Sunday 21 January 2018

Pep talk of 'doom' keeps Barca on toes

Pep Guardiola takes a quiet moment to kiss the Champions League trophy after
being thrown in the air by his delighted players at Wembley
Pep Guardiola takes a quiet moment to kiss the Champions League trophy after being thrown in the air by his delighted players at Wembley

Pete Jenson

TEN trophies in his first three years as a coach, already the same number of European Cup triumphs as the 69-year-old manager he beat on Saturday night and with a team good enough and young enough to rule the world for the next five years.

It is difficult to understand why the 40-year-old Pep Guardiola persists with the "one more year and then we'll see" philosophy towards his future.

The answer lies in what he sees as the only thing that can stop this Barcelona team becoming the most successful in history: complacency.

Guardiola was part of the team built by Johan Cruyff that came apart after its fourth title. He could secure his fourth straight La Liga success next season and he knows signing long-term deals and making concrete long-term aims is the sure-fire way for things to fall apart.

"I would gladly sign for six months at a time," he said midway through this season when he begrudgingly renewed his contract until June 2012.

This is the coach who, after he won his first six trophies, told Barcelona fans: "The future is grim; what we have achieved is unrepeatable".

This is the manager who told his players ahead of Saturday's final: "If you play as you did two years earlier in Rome then you will lose."

Ever since he started winning he has warned against an impending doomsday -- he sees it as the greatest insurance against failure. As long as he believes he can avert the Armageddon that awaits all lazy champions by talking up the end being nigh, he will do so.

The pressure is intense and the search to find new challenges is testing, but neither reason weighs heavier than the possibilities this squad of players provide him with. Guardiola has found the job draining this year.

"He has aged with the stress," his mother, Dolors, said in a Spanish television documentary made after his first season. "He is sick with his commitment to football," said his father Valenti.

And the pressures his parents spoke of two years ago have only increased with Jose Mourinho now in the opposite corner at Real Madrid.

But when he breezed past waiting journalists on his way out of Wembley on Saturday night he looked like a man at ease with himself and the part he is playing in the most historic chapter in Barcelona's history.

First out of the dressing room came the players wearing their specially made celebration T-shirts carrying the slogan "everything you give to football, it will give you back."

Then came the coach still in the black suit and tie, stopping to embrace the Catalan journalists, some of whom were waiting to interview him 19 years earlier when, aged 21, he had just won the club's first European Cup as a player.

The stress will not drive him out. And neither will a lack of objectives. Mourinho gave everyone at Barcelona an extra motivation and he will still be there next season.

The aim will be to match those four straight league triumphs won by Cruyff and then will come the challenge of going one better.

Guardiola has aims in Europe, too. "Now we are level with Bayern and Ajax having won the European Cup four times," he beamed as he reflected on the demolition of Manchester United. Now, there is the target of closing the gap on Real Madrid's nine European wins. Barcelona did not start winning the tournament until the last decade of the 20th century. The challenges are not about to dry up any time soon.

Only if he had a sense that against all his best efforts complacency had set in, would he walk. Only when his relationship with the club's most important players changes will it be time to rethink.

"He is the greatest player that I have ever seen or am likely to see," said Guardiola of Leo Messi after the Wembley final.


"Without him we would not have that little bit extra. We have to hope that he does not get bored and that he continues to feel comfortable at the club," he added.

Guardiola touched on his relationship with his players in his only exclusive interview this season which he gave to his former club, Brescia, to mark their centenary.

Asked about staying beyond the end of next season, he said: "A club like this would have to have a lot of courage to keep a manager for so much time because the players end up getting tired of the coach and vice versa."

If his relationship with Messi were to deteriorate, he would walk away rather than leave the club's most celebrated player wanting to leave.

It has been Guardiola moving Messi to the position of withdrawn centre-forward that has seen the little Argentinian outscoring all his rivals. Messi is lost when he leaves Barcelona to play for his country and would gain nothing from falling out with his coach.

"The difference between Guardiola in charge of the youth team and Guardiola now, is very small," said Sergio Busquets, who, like Pedro, was with him in his first season winning the third division with the 'B' team. Pedro and Busquets are very much Guardiola's players and that is another bond that will keep things as they are.

Some in the world of football are intrigued to see if Guardiola can make the same wonderful sounds with a different orchestra.

How would he cope without the best player in the world and without players indoctrinated in playing the Barca way since they were young teenagers?

Only were he to take on a different challenge would we see if he is a truly great manager and not just a great Barcelona one.

That test will come when the cracks appear and he walks but to delay that moment he will keep talking up the uncertainty.

Making sure no one at the club takes anything for granted, not even that their manager will be staying around to make more history with them beyond the end of next season.

Irish Independent

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