specials | 2016-01-04
Grup 14 talks with Isaac Lluch: 'Guardiola is a very restless person'
The Munich based journalist explains Pep Guardiola as a person, his misunderstandings with the German media and more.
In an exclusive interview for Grup 14, Alex Truica talks to Isaac Lluch, Munich-based journalist for the Catalan newspaper ARA, who has covered Pep Guardiola’s stint in Germany. Lluch explains the person Guardiola, his misunderstandings with the German media, why he's leaving Bayern Munich and going to England and the possibilty of returning to Barcelona one day.
Grup 14: Mr. Lluch, now we all know that Pep Guardiola will leave Bayern Munich in the summer. Still, he hasn’t explained his decision publicly yet. You’ve been working in Munich close to him for quite some time now, do you know Guardiola’s reasons to leave Bayern?
Isaac Lluch: There are several reasons why Pep Guardiola has decided not to renew his contract with Bayern. Among the main reasons is the very personal reason of leaving his comfort zone. Surely we can all agree that very few managers in Pep’s situation – to not say none – would have decided the same thing that he did. In some ways, at Bayern he had it all – or close to it – but he also had it all at Barça and even then, like now, he prefered to leave a place of security that most coaches seek. It is not a decision against Bayern but rather one in favor of accepting a new challenge. If there’s no such thing as the perfect club, there's isn’t such a thing as the perfect coach. If some differences in opinion existed on the signing of certain players or the difficulty in recovering injured players, it has been nothing that has excessively bothered Pep in the two-and-a-half years he’s been at Bayern. It is time to accept that Pep works primarily in short cycles, that he feels he has completed his work at Bayern and is now looking for a new challenge, which is the Premier League. Pep is a very restless person. Pep opens books and then finishes them, just as he begins with teams and leaves them once they reach their end.
It’s said that Pep’s job is somehow finished or done at Bayern. Do you agree with that? Because many Bayern supporters disagree, saying now Bayern finally play the way he wants (he even said that himself after the game against Arsenal), hence he should have reaped what he sowed and stayed at least one or maybe two years longer.
If Pep Guardiola weren’t so Pep Guardiola, he would have renewed his contract for two more years with Bayern, would have had the chance to win five consecutive Bundesliga titles, break a lot more records… and if Pep Guardiola had not been Pep Guardiola he never would have left Barça, which in that moment was considered one of the best teams in history, with the best player in the world, Lionel Messi. I understand what a lot of Bayern fans ask for, but I would tell them to think that if he left Barça, his home, why wouldn’t he leave Bayern when he feels that he has accomplished [what he wanted to accomplish] in the three years of his contract? Again, Guardiola is a manager of short cycles and, most likely, we will not see him have a long career. Barça, Bayern, a team in the Premier League, and a national team. A lot of things can happen in the future but of all of these challenges, these are the ones at the very least that he has mentioned that he desires and wants to experience.
When he makes up his mind about his future it's late down the season – at Barça he did it once in April, once only after the season ended. And still, in Barcelona there wasn’t the impatience and fuss about his contract situation as was the case in Germany. Can you compare and contrast the way sports media operate in Germany and Catalonia? Why was the media reaction so different?
It might be cultural. It very well could be that German clubs place more priority on foresight and security when planning than clubs in La Liga do, and that the surrounding media attention is therefore more used to it. In this concrete example, I think the German press had, until last week, many doubts about what was going to happen with Pep precisely because of the little direct contact that they have had with him and because of the lack of excitement he had in talking to the club about it before the contract with his successor, Carlo Ancelotti, had been finalized. That confusion, that uncertainty generates expectation, impatience, nerves. In Barcelona, it was all assumed and taken on more naturally. In that moment in time, practically the entire world was sure that the best possible manager for that Barça was Pep Guardiola. I’m certain that the German press doesn’t unanimously agree that the best coach for Bayern is Pep.
His relationship with the press was pretty much non existent. German journalists were criticizing his professionalism regarding his dealings with them; for example he didn’t give a single interview to a media outlet and often said the same thing at his press conferences, like recurring exaggerated praises of his players. He didn’t make it easy to get along with him. German journalists have been dissatisfied, then they pestered him with constant questions about his future for months. How did Pep feel about the German media? Why was the relationship so distant?
I don’t believe the relationship between Guardiola and the German press was a bad one, much less one that conditioned Pep in making his decision. In Germany, Pep hardly had any media pressure compared to Barcelona. We should put into context that in Barcelona you can buy up to five sports daily newspapers (Sport, Mundo Deportivo, As, Marca, El 9 Esportiu), you can listen to many radio shows and television talk shows and roundtables every day. Additionally, in Barcelona the Madrid-based media have a particular set of interests and narratives that can end up being quite unsettling… Pep hasn’t had to deal with all of this in Germany. It’s true that when Bayern was eliminated in the Champions League semifinal there was a lot of noise, but that was concentrated in only a few days, not constant over time.
