Last Friday our Editor sat down and had a lengthy conversation on the phone with one of the best pundits in football, Sky Sports Guillem Balagué took time out of his busy schedule to tell us about his book: 'Pep Guardiola: Another Way of Winning' and his tour of the country.
Q. What was it that first inspired you to write this book and why not Barcelona as a whole?
A. I did a Liverpool book about Istanbul, the Champions League Final called "A Season on the Brink." It was done with Orion the publishers, for a while we were talking about doing something together and we couldn't find common ground. At the beginning of the last season of Pep Guardiola (at Barcelona), they said: "How about Pep Guardiola?" I thought yeah, he was making history, a lot of what he was doing was fantastic, but also a really big thing why I finally went for it was because there was this perception of him as the 'perfect man' and nobody's perfect. So I thought, let's find out if he is as perfect as people are describing him to be. Mixed with that of course was the fact it was a bit of a challenge, he didn't give any interviews, the players weren't giving interviews and it was way of showing what they were doing. I said to the publishers: "I will only agree if Pep talks to me, but prepared he doesn't do anything with the media," to my surprise when I approached him, I said I wanted to do that and he said: "yes". Then, I said: "I don't just want to talk to you, but everybody" and he said: "yes, no problem." So I thought, let's go for it, after that it just so happened to be his last year in charge and that gave it an extra motivation to concentrate on that season and explain what he had done at Barcelona. Obviously he then went into a (media) free zone - not speaking to anybody - which benefited the book of course, that's when people wanted to read his words, methods and way of working.
Q. Do you feel that Pep and the Players were quite open with you?
A. It was always going to be a football book, it wasn't going to be a controversy book or looking for fights. So, I know everybody that I wanted to talk to, Xavi, Iniesta, Villa, Cesc, Piqué, all these people I have known for years. Most of them know I'm an Espanyol fan, Pep knows I'm an Espanyol fan, I kind of played with the fact that his grandfather was an Espanyol fan. He is not an anti-Espanyol guy, he is very respectful of the professionals of what Espanyol has done for Catalan and Spanish football. The professionals are very respectful of who you support. They were open, I never had one that said: "I don't want to talk about this" kind of answers. It was only perhaps talking about Mourinho that Pep became very guarded. But then you can just address things in a different way. Literally, all the interviews took place in front of the changing rooms.
Q. Why do you think players and managers trust you so much, is it because you have developed those relationships over many years?
A. This book is not a consequence of six months of interviews and three months of writing. It's a consequence of 20 years of professional life, that's why I've never fared for the trap of the here and now, trying to make am impact. You have to be respectful of the developing relationships, you have to be careful with them, like a plant - water them and you have to look after them. At the end if you come out of that road of instant success, you pay a price. When you want to do this kind of thing, they will say: "no sorry, you're not the kind of person we want to do this kind of thing." I have just had a letter yesterday from the president of Barcelona, I had sent him my copy of the book. I was talking to him more when he wasn't the president, now he hardly does interviews. It was an emotional letter, just saying 'thank you for sharing this with us.' He has read the book and I don't say: "Sandro Rosell is the perfect president and he had a wonderful relationship with Pep Guardiola." In fact, I say: "Their relationship could be much better" - the truth. Those 20 years in the profession allow you to tell the truth without being punished for it.
Q. Pep gives off the image of being cool, relaxed and confident, is that how he is really or are their insecurities hiding?
A. He does look very strong, but he has got weaknesses. He is very passionate, but calm at the same time. He is very intelligent, intuitive as well, but at the same time he sometimes takes emotional decisions. As I expected, he is not the perfect man, nobody is. I hope I reflected that in the book, especially when I talk about why he left. He told the world that it was because he was tired and then we scratch the surface and realise it was more than that. He himself wasn't taking the right decisions, and that was affecting the side and his relationship with the players, it wasn't that simple. He is a complex character; as we all are.
Q. In your opinion how much of the success was down to the Barcelona philosophy and how much was down to Pep Guardiola's individual team?
