specials | 2016-09-12
Isaac Lluch discusses Pep Guardiola: 'It will be fascinating to see the most radical Cruyffista unveiling his ideas in England'
The Catalan journalist Isaac Lluch spoke exclusively to Grup 14 about Pep Guardiola’s first months at Manchester City, his struggle with the German media and his new project in England
Alex Truica: Hello Isaac, in our first interview about Pep Guardiola, we spoke about Pep’s struggles with the German media, cultural differences in Germany and his move to England. Now that Guardiola has settled at Manchester City, how do you see him doing at his new club?
Isaac Lluch: I see Pep Guardiola really happy to find exactly what he was looking for by moving to England, to be able to think about football in a systematic and quiet manner on weekdays and then to experience passionately the atmosphere and the fierce competition on weekends. This is just the beginning, but the good results achieved so far, as well as the single-handed qualification for the next Champions League, have reinforced the side’s self confidence. Pep looks really eager to bring to the Premier League his own understanding of football, and I think he’s getting his players to buy into his ideas really fast. Of course, as far as I know, the club is in love with Guardiola. You can tell this is the beginning of a nice story by the way the fans chant his name, how they cheer the players anytime they make a good passing sequence on the pitch.
Since he seems more relaxed and happy – do you think it was a relief to leave Bayern Munich and start something new?
I don't think Pep got any kind of relief by leaving Bayern, for that would mean he was burned out in the end, which was not the case. Guardiola simply left Bayern in order to experience a brand new quest, a different path to strike in his coaching career. I'd say it's a vital need for him, the need to know and learn new things, to put himself to the test in a different league, a frenzy-paced one, almost without time to catch one’s breath. His purpose was to get to the Premier League, not to abandon Bayern.
Guardiola and his assistants left Munich with a clear conscience, as demonstrated by the fact that they were in high spirits when they returned to the Allianz Arena with Manchester City for a friendly match back in July. The next day they strolled their way through the Bayern facilities with complete ease, in an excellent mood. In Munich, Guardiola will always feel among friends. I wouldn't bet against him making a quick getaway for the Oktoberfest.
For some fans and journalists from Germany it’s strangely interesting to see him that happy – he even lightened up when talking to the press. In his press conferences at Manchester City, Pep gives long and detailed answers. Then came the “Pep’s Taxi” videos, where he talks to fans in a taxi and has a good time with them – it all seems a little different compared to Guardiola’s last season at Bayern. Did he change his approach with the press, or what’s the reason for him suddenly being more “open” in talking to the media?
I think Pep is still the same with the journalists. The same as usual. I remember his first weeks at Bayern, when Guardiola strained as well to give comprehensive answers to the journalists’ questions. At a certain presser he even detailed the Munich neighborhood he was living at – in absolutely no way he could have uttered a word about something like that in Barcelona.
The language issue shouldn’t be overlooked by the way. As Pep is beginning his stint at Manchester, he’s way more proficient in English than he was in German back when he arrived in Munich. That provides him now with an edge on assurance and fluency. I recall the way he used to keep handy a piece of paper with technical lexicon and key phrases in German during his early days at Bayern, to make sure he could say precisely what he meant every time.
This is just beginning, so it’s still too soon to make any in-depth comparisons between the English and German media. In Manchester we're yet to see the journalists’ reaction to bad spells, when certain defeats will come as hard blows. As a rule of thumb, I think the bad journalists are with the same flaws, no matter where they are from, and the good journalists give the same trustworthiness everywhere. It's been only three months since Pep started dealing with the British media, right before and after every match, no more and no less. In contrast, he spent three years with the German press.
There are a number of differences worthwhile underlining when comparing Germany and England. Back in 2013, when Guardiola arrived in Munich, he was praised by the papers almost like a Special One for the Bundesliga. Such labels, needless to say, were uncomfortable for him. I even attended media briefings where some of the questions where like “Is there something you are not great at? Like cooking or ironing your clothes, maybe?”
