Barcelona’s hero on the pitch is undoubtedly Lionel Messi but former coach Josep Guardiola leaves behind a winning legacy punctuated by 14 titles in just four seasons. Guardiola’s stint at the helm has witnessed a number of remarkable achievements, particularly winning the Champions League on two occasions.
Prior to Guardiola’s reign, Barca had won Europe’s top competition just twice but in just four years the former coach was able to double the Catalan club’s haul in Europe’s elite club competition. Guardiola’s role must not be underestimated because having great talent does not necessarily guarantee success as witnessed over the decades by various star studded clubs.
In the past decade alone, Barca’s rivals Real Madrid served as a good example as the Los Galacticos era yielded more in terms of scrutiny and marketing stunts than trophies. No team has retained the European Cup since the great Milan side in 1989 and 1990. This is proof of the degree of difficulty of winning in Europe yet Guardiola’s players were able to win the trophy twice in 2009 and 2011.
Below is a list of some of the key factors behind Guardiola’s stunning success with Barca during his four seasons at the Camp Nou:
a) Familiarity: Before becoming the coach of Barca, Guardiola was a player both in the B team and then in the first team. Pep played for Barca for 11 years making him familiar with what it means to wear the club’s jersey. Add to that the fact he was part of the club’s famous La Masia academy and one gets the idea of how well-versed the former Barca coach is in terms of the club’s philosophy and approach. Simply put, Guardiola was a perfect fit at the Camp Nou because of his past at La Masia as well as his experiences as a player and captain at the club.
b) Winning Mentality: Guardiola might have won 14 trophies as the coach of Barca but he surpassed that achievement as a player. Pep won 16 trophies during his 11 years with the club as a player. His most important trophy as a player was the European Cup in 1992. Combining Barca’s prestige and history with his successful playing career made his transition to a winning coach much easier both from a psychological and philosophical standpoint. Pep had a winning mentality ingrained in his system.
c) Connection with Players: Current club heroes Andres Iniesta and Xavi are both graduates from the same La Masia academy which Pep attended. This not only created a bond between Guardiola and many of his players, including the likes of Messi, Cesc Fabregas, Carlos Puyol and a number of other first-team players who were part of La Masia, but also allowed Guardiola to better understand his players and vice versa. Fabregas, Iniesta and Xavi all mentioned on more than one occasion that they looked up to Guardiola as a player and learned from his game since Pep was a midfielder during his playing career.
d) Messi: Words cannot describe how influential Lionel has been in terms of helping Barca win trophies. Messi continues to break one record after another for the Catalan side and his latest achievement was to finish the current season with an unbelievable tally of 73 goals in all competitions. The long embrace between Pep and Lionel following the Copa del Rey triumph on Friday perhaps gave an indication of the mutual respect and appreciation those two individuals have for each other.
e) Mastering El Clasico: With the exception of this season’s 1-2 home defeat to bitter rivals Real Madrid, Pep was able to achieve great results against Los Blancos including 5 straight wins in El Classico, highlighted by a 5-0 trouncing of Real back in November 2010. Guardiola also led Barca to a triumphant campaign in 2011 which included eliminating Los Blancos in the semi-final of the Champions League.
Guardiola’s only other disappointment against Real came during the 1-0 defeat in extra-time in the Copa del Rey final in 2011. Guardiola did get his revenge by leading Barca over Real in this season’s Spanish Cup before the Catalans carried on all the way to lift their last trophy under Pep’s charge.
f) Playing Philosophy: Barca focused on the passing game and maintaining ball possession during Pep’s reign. It was a successful recipe and often left Barca’s opponents frustrated and limited to scrapping and fighting to regain possession. Barca’s playing philosophy resulted in 14 trophies yet teams gradually figured out how to frustrated Barca beginning with Jose Mourinho’s Inter and ending with Roberto Di Matteo’s Chelsea.
The focus on the possession game did backfire this season as the club fell short in terms of effectiveness in front of goal due to the lack of a pure finisher who can complement Messi’s set of skills. The scoring burden fell upon Messi’s shoulders and when the Argentina wizard did not score, the Catalans struggled to win games.
There are other factors behind Guardiola’s successful spell but the above list summarizes the important ones. In addition, Barca’s success was translated to the Spanish national team which won the World Cup for the first time ever in South Africa. Spain’s squad relied heavily on Barca’s stars such as Xavi and Iniesta to carry the torch and achieve glory.
It would not be far fetched to credit Guardiola with some of the success achieved by Spain because his leadership at the club level guided Barca to success and, consequently, allowed key players to help the national team to triumph.