This morning as the Staten Island ferry docked at its slip in Manhattan, it left behind it a wake of open water through the ice floe that has been building up in the harbor. It is an apt metaphor for looking at Guillem Balague’s book Pep Guardiola: Another Way of Winning. What could have come across as slick and cold, a recounting of victories and statistics, it’s instead openly infused with warmth and life. Balague, a writer for various magazines and newspapers and a television commentator for Sky Sports, offers us a look of what is below the surface of the man and his team.
The book begins with the 2009 UEFA Champions League Final and continues through to the 2011 Champions League Final. After reading it, I wanted to see it from the time the lines of players walked past the four scarlet coated soldiers guarding the trophy through to its presentation. Watching the game reinforced and complemented the book, deepening its impact rather than undermining it. Balague’s descriptions of the game are broken down under six headings :
1. the preparations
2. the tactical talk
3. first half
5. second half
6. the final word: the lifting of the cup, the managers.
“Their attack,” he writes of the Final’s second half, “involved constant positional permutations between the front five, with the full backs often involved as well. A never-ending display of ball and player circulation.” It is a detailed look at a match that shows Guardiola at his best. The tactical talk, pieced together from the memories of the players who were there in the locker room, is just one example of the attention to detail that Guardiola brought to his preparations for the game, and provides just one example of the details that Balague brings to his book.
What Guardiola managed to achieve in his handful of years with the club is looked at in terms of a question that the author asks toward the end of the book: was it an evolution or a revolution?
“Changing an answer is evolution; replacing the question is revolution,” Balague writes. The book lets the reader decide.
The legacy of Barcelona under Guardiola’s care rises above debate. What the author does so well is to bring the achievements to life, filling out the statistics through the words of the players and manager, giving flesh to what exists in the mind as one of perhaps the greatest and most accomplished teams in recent memory. The paperback, released in late 2013, is fully updated through Guardiola’s decision to take the position at Bayern Munich, a team that as of today has gone 42 games without a loss. What is it about Pep Guardiola that enables him to take a position and make it work so well from the start? What is there below the surface? Many of the answers are here in this book.
Balague was given privileged access to Guardiola and the players at Barcelona, and has written a book that offers an insight into the club and its most successful manager to date. It is a compelling read.