Humble Guardiola a rare breed
Born and raised in the Catalan region of northern Spain, Pep Guardiola would undoubtedly be aware of the area's affinity for aesthetics and artistic expression. Antoni Gaud?, the godfather of Catalan Modernism, basically designed the sprawling metropolis of Barcelona. Imagine having an entire city as your canvas and you get a feel for the passion Catalans attach to beauty.
As a young player at Barcelona FC, the crown jewel of the Catalan empire, Guardiola learned early of the requisite flair management and fans demanded of the club. A member of the so-called Dream Team assembled by Johan Cruyff, this one-time ball boy would eventually get the keys to the kingdom himself when he was named manager in 2008.
In his first three years at the helm, he led the club to three La Liga championships and two European Champions League titles. In 26 years at Manchester United, Alex Ferguson has won as many Champions League trophies as Guardiola did in three. Halfway though his fourth season, Guardiola had won an unfathomable 13 out of a possible 16 trophies Barcelona competed for. He is, by any standard, the most successful coach ever in any sport and he did it all with an endearing blend of humility and dignity. He won big in Spain and he won big in Europe and how did he capitalise on his unprecedented success at one of the world's true super clubs?
He quit, he just up and walked away because, he claimed, he was burned out and the club needed a fresh voice. 'My time has passed,' he said last week when he announced he was leaving the team.
Guardiola is all of 41 years old. Apparently, the man just has no clue. He is arguably the hottest managerial property in soccer and yet he has steadfastly insisted on signing only one-year contracts. From the National Football League to the English Premier League, this is a profession where coaches take pride in being known as single-minded workaholics and yet what Guardiola was telling one and all was that this was not his life. 'Every day during four years, the demands are very high, the pressure, the necessary energy to push the players and enjoy it,' he said. 'I need to rest and move away.'
Get a load of this guy, trying to bring perspective into the world of sports. If you don't know what's at stake in sports these days, it's probably best you step aside, Pep. This past week alone the NFL draft had more TV viewers than both an NBA and NHL play-off game combined. They weren't even playing a game, it was just a bunch of massive kids in suits two sizes too small ambling up on stage to shake the commissioner's hand and over 25 million people tuned in for it. Some NFL teams employ 30 people in their scouting department, many of whom are expected to sleep a few hours a night on a couch in the office and forego any semblance of a life if they want to succeed. Perspective is all relative, Pep.
Today, coaches are tyrannical CEO's in a multi-billion dollar industry. Rules and regulations are for suckers like you and me, not them. Why would Guardiola want to float in the same pond with scum like this? All he has to do is look across the pitch at the man who runs his team's greatest rivals: Real Madrid.
Jose Mourinho is a swarthy, petulant self-promoter who has bounced from one massive club to another throughout Europe the past 10 years and in the process made himself a tidy fortune. He would rather gargle with razor blades then sign a one-year contract. And while Guardiola has been fastidious in fielding a team who play with aplomb and flair, Mourinho is a defensive specialist who the British press claim 'bores' his way to trophies.
I will have to take their word for it because the truth is I will never be confused for a hard-core soccer fan and that is all the more reason why teams like Guardiola's Barcelona and Arsenal a few years back with the likes of Thierry Henry and Denis Bergkamp were so seductive. They attacked and flowed with constant ball movement, all of it choreographed in a team-first concept, which created irresistible and beautiful viewing. And last I looked, soccer was still billing itself as 'the beautiful game'. It takes a very secure individual to strive for that balance, to win with style and not just simply win. It takes someone with the Gallic charm of Frenchman Arsene Wenger at Arsenal and someone with the Catalan flair for beauty like Guardiola.
Rumour has it that Pep may eventually manage in England and fans in that country can only pray he does. But personally, I hope he is truly done with coaching. I hope this thoughtful and insightful young man sleeps in late and goes for long walks on the beach, maybe catches an art-house movie later in the evening. The simple truth is that the world of sports, as currently constructed, does not deserve someone like Pep Guardiola.