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“My children will be better than me. Future managers will be able to achieve more than I have. It’s natural”

Pep Guardiola gives a rare and somewhat reticent interview in which he talks Barcelona, Messi and the importance of listening to Roberto Baggio.

This interview appeared in So Foot #100 in October 2012. The interview was conducted by Thomas Goubin, during a conference in Mexico at whicih Guardiola was guest speaker.

What is the secret of your Barcelona?

There is only one; the players enjoy their football. When training begins at 11am, many turn up 15 minutes early, just to kick the ball around. Some of whom have won everything there is to win, but they know that, if ever they were to lose this passion, they would lose their place at the top. These are the high demands of football! But they are no different to the demands of life, where nothing is granted for free. In the end the important thing is that the players retain the idea of football being something to enjoy. Then, the rest is talent.

Your career has been a great success, but you’ve know moments of difficulty, such as a positive test for nandrolone. How do you bounce back?

Ha, well you get a good lawyer! We fought the decision for many years, we lost several appeals, then, after seven years, they recognised they’d made a mistake. At Brescia. I played with Baggio. An incredible experience; he always knew where his team mates were, he could find space like no other. He said to me, ‘You must fight’. In reality, it was only me who could ever know if I had doped or not, no machine could know. It’s all about living harmoniously with yourself. Even if there are always weird journalists to remind me of the story (laughs).

How do you go about creating a team that not only wins everything, but ends up seducing the whole world?

One of my coaching staff, Carles Rexach used to say he was ashamed to call his job work… Our greatest strength is the ball. I arrived at a club where, for 20 years, a certain style of play had been encouraged. To go after the ball, to retain possession of it and to use it intelligently. As a player I used to get nervous in possession but as a manager I try to instil this belief in the players; that we must have possession, to go after it. I didn’t introduce the idea, I continued it.

Have you perfected it?

I don’t know. But it goes beyond football; personally, I’m better than my parents in many respects, because of the opportunities I’ve had. To travel for example. And my children will be better than me. It’s natural. By the same token, future managers will be able to achieve more than I have. And it’s better that it’s this way.

Why stop?

In the beginning, I was incredibly sad when we lost, and especially happy when we won. But time has exhausted me. I’m happy with what I’ve achieved, I’ve got many happy memories. At the end of the day we won everything there is to win and it was probably right that I should come to places like this and give talks (laughs).

You live in New York now, away from the world of football. How do you experience daily life now, after the adrenaline rush of being Barcelona manager?

Being manager of Barcelona isn’t normal life. Normal life is getting up and taking your children to school. Right now, I’m improving my English, I spend time round New York, I watch matches from leagues I wasn’t able to before… I don’t know if I’ll come back. We’ll see in a year’s time.

Is Messi the best player you’ve ever seen?

That I’ve seen yes, no doubt. Other, older people will tell you otherwise; that it was a different Argentine, or a Dutchman, a German or Brazilian. The remarkable thing about Messi, not to say anything of his talent, his competitive edge, is his consistency, his ability to produce moments of brilliant quality on a daily basis. With Messi, words will always come second to the images.

How do you go about managing all these egos, all this talent?

You simply have to understand the individuality of each player and to convince a group that they have something in common. You have to make a player understand that if I ask him to run, he’s not running just to help his team mate, but that this effort serves them as an individual too.

Could you one day become manager of Spain?

You never know. But I’m happy in New York.

But do you feel more Catalan or Spanish?

It’s an important topic for debate. For me, the idea of borders is totally obsolete. I feel happy in Madrid, I’d love to learn French in France but the language of my parents was Catalan. That’s what I spoke growing up.

Which do you prefer, being a manager or footballer?

I preferred to play, it’s a lot more fun. By way of proof you only have to think, who would buy a ticket to see a manager?

It’s difficult to talk with Guardiola isn’t it?

I don’t know. It’s true that at Barcelona I never gave a one on one interview. But for years I spoke in front of press conferences, every three days. I began to get tired of myself, I didn’t have anything more to say. In the end the most important thing isn’t the talking, but the football.

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