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'We thought Pep was like a machine, completely cold-hearted. Who knew he was so emotional?'

Martí Perarnau gives a stark insight into the world of the Manchester City manager in his latest book.
Jan 2nd 2017, 9:00 PM 8,478 0

The following is an extract from Pep Guardiola: The Evolution by Martí Perarnau, a recently released book that takes a detailed look at one of football’s most high-profile figures.

A MAN’S CHARACTER is his destiny. Heráclito What appears to be a virtue can also become a defect, depending on what you do with it.

Guardiola is an empathetic person. He’s interested in people, willing to compromise and adapt where necessary and always happy to help someone out if he can. His natural empathy means that he’s quick to identify with others’ feelings.

This determination to connect with people was evident from the start at Bayern: he chose to speak in German at his presentation ceremony, was happy to attend his first Oktoberfest (Munich’s famous beer festival) clad in the traditional Bavarian lederhosen, agreed to the club’s ‘open door’ policy at training sessions, tolerated the existing policy regarding medical care and understood that at Bayern the coach of the first team has no responsibility for the club’s youth categories.

He went along with it all because he felt it was in the best interests of the club to do so.

And Guardiola always puts the interests of the club before his own. His determination to accede to the many idiosyncratic aspects of life at Bayern – a club, don’t forget, with its own very particular identity; ‘Mia San Mia’, the club slogan, effectively means ‘We are who we are’ – didn’t always work in his favour.

For Pep it was essential that, as coach of the German champions, he should make an effort to speak their language and therefore always addressed the press in German. Although an able linguist, he was less proficient in German than other foreign languages and made frequent grammar and pronunciation mistakes.

From time to time communications director, Markus Hörwick, would pass on a request from a journalist that he switch to English (eventually Sky Deutschland insisted on doing post-match interviews in Spanish). Guardiola was determined to stick to his guns however, believing that switching to another language would reflect badly on the club.

The coach of Bayern should always speak German, he believed, or at the very least, make a serious effort to do so. This policy backfired on him and his conferences were never as clear and as detailed as they would have been in English, not to mention Spanish or Catalan.

Almost all the German journalists I spoke to thought that he’d got this badly wrong. They didn’t care what language he spoke as long as they could understand what he said. It was really only Pep himself who was bothered about speaking the language of the club and country.

His natural empathy and willingness to prioritise the needs of the club got him into hot water in other ways and, ironically, had he been a little more selfish in his actions and decisions, life at Bayern might have been much, much easier. Take his policy regarding players for example. During his first year in charge Pep fought tooth and nail to keep Toni Kroos.

The player had been in constant dispute with club directors and was unhappy with his salary as well as their refusal to accept his status as a vital part of the squad. Pep was desperate to hold on to the player, whom he saw as one of the linchpins of his team, the man who imposed order on their game once Lahm had set things in motion.

Pep Guardiola Press Conference - City Football Academy Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola poses for a photograph in front of the Etihad Stadium at the City Football Academy. Source: Peter Byrne

The coach spent months trying to find a compromise between the two sides but in the end had to concede defeat as Kroos was transferred to Real Madrid. He could have given the club an ultimatum of course,

‘Either Kroos stays or you’re going to have problems with me too,’ but threats and blandishments are not Pep’s style and after two determined attempts to change the board’s mind, he threw in the towel.

The player was going to be a big loss to him but, for Pep, it was better to respect the club’s wishes.

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Was he right? I think not. This is professional football, a world of elite sportsmen and serious competition and nobody thanks you for making the wrong decisions, no matter the reason.

Sure enough when, a few months after Kroos’ departure Javi Martínez broke his knee, thereby leaving the team without a key midfielder, no-one was prepared to stand up and publicly accept that getting rid of Kroos now looked like a disastrous decision.

Instead, all eyes turned to Pep, eager to see how he was going to solve this latest problem. Guardiola is a man who tends to interiorise things. When presented with a problem, he often assumes sole responsibility and may be unwilling to discuss it openly.

At times he’ll allow things to fester until he can no longer cope with the pressure and explodes. It doesn’t have to be a particularly important issue but for a perfectionist like Pep, even the tiniest details can assume disproportionate significance.

It’s like watching a pressure cooker heating up, ready to burst. And there’s constant provocation in his daily working life: a cheeky question from the press; a slight from an opponent; a player with a poor attitude; a bad decision from the board of directors…

Pep deals with it all with calm dignity, swallowing his anger and saying nothing. But he’s stored it all away and the pressure’s building. Then one day he’ll overreact and fly into a rage over some relatively minor detail.

Pep’s also very emotional. His tears after winning his last Cup Final with Bayern were not untypical of the man but when I talked to fans afterwards they expressed how surprised they’d been. ‘We thought Pep was like a machine, completely cold-hearted. Who knew he was so emotional? It’s great to see he’s got a heart . . .’

Why had Pep been so determined to hide his emotions, only ‘letting go’ on his last day? For two reasons: he’s naturally introverted and he believed that he needed to protect himself. I’m not talking here about shyness but about an introverted person who’s only comfortable and willing to open up when surrounded by trusted confidants.

On those occasions he’s expressive and chatty, happy to argue his position and always up for a laugh. I’ve taken numerous photos of him in the elevator in the Allianz Arena fooling around and having a joke, just as up for a bit of banter as his most extrovert players (David Alaba and Thomas Müller).

His natural introversion means the image he projects is that of a cold, aloof, nerveless competitor which perhaps explains people’s confusion when he finally opened up in Munich, talking about the mutual affection between him and his players and describing the passion and commitment they showed every day at training.

‘Love’, ‘affection’, ‘passion’. Strange words indeed to find on the lips of a man famed for his cold-hearted detachment.

And it’s precisely this discrepancy between the private and the public Pep that causes many people to distrust his heartfelt, if rare, public expressions of emotion.

He’s seen as someone incapable of becoming emotionally involved until it all gets too much on the last day and the floodgates open. Only then are people reassured that, yes, Pep is a caring guy who inspires not just affection but genuine passion in his players.

Pep Guardiola: The Evolution by Martí Perarnau is published by Birlinn Ltd. More info here.

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