouting “just run around” instead.

What especially infuriates them is that they know with certainty that if they had a team of great players they would win the league as well. Anyone can win the league with great players; let’s see him go to Exeter City and get them into the Premier League. Only if he can do that will we ever call him a genius, even though the PFM would never consider such a career path, preferring to be parachuted into a failing top-flight team, or slumming it in the Championship at a club whose owners have more sense than money, negotiating a big pay-off and getting the hell out of dodge with pockets stuffed full of money as soon as possible.

Of course, they’re very jealous of him because they’d love to work for a royal family and they aren’t in the least bit squeamish if they’re a royal from a country that has a medieval approach to capital punishment, as the PFM is in favour of a lot of stick and no carrot. And after his last divorce, he’s not keen on women’s rights either. Plus they have all once gone to a fancy dress event as a fake Sheikh so have got all the gear and everything.

The boys were never happier than shaking their head in disappointment after his first season and telling anyone who would pay them that he’d been found out because this isn’t yer Spanish or yer German leagues, this is the Premier League and it’s the toughest league in the world, Jeff. Even though they have almost no knowledge of any other leagues in the world, nor even where to find them on a map. They revelled in that whole Fraudiola business, and indeed may have coined the term themselves.

Spending up to five hours a day learning German before taking the Bayern gig would disgust the PFM. The boys would never learn a language, not even English, and they consider anyone who does to be under the thumb of foreigners. Besides, just shouting loudly at foreigners has worked for them every time, and so has assuming they’re all like their national stereotype and not actually individual people.

When trying to obtain a PFM rating, the machine exploded, tore the space-time continuum asunder and sucked everything into a black hole. A black hole? That’s in Calcutta, isn’t it Richard?


What The People Say
Has obviously got a lot of fans for both his football and his style. However, City’s extreme financial doping takes the sheen off his reputation for some. There is a desire to see him take on a side that is not so financially dominant to see if his coaching methods could transform their fortunes. But overall everyone loves a man in a cardigan.

‘I love the fact he spoke fluent German in his first official Bayern press conference.’

‘He buys big when needed, but he coaches too, to the point where virtually every City player he inherited is now better than before. He shows respect to the country he works in and every opponent.’

‘Beautiful man, beautiful football, beautiful knitwear.’

‘The great paradox: committed to playing football the right way, so much so that you think he’d rather lose 8-0 playing attractive than going full Allardyce. (See Nathan Redmond rant). But his success has exacerbated the idea that it can only be done with riches beyond belief.’

‘Best dressed managed in the league.’

‘His positive media coverage seems to be built on his actual achievements, since he mostly gives chippy or weird answers to questions, which is the exact opposite of most managers, so he gets credit for that. Manager most likely to wear a Christmas jumper.’

‘As a balding, River Island shopping City fan, he makes me ‘happy.’ So ‘happy.”

‘Seems to have been designed deliberately to annoy the PFMs. Probably could do a better job than Sean Dyche at Burnley with the same players, because of how he has made his superstar players better.’

‘Finest selection of knitwear since Daniel O’Donnell and the Clancy Brothers were in their heydays.’

‘Like a modern day pied Piper. Where he goes trophies follow but is it because of his pipe or the money that follows him.’

‘Box office in the way Mourinho was when he first arrived in the Prem. His work improving the performances of players such as Sterling and Walker is very impressive, having taken them the extra bit to nigh-on unplayable at times.’

‘Rich man’s Harry Redknapp.’


How Long Has He Got?
Has always said he won’t still be doing this when he’s 60. Will almost certainly, and almost uniquely, never get the sack from City and all there doubtless hope that he’s at the helm for the next decade. However, he does go about his business with a rare intensity and that is clearly demanding on him as a person. Whether his obvious ability to be able to improve the performance of even the best players might wane along with his own energies and passion is hard to tell. If it did, one feels he’ll be the first to realise this and jump ship before it goes too wrong.

There’s also a question of where he might go next. Just touring Europe’s richest clubs and keeping them at the top doesn’t seem too much of a challenge really, so would PSG or Juve hold much interest? It’s worth pondering whether he even wants to test his skills by taking on a club that doesn’t have massive wealth and hasn’t had recent success but does have a lot of potential.

But for some, until he does, the criticism, however unfairly will always remain that he just took over clubs with loads of brilliant players and although he made them even better, he was already working with the best and could also always buy the best. But then, to be hailed as one of the greatest managers of all time is an amazing legacy for anyone to have against their name. He has made a substantial mark on football and is the preeminent manager of his generation. It just doesn’t get better than that.

John Nicholson