You see, more often than not, if you want to have a good answer, first you have to ask a good question. You can ask “Why is Hart on the bench for the Sunderland game?”, but then you could also ask if Hart will stand a good chance to stay at City provided he manages to improve his skills with the ball at his feet. You can ask why Thomas Müller won't start in a big game, but you could as well ask what is the tactical issue behind such decision, or what defensive tactics from your opposition made you leave Müller out of the starting line-up.
Don't get me wrong, I don't mean English journalists know how to make a good question and Germans don't. I'm just trying to say that the concerns from the former are different than were those from the latter at the same part of the season. I have the feeling that, in Germany, there was a certain press sector, an influential one, that were not as interested in the football manager as they were about the public figure, they were more concerned about the celebrity than about the tactician. Then, Pep quit conceding interviews for such journalists, and the problems only grew harder because they lost all interest, if any, to get to understand the coach through his games.
The sensitive issue with them was his habit to reject all interview requests. He used to do just the same back in Barcelona, and it was all right. But the guys in Munich didn't take it so well. I think it generated frustration: They managed to attain certain degree of information provided by players, directors, and most of all by doctors and physiotherapists. But never from Pep himself. The German journalists went soft with those who passed some information on them, and became merciless with the coach, if not because of the proceedings on the pitch, certainly because of the alienation arisen.
Pep made several attempts to be close to the press again. He agreed with the former Bayern spokesman Markus Hörwick’s idea to hold press roundtables with no more than twelve journalists. They all wasted a great chance to create a link with Pep. The same happened with his pressers after the games. There were occasions when Guardiola left the room without having answered a single question asked by the attendants. Just the one by Hörwick. No journalist made use of his right to speak. This I never saw before in Barcelona, and I doubt we will see it in Manchester.
Guardiola felt a lot of pressure at Bayern, most of it coming from the media, because he had to win the Champions League (something he couldn’t achieve in the end as we know) – now at Manchester City, he can rebuild something new pretty much from scratch. Does he have less pressure at Manchester City, can he work more calmly there than he could at Bayern?
As we all know, no matter where the starting point is set at one club or the other, nothing but the very best is always going to be expected from Guardiola. The word “treble” will be spoken sooner or later by the English media too. Pressure is high at every major club, but City’s board are willing to allow Guardiola the time he needs to do the job.
Speaking of City’s board: Guardiola now works again with his friends Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano. Is it correct that it seems like he’s having more support from them and the whole club? He was given a lot of freedom to rebuild Manchester City’s team, something that he couldn’t do in this kind of substantial way at Bayern, for example when the club bought Mario Götze instead of Neymar or sold Toni Kroos against Guardiola’s will.
Pep is always saying he’s such a lucky man, because he’s had a warm welcome everywhere he’s ever went. I think Guardiola’s rapport with Txiki and Ferran Soriano is really special, but as far as I know, he managed to work just as well with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Matthias Sammer, even if their footballing ideas weren’t always the same. I think Guardiola made a mistake by failing to impose his demands, speaking about the Kroos case, for an instance.
Pep and Bayern’s former president Uli Hoeness didn't spend much time together at the club, and I think that was such a shame for Bayern. I read a statement by Hoeness where he went in defense of Pep Guardiola. I think Hoeness, who will run again for Bayern president next November, is making an accurate diagnosis about the way some German media behaved back then. Hoeness could have been an ideal journey partner for Guardiola at Bayern.
Former Bayern president Uli Hoeneß in defense of Pep Guardiola. [quotes via Sky Germany] pic.twitter.com/sZnbH8mPlZ— Alex Truica (@AlexTruica) 9. September 2016
How will it affect Guardiola’s work having Begiristain and Soriano next to his side? They surely understand each other better not only on a personal level but regarding sporting matters too since they all worked and learned at Barcelona together.