A. How can you separate that? I really don't know. You can analyse from scratch and you will get an answer or from watching games. But it's completely together. Would Barcelona be as good without Messi? Obviously not, but Messi was signed by people who were in charge of the academy, and why? Because of his talent and because he figures well in what they were developing. He was a club signing, a philosophy signing and a coach signing. A coach that was taking decisions to take the club that way and not another way.
Remember when they were thinking of a replacement to Rijkaard, they talked to Mourinho, they were thinking of (Ernesto) Valverde as well, now at Valencia and they talked to Pep. So it could have gone either of three ways. Instead, they choose Pep, it was a club decision based on an idea and not what everyone thinks. That pushes the team into a new dimension, I think it goes completely together and I know fans and media don't have much of a memory. To suggest now that anyone can coach this team that Pep wasn't needed or look Tito (Vilanova) is doing well, is just forgetting what happened. In a way the book is a reminder of what happened, there were a lot of decisions taken.
Q. Do you think some of Guardiola's tactical tweaking was so subtle that he sometimes didn't get the full recognition?
A. No, I don't think there was that much tweaking, but there was key tweaking. 75% of the time he was very successful, again if your talking about the last season, yes there were decisions that were wrong. Three at the back made the team weaker, but he wanted Cesc Fàbregas in the team. To put Isaac Cuenca against Real Madrid and Chelsea were a mistake. But you have to go again to the whole period, in every Champions League Final he made a decision after 10 minutes of each game that changed the games completely and that's a manager's decision. Players wouldn't have done that, Messi wouldn't have done that by himself. He was just a coach taking a decision, tweaking if you like. It's funny, how if it goes right we call it a decision and if it goes bad we call it tweaking. The same happened with Claudio Ranieri and Rafa Benitez, they are tinker-men and Sir Alex Ferguson is a genius, which he just so happens to manage Manchester United the team that changes formation more often than anyone else. We have to be careful with words I think.
Q. Have you got plans for a sequel, are you going to spend time in Germany?
A. I'm going to go in the summer, I've got to write another chapter for the paperback, but that will be done by April. It will be telling the story of how the German move happened and after that, I will leave the book altogether, but I will obviously follow Pep closely. There's another project in my hands, which you will see if I take or not, which will be as big if not bigger.
Q. Do you see Guardiola trying to sign some of the players from Barcelona for Bayern Munich?
A. No, I don't think so. He's not going back to Barcelona (to sign players). There are hundreds of players in the world, well thousands that could be useful to Bayern. My only doubt, which is based on pure guess is that will he take a player that has said he is leaving Barcelona. Say for instance Victor Valdés, because his football style prefers the build-up from the goalkeeper. (Manuel) Neuer is a good goalkeeper as well that can play with his feet. I wouldn't say he is going to try to get players from Barcelona.
Q. You have done a lot of dates on the tour, how have you found the experience?
A. Amazing! Absolutely brilliant! The feedback from people, interested and fascinated about Spanish football. I surprised myself, filling two hours in some cases of stories and depending how you tell them, you almost become a stand-up comedian. To attract attention of people, you have to make them laugh, you have to keep them interested, it sharpens you up. For so many different reasons it's been such an amazing experience that I think I'm going to do it all year round.
Q. Have you ever done anything like the tour before?
A. No, I have done 17 years of Sky with Revista. One of the things how my mind works, is I'm not talking to anybody, I'm talking to the guy behind the camera. Nobody's watching, nobody's listening, that's a defensive mechanism that works for me. It was a test on so many levels and I really enjoyed it, once I have done the last three Stoke, Birmingham and London, the 6th, 7th and 8th of March. Then, a charity one on the 11th of April with Rob Palmer and Gerry Armstrong. After that, I don't know in what format, I'm going to plan for next season, 10, 15 or 20 I don't know how many. You get to know people, coaches, get to know what they think and what interests them. You can do networking at the same time, it works on so many levels.
LaLigaUK would like to thank Guillem for giving us this exclusive interview, there are still tickets available for his events in Stoke, Birmingham and London whixch you can find out more details here.