That aside, I am unsure up to what point my German colleagues are disappointed with the fact that Guardiola doesn’t give interviews. It’s worth remembering that this already happened in Barcelona and I think it is pretty easy to understand why there haven’t been any exceptions. As a former Barça reporter, what has surprised me, in turn, is that this season Guardiola accepted getting closer to the German press with the “Pressegesprächrunde” style roundtables with journalists that Bayern suggested, something entirely unheard of in Barcelona. There you could ask him a lot of things. As a journalist, we must be self-critical and wonder whether we have taken advantage of the opportunity sufficiently. Guardiola would have liked to have gotten more football-related questions, especially ones on tactics.
I always had the feeling that Germans still don’t understand Guardiola, the person. They asked the same odd questions – he was reluctant and reserved, didn’t open up, which didn’t help him much. Should he have behaved differently, since it’s a different culture here in Germany?
I hold the belief and opinion that in Germany, Guardiola as a person remains largely unknown. This coincides with the fact that there wasn’t much interest in that aspect from the start. From the beginning, a lot of people considered him a successful coach, not the specific type of manager that could leave his mark and maintain and improve the level of the team’s play. For a lot of people, what’s important is what he wins or what he fails to win, not what he proposes his teams do on the pitch or what his players think of him. Honestly, it sounds weird to me that a journalist could get angry that Pep doesn’t grant anyone any interviews. If he had given interviews for some journalists and not others, then I can understand why some would get upset. But there haven’t been any exceptions and my bet is that in England, there won’t be any either. When all is said and done, I do think that Guardiola made attempts towards adapting to Germany. German is a truly difficult language to learn (we’ll see this again with Carlo Ancelotti). But there are things that during his career Guardiola will never do, even if that’s what’s traditionally done in a certain country. For example, in Germany, the manager is usually interviewed right before the match begins, on the pitch itself, from television channels that have that game’s rights. They suggested that Pep should do it in his first season, but he excused himself by saying that in those minutes he solely concentrates on the game and possible outcomes.
He got criticized for it and overall for his seclusion. Even former Bayern coach Ottmar Hitzfeld said: “Guardiola focuses only on the tactics, he has had almost no meetings with his players and sealed himself off from the media.” So the picture the media drew about Pep was: Brilliant tactician and a mastermind in analyzing the opponent, but lacks social interaction. Was this maybe a mistake of him?
I respect Hitzfeld, Effenberg and Matthäus’s opinions, but honestly I don’t think they are that relevant when referring to Guardiola, because they never gave me the sense that they knew him well enough, nor did they watch the way he managed a training session. Pep, in general, has a lot of empathy and interacts very closely with his players. I’m not the one saying that. The footballers do. If they follow his ideas, if he convinces them of what he says, there must be some reason for it. Guardiola has, in Bayern, a team that he loves and I think that in these last five months of his time in Germany he will show that the coaching staff and the players will help each other and will support each other to the maximum in order to win as many trophies as possible.
So there may have been misunderstandings between Guardiola, the press and the pundits?
More than misunderstandings, I think it's a question of lack of interest. I think that Guardiola believes that the press rarely is interested in tactical decisions during the match. Trivial things like ripped shorts or a foldable chair have appeared in the headlines more than any tactical or technical themes. It is clear that Guardiola’s football in Germany is countercultural, like he himself has stated. But I think the manager will leave the country with the satisfaction of knowing that his players have learned what juego de posicion (positional play) means, that the ball goes where the player is and not the other way around. In Barcelona, communicating or explaining this type of football or the importance of maintaining possession was easier because the club has been following a similar pattern since Cruyff.
Assuming his next job will be at an English club, it will be interesting to see how the English media environment will handle him, since it’s even more yellow and sensationalistic press there. How do you think he’ll get along in England?
The English press is very powerful. There are media entities with a high reputation and then others that live off of sensationalism. But I refer back to the same thing I said earlier: Guardiola will not find a calmer relationship with the media than he had in Munich. Yet in the Premier League he will have to take on this aspect of a league change as well.
Many reports claim he’s going to Manchester City. What do you know about that rumor or let’s say poorly-kept secret?
Guardiola is excited to test his abilities in the Premier League. As a footballer he let his dream of playing there slip away, and now as a coach he is in an excellent moment to explore that experience. All of the major English clubs have contacted him. All of them. Even Real Madrid have sounded out his availability! That is truly the only option that can be ruled out. Seeing him at Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal or at Chelsea are attractive possibilities from different points of view.
Whatever job he’s taking next, many supporters of Barcelona wish he’ll return back “home” one day. Can you imagine Pep coaching Barça again?
I can hardly see that happening. But I do think that Guardiola knows now what he could have demanded from Barça in 2012 to continue to improve the squad. Back then, he thought he could no longer do any more with that squad. But with time, perspective and the experience he has acquired at Bayern he has learned what additional little nuances he could have applied in 2012 to that Barça.
During his four years at Barça there was often the talk that his team lacked a plan B, but at Bayern it seemed Pep had a plan A, B, C, D, E and even F. Did he become a different coach than he was at Barça, is he a more versatile and hence better coach now than he was back then?
