Always putting Barcelona first: How Guardiola waited until he was 'coaching material' before taking reins at Camp Nou

As learned from an extract from Graham Hunter's book on the Blaugrana, the 41-year-old's decision to step down comes as no surprise
Pep Guardiola won it all as coach of Barcelona before confirming his intention to resign at the end of the 2011-12 campaign but his announcement will not come as a shock to those who have followed his career closely


In 2003 there were epoch-defining presidential elections at Camp Nou. Joan Laporta would win, and the good times would roll, but his closest rival was Luis Bassat.

Bassat had been smart enough to identify Pep Guardiola, then still playing with Roma, as a brilliant asset for the club. The candidate for the presidency of FC Barcelona wanted him to become coach, aged only 32.

He remembers: “When I ran for the presidency in 2003 I went to Rome to sign Pep. I knew he was a clever guy who loved Barca and would work hard for the club. We talked for six hours and he convinced me that he wasn’t coach material yet. He hadn’t sat the coaching licence by then.

“So I changed my mind and decided that he would be better as my future director of football. He would have been brilliant, just as he is a brilliant coach now.”

Bassat finished second in the polls and Guardiola went back to playing and preparing for his future. He achieved his coaching badges and, almost immediately, was appointed coach of Barca B.

A Catalan symbol | Pep Guardiola is revered in Barcelona

When, in June 2007, a brains trust of Laporta, Johan Cruyff, Txiki Begiristain, the director of football, and Evarist Murtra, a board member, decided that Guardiola should be repatriated, there was a horrible atmosphere around the club, because the decline of Frank Rijkaard's Barcelona, in one year, had been so steep.

Guardiola, though unproven, already had the air of a fresh, urgent, hungry leader. At his presentation as Barca B coach, he said: “What I was as a player is gone. As a coach I’m nobody and I’m starting from zero. Only winning will bring me credibility, that’s my only way to grow as a coach.

“The priority here is to continue producing first-class footballers, but if I don’t win, if we don’t achieve promotion, then I won’t be allowed to continue here. That’s the way things are.

“I didn’t have any other offer and for that I must thank Barca, because if they hadn’t come looking for me, I’d be sitting at home. The first thing I want to do is transmit the pride and honour that I feel at being involved with this club again. I don’t view this as working in the third division, but working for Barca B. The players shouldn’t think they are playing in the third division, but pushing at the doors of the first team.”

Guardiola, though unproven, already had the air of a fresh, urgent, hungry leader. At his presentation as Barca B coach, he said: Only winning will give me credibility, that's my only way to grow as a coach

Laporta, never short of a bon mot, later recalled: “From what we could sense, Pep would probably have accepted coaching Barca B without a salary.”

There was a telling moment before the first home game, in the 15,000-capacity Mini Estadi about 100 metres from Camp Nou. His enthusiastic players were trying to impress in training and Guardiola could be heard shouting: “I don’t want you all trying to dribble like Leo Messi - pass it, pass it and pass it again. Pass precisely, move well, pass again, pass, pass, and pass.

“I want every move to be smart, every pass accurate – that’s how we make the difference from the rest of the teams, that’s all I want to see.”

Much of what we see now was available at a cheaper ticket price then. Full-backs became wing-backs, wingers cut inside to make five forwards when the wing-backs overlapped, Sergio Busquets cut his teeth at pivote and often dropped back to help at the back when the original 4-3-3 went to a 3-4-3. The central striker and the two interiors (right and left midfield) combined to press if the opposition tried to play the ball from the back.

Pass it, pass it and pass it again. Pass precisely, move well, pass again, pass, pass and pass

Barca B went 21 games unbeaten at home and won the third division by a point. There was also the emergence of what would become most famous in the pre-match build up to the Rome Champions League final in 2009 – the motivational video. Fifteen minutes before the final game of the season, the decisive second leg of the play-off with Barbastro, Guardiola showed a video of a 60-year-old father and his son, who suffers from cerebral palsy, competing together in an Ironman contest. In many of the events, the father has to carry his son. Some players later admitted that they went out to play with tears nipping at their eyes. Ten thousand fans in the Mini Estadi saw a Victor Vazquez goal seal promotion back to the Segunda B division.

By then, Guardiola had known for a few months that he was likely to succeed Rijkaard the following season, so this was one hell of a way to sign off from his first coaching job.

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