Wednesday, April 07, 2010

pep guardiola and the importance of winning

All the compliments lavished upon this current Barca side for their playing style are entertaining to read, but at a certain point this particular Cule becomes somewhat uncomfortable.

Take Paul Hayward's recent piece in the Guardian: Barcelona must attempt to create a dynasty not just a passing delight [read the Run of Play's excellent dissection of the broader ideas if you haven't already].

Leaving aside the shocking news that Guardiola's Barca apparently isn't already part of a dynasty that can be traced back to the Cruyff Dream Team, as I'd always assumed, let's talk about beauty versus efficiency in the Barcelona context. More specifically, in the context of Guardiola's vision.

Sure, Pep Guardiola believes in a certain way of playing, and he believes in the work of La Masia. That's why his team is constructed like it is.

Above all, though, he believes that his way is the most effective. Guardiola has long been an opponent of the Barca that 'cries and wins nothing', the lingering inferiority and persecution complex that did pre-Cruyff Barca such harm in the past. His focus is very much on success at every level, whether it be social or sporting.

It's an easy mistake to make, falling for the cliche that says a commitment to entertainment means neglecting everything else, but as Sid Lowe pointed out in one of the best Guardiola profiles I've read:

The mistake many made was concluding that a commitment to creative possession football inherently means turning your back on hard work and discipline, on pragmatism and competitiveness; that the aesthetic is by definition incompatible with the effective. Guardiola is every bit as meticulous as, say, Rafa Benítez; every bit as much of a control freak; every bit as pragmatic. And he is every bit as determined to win. As the eulogies poured forth for the way Barcelona were now playing, he kept repeating the same message: "It will be meaningless if we win nothing." He meant it.

Sure, he believes that Barca have an obligation to play football that's worth watching, because of the people who pay their hard-earned money to see it. But that's only partly why Barca are set up to play quick-passing, possession football. The other reason is that it works. Under Cruyff, Van Gaal, Rijkaard and now Guardiola, it has bought Barca the kind of success that is unprecedented in its history over the past twenty years. With the youth system set up to produce the players who thrive playing in this way (defenders like Gerard Pique, midfielders like Guardiola, forwards like Pedro Rodriguez) it all just makes sense.

What Guardiola has bought that his predecessors perhaps didn't is the kind of mentality a Jose Mourinho or Alex Ferguson would install into their teams, helped by his own intensity and drive. They were mostly lost in the shuffle of the pre-match press about Walcott, but I thought Guardiola's comments before the second leg of the quarterfinal were instructive:

"We have to be proud of what we did in the first leg but it's not enough. Now we have to win."

"All that matters is that we have to get to the semi-finals. If not, people in London will say 'Barcelona came here and played well, but we beat them and went through to the semi-finals and they went home'."

The mistake some make is to assume that this kind of mentality would be incompatible with a free-flowing, expressive playing style. It isn't.

(I could talk about Leo Messi, but what else is there to say? Even those of us who were privileged enough to watch him play Capello's Juventus off the park at the age of 18 can only marvel.)


roswitha said...

Brava! What a great reflection on a great deal of drama. And, of course, congratulations. Barcelona, who knew all that passing could be good for something, eh?

Linda said...

Thank you! What would Big Cup be without the endless, relentless drama?

...which we now have more of in the form of a rerun of all those Inter-Barca storylines. Ah well.

roswitha said...

Not something the English press will be quite so interested in, but then, who does drama quite like El Pais and La Gazzetta?


Linda said...

The main one I've seen the English press trying to construct so far: 'Special One v Special One' (Mourinho v Messi). I'm far more interested in how Guardiola counters whatever Mourinho throws at him.

[I think Marca is currently wishing the CL didn't exist.]

Behan01 said...

"Above all, though, he believes that his way is the most effective."

Great point (and post). After reading Run of Play's reflections on Haryward's article, this seemed to me the fact that is lost in such discussion. FC Barcelona and Guardiola don't take satisfaction from losing while playing well. The play is a means, not an end. That is what makes FC Barcelona all the more beautiful.

I think the reason this is lost is the lack of tactical knowledge from many print journalists. All they see is 4-3-3, not the endless variations Guardiola employs to match a given opponent and create space for his players. Guardiola's mentality and tactical acumen are the response to criticism that FCB are tactically or stylistically naive.

Linda said...

Behan01: Thank you! And I absolutely agree on the tactics point - Guardiola has proven fairly astute, both in how he sets out his teams and in his substitutions. That's why seeing him up against Mourinho intrigues me.