Yes, Guardiola is a better coach now than when he left Barcelona. That applies to most of us, to any one of us in various fields of profession, who gets better at his craft when he has acquired more years of experience. Pep says that the season when he finds the most merit in his entire career as a coach was last season. This was because of all that he had to squeeze out of his brain to remain competitive given the plague of injuries his side faced. I think that Pep still has the same foundations he had at Barça, but he has enriched them with more nuanced ideas. Bayern have different players than he had at Camp Nou and that in itself forces him to change. Tactically, the Bundesliga, which he himself called the league of the counterattack, has taught him to control opposing team’s counterattacks better, how to cover the opposing team’s player that is left open while Bayern attack and so on.
You mentioned cultural differences. You worked as a journalist in Spain and Germany – what’s the biggest difference between the two leagues, in terms of football style, approach and methodology?
Many conceptualize German football as more physical, with more comings and goings, competitive to the extreme. The Spanish league most likely has a higher technical and tactical level. Perhaps it has based its play on a more diverse range of coaches and player from several different countries. In terms of methodology, we’d have to really go in-depth. I’ll leave you with an example: Why is it that a lot of German teams don’t water the pitch if it doesn’t rain? In Spain, you water it a lot more often so it isn’t dry and so the ball circulates more quickly…
Indeed. Barcelona especially waters the pitch a lot, even during halftime. In contrast, it still looks like the preferred game plan and tactics in the Bundesliga are counterpressing and transition game. Positional play, having the ball and defending with it and controlling the midfield are not the main options of most of the German teams. So Pep didn’t seem to have that much of an influence at the Bundesliga (and hence other coaches, except let’s say Thomas Tuchel). Why do you think Guardiola didn’t serve as a role model in Germany?
It is still early to judge what mark Guardiola will leave on the Bundesliga on a tactical level. Truth be told, many teams play in a similar fashion. Changes are difficult to implement. I think Pep, from the start, had no intention of changing German football but rather adapting to it. In any case, he embarked on transmitting his concepts to his players. Attack and defend with the ball, view possession not as something boring but as a weapon to attack and defend, organize the team and disorganize the opponent, play out from the back to reach attacking part of the pitch more clearly. All of these that may seem obvious really aren’t…I myself have had a small personal experience with this as well. As a player at an amateur level with German teammates, I also noticed that we grew up with different types of football. Sometimes I get the feeling that for German tastes, passing the ball back is seen as a small defeat. Even though this, a lot of times, is precisely the best option of play to disorganize the opponent and draw them out of position.
Guardiola has set Bundesliga records, played some of the best football the Bundesliga may have ever seen, with Bayern thrashing opponents regularly. His team doesn't have an opponent in the German top flight. But at the crucial stage, the knockout rounds in the Champions League, Bayern struggled. Why do you think this was the case?
I think most people already know the context. The 0-4 against Real Madrid was the most painful defeat Guardiola has suffered as a coach. The book “Pep Confidential” by Marti Perarnau explains it very well. The manager let himself down, with a gameplan he didn’t end up believing entirely. With that in mind, during the first leg, Bayern were still better for long spells. And last season he coincided with a Barça at its peak, plethoric and filled with strength, a trident (Messi, Suárez, Neymar) more and more on the same page, against a very disadvantaged Bayern, not only with injuries but also because of the minutes a shortened squad had accumulated during the season until then. A lot of Barça supporters admit that until the 70th minute of the game at the Camp Nou, they weren’t certain how the tie was going to go.
That’s true, but the German mentality is different. At the end of the day, the outcome matters, nobody remembers the first 70 minutes of the first leg when you lose 0-3. And the outcome in both semifinals was 0-5 (against Madrid) and 3-5 (against Barcelona). Some colleagues and supporters I talked to say: At Barça he won everything, including two Champions League titles. But he had Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets. At Bayern he failed to win the most important trophy so far. Would he have failed at Bayern if he again doesn’t win the Champions League in May?
For me, no. I don’t think Bayern signed Guardiola primarily to win the Champions League but rather to maintain and elevate the level of football, and I think in that he has achieved that. It’s funny: the same people who consider that anything less than a Bayern treble is a failure also are the same ones that complain about the lack of competition in the Bundesliga. Many fans know that no manager in the world is a guarantee of winning the Champions League. There are too many factors and tremendous opponents to overcome. Do any of the people who say that not winning the Champions League is a failure know how to stop the MSN (Messi, Suárez, Neymar) + Iniesta, for example?
If Guardiola wants to win the Champions League with Bayern, he may have to find an answer to that in the future. But if we look just a couple of months back, the time they beat Arsenal, Wolfsburg, and Dortmund in autumn so impressively, the talk in Germany was about perfection. Do you think we saw the perfect Bayern of the Guardiola era?
Talking about perfection in football is always complicated. Perhaps the closest I have come to seeing perfection with Guardiola as a coach was Barça’s 5-0 over Real Madrid. It is true that this year’s version is the best Bayern we have seen since Pep started managing them. When he has had the majority of his players healthy, the type of play Pep wants could be seen and, I suppose, the style of play that a large part of Bayern fans want as well. If the team stays healthy, the best of Pep’s Bayern is ahead of us.
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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.