When Barcelona’s soon-to-be-ex-coach Pep Guardiola related his “waiting for that eureka moment”, as he described his coaching ideology, many in the football world may have thought it pretentious.
The would-be philosopher-coach would find the tactical strategy necessary to overcome any and every team in Barcelona’s path through a flash of inspiration.
The imagery is compelling: Guardiola sitting in a dark room, poring over hours of footage until… “tah dah!” Tactics envisioned and then implemented as Barcelona cruised to another victory.
Far-fetched? Pretentious? Not really.
Guardiola has oozed creativity from every pore throughout his playing days as the fulcrum of the Johan Cruyff-inspired Barcelona “Dream Team” in the early 1990’s. His ability to navigate the difficult problems in a congested midfield with the vision and precision of his one-touch passing was, at times, spectacular and certainly avant-garde.
Besides being Cruyff’s right hand and tactical brain on the field, he became the ideal for other midfield greats to emulate. Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta and Iván de la Peña all paid him tribute for his scheming in a Barcelona shirt.
Who would have known that this level of creativity, this level of tactical genius, could make the transition so smoothly into the coaching arena?
Truth be told, not many before him have.
Other than the Dutch master, Cruyff, who among the footballing greats has set the coaching world alight? Alfredo Di Stefano? Diego Maradona? Ruud Gullitt? Michel Platini? Franz Beckenbauer? All were awe-inspiring in their creativity and tactical nous as players but much less so as coaches.
Beckenbauer led Germany to the 1990 World Cup title but he never silenced the doubters. As a coach, no standard was raised and no benchmark set; certainly nothing to match his mercurial ability as a player.
Herein lies the extraordinary ability of ex-players like Cruyff and Guardiola. The mental process to merge obvious knowledge with the charisma and articulation needed to sway and convince a dressing room of the world’s best players will be beyond most.
Add to that a playing style that is footballing purity and disregarded the evolution towards physically strength and raw athleticism.
Throw in 13 trophies, including three La Liga titles and two European Champions League trophies, from four seasons and one might better appreciate the scale of his accomplishment.
If anyone should have been labelled “the Special One”, Guardiola is that man.
Sorry, but cutting an attractive figure on the sidelines coupled with outrageous quotes and behavior while not advancing the game of football in any discernible form or manner might qualify you for “special” status in media circles. But in football? Never!
That José Mourinho’s nemesis would turn out to be Guardiola was poetic justice at its best.
Football for the most part won and thankfully so; only the most hard headed of supporters could feel justified while regurgitating phrases such as “parking the bus.” The spirit of Brazil 1982 had been revived and finally avenged by Guardiola’s Barcelona.
But the beauty extracted by Guardiola would be, like most things beautiful, temporal in its essence. To bring that splendour to another level, if not necessarily a higher one, another forward thinker must emerge.
Guardiola did the right thing for himself and by extension his beloved Barca.
He is an introvert; his creativity without subsequent outlet would always render his type spent and dissatisfied. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is of a similar creative mould but, as an extrovert, will have no such impediment.
The nemesis of Guardiola turned out to be his pursuit of perfection; in himself and his players. The thought that those “eureka moments” may no longer arrive meant that it was time to move on.
Barca will survive and continue to flourish; the philosophy assures the continuity.
Whether the person to ensure the preservation of its beauty has arrived in the form of present Barcelona assistant coach, Tito Vilanova, is a completely different matter.