Without a doubt, Soriano and most of all Txiki are the reasons why Pep is at City. Everybody knows Guardiola could have chosen from a number of Premier League teams, but he chose the Etihad out of his friendship with them, as well as a sense of giving-back for the trust they showed back in 2008, when Pep was appointed to coach Barcelona’s top-flight squad even though all the background he had was only coaching Barça B in the third Division. Pep and Begiristain speak the same football language, they prefer the same kind of players and the same playing style. Players who come from the Bundesliga, like De Bruyne, Gündogan or Sané, couldn’t be signed (or were snubbed) by Bayern Munich for one reason or the other, and now they are with Pep because City made a handsome bet for them. The club’s structure and the prevalent sporting philosophy at Manchester City are great for Guardiola.
Let’s look what’s ahead of him. Guardiola faces opponents of the highest standards in the Premier League, big clubs with a lot of money and great managers too. For example, his arch rival José Mourinho signed for Manchester United. It was him who played a big part in why Guardiola was worn out at the end of his spell at Barcelona and the off-pitch controversies left a mark on him. How do you think Pep sees meeting Mourinho again?
Honestly, I think Guardiola has never poisoned his relationship with Mourinho, nor with any other coach. I don't know Mourinho that much, so I don't know what he is really up to with the media in this new spell, but I think Pep will only be willing to reply with football, football, and more football.
Which he did, by winning the Manchester derby in quite an impressive manner. But do you think the mind games and off-pitch antics between Mourinho and Pep will continue in Manchester too?
That rivalry will always be there. I think they both would rather leave behind the feud from the Barça-Madrid years. On weekdays, all English clubs work in a calm environment, well inside their facilities, isolated from all the media turmoil. When you're a football manager, that's something to be grateful for, no matter who you are. Pep’s matches in England against Mourinho are going to be fascinating for him, just as much as those against Conte, Klopp or Pochettino, just to mention a few of them. And I think it’s gonna be like that also for Mourinho.
There’s not only a “reunion” with Mourinho, but with Barça too, since Manchester City and Barcelona meet in the group stage of the Champions League. Do you know what Guardiola is thinking about his second homecoming to the club of his heart? How did he take the UCL draw?
I don't think it’s any surprise for Pep to face Barça or Bayern because the possibility of a draw existed. When you are a coach in a club like City, you know this is a probable outcome in the Champions League draw. It better happens in the group stage than in the knock-out rounds. It’s clear that Barça’s team is more completed, so Pep understands that for City these two games will be a good test to assess the real level of his team. Pep’s return to Barcelona should be taken as something normal, or even as a celebration both for Barça and for City.
How do you see the game from a sporting point of view? Who’s the favorite, can City beat Barça and maybe even finish the group in front of them, or is the duel coming too early for them since the team still needs time to understand and implement Pep’s ideas?
If Pep says Barça is the best team at the moment, we are not to dispute that. But City is already showing a good playing level and the competition spirit Pep usually demands. I think Luis Enrique knows well that City is able to top the group table, and about Barça’s duty to have flawless performances in order to win not only against City, but also against Borussia Mönchengladbach and Celtic.
Do you think it will take much time for Manchester City to play like a true Guardiola team – and are they then going to dominate the Premier League in a way Pep’s Bayern and his Barça did?
Predictions are not really my thing, especially when there are still so many games to play. But Guardiola’s squads have always been competitive and that distinctive trait will be maintained. I have a feeling that his players have grasped Pep’s ideas really fast. With midfielders like De Bruyne, Silva or Gündogan, this evolution of the game should come easy. Guardiola getting to break as many records in England as he did with Bayern Munich in Germany seems like something unthinkable though. At Barça he arguably created the best team in history of football. But this is not about comparisons, as this is the past, it's about getting to know how high can Pep’s Manchester City go. It will be fascinating to see the most radical Cruyffista unveiling his ideas and tactical views in the land considered the birthplace of football.
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WRITTEN BY: Alex Truica
Creator of The Pep Episodes. Has a Bachelor degree in journalism and works as a freelance sports journalist and editor, covering international football.