Pep Guardiola's perfect revolution at Barcelona
Bear with us here, but we have to admit we were both overjoyed and slightly depressed at the news Pep Guardiola is leaving Barcelona at the end of the season.
However, we’re sure paradoxical emotions on hearing said news weren’t limited to just us.
You see, there was something about Barca’s results of the past 14 days that, as keen students of history, both sporting and otherwise, worried us.
All empires ultimately crumble, it’s the one constant of centuries gone by. And the losses to Chelsea and Real Madrid, although a triumph of prose over poetry, made us anxious that Pep’s kingdom was showing signs of cracking.
In both ties the Catalans struggled to really enforce their game on the opposition and in the end the lack of a Plan B was all too annoyingly obvious. It wasn’t the brilliant Barca that had over the previous four years made the game so great to watch.
So we’d rather Pep go out with all the peerless performances and the scores of silverware still fresh in the memory and not see the greatest club side ever become a fading force.
But what an empire he created.
Yes, there have been some great sides down the years. The AC Milan of the late 1980s and early 90s was pretty useful and we’ll always have a soft spot for Denmark of the mid-80s. But few teams, if any, have reached the heights of Guardiola’s men on as many occasions.
However, what really separates Pep from plenty of other fine managers, and the Barca team from the rest, is that in a very real sense he was a modern-day revolutionary.
Over the past 50 years very few sportsmen have had either the ability or the gumption to tear up the rulebook and change both the way their sport is played and the way it’s viewed.
Johan Cruyff and the awesome Ajax side of the early 1970s did it with their brand of ‘total football’, Shane Warne achieved it by bringing back to life the dying art of legspin, and Tiger Woods managed it by creating the notion of golfers being athletes rather than dull, old blokes going for a stroll.
But in a footballing era where the only innovation players and fans want to see is goal-line technology (yawn...), Pep added his name to the list above. You see, until Barca swept all before them at home and in Europe there was a belief, which still exists in some backwaters, that you need big, strong hardmen in midfield. Without them you’d not control the game, even if you had the requisite big, strong hardmen (ridiculous John Terry types) at the back.
Pep ignored all this nonsense and, any vertically challenged among you please forgive us, packed his team full of midgets. Not only that but he played midfielders and wingers in the back four.
What was produced by this strange experiment was some of the best, most beautiful football we are ever likely to see by some of the smallest, best and cleverest players of the past few decades. Not only that, but it was successful on a level rarely seen before - 13 trophies in four years.
Pep’s detractors argue he’s simply been in the right place at the right time. But who wouldn’t benefit from having Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets in the side? And besides, they are missing the point. It took the courage of Pep to turn these magic men in to an outfit with no equivalents.
Across the world teams, such as Swansea, are now trying to copy Barca’s possession play. So perhaps we shouldn’t be too dismayed to see him turn his back on the Nou Camp, as ultimately Pep’s legacy won’t simply be the team of Messi and Co, but rather saving football from the staid, predictable and dull fare it was threatening to become before he turned up.