How Pep Guardiola got the Barcelona players on his side

Frank Rijkaard’s Barcelona were suffering an unstoppable decline into decadence, the dressing room lacking discipline and spirit. Ronaldinho had lost his status as the most exciting player on the planet, the president Joan Laporta had only just survived in office and Catalan self-esteem was at its lowest ebb for decades. At that point Pep Guardiola was appointed first-team coach of FC Barcelona.

(Getty)

Two trophy-less years had passed them by. A change was needed. Important decisions had to be made.

But, first Pep had to get the team on his side. A face-to-face meeting with the squad was still pending. It took place on the first day of training at the world-famous St Andrews, in Scotland, in a basement conference room of a hotel.

As he made his way to the room, Pep repeatedly told himself: “Be yourself. Be yourself.” He felt that he had been through a similar experience at least once before, with the [Barcelona] B team: the faces were different but the ideas that were going to be put across were practically the same. And he had the same nervous feeling in the pit of his stomach.

“Gentlemen, good morning. You can imagine what a huge motivation it is for me to be here, to coach this team. It is the ultimate honour. Above all, I love the club. I would never make a decision that would harm or go against the club. Everything I am going to do is based on my love for FC Barcelona. We need and want order and discipline.

I will defend you to the death but I can also say that I will be very demanding of you all: just like I will be with myself.

“I only ask this of you. I won’t tell you off if you misplace a pass, or miss a header that costs us a goal, as long as I know you are giving 100 per cent. I could forgive you any mistake, but I won’t forgive you if you don’t give your heart and soul to Barcelona.

“Many of you don’t know me, so we will use the next few days to form the group, a family even. If anyone has any problems, I’m always available, not just in sporting matters but professional, family, environmental.

“We’re here to help each other and make sure there is spiritual peace so that the players don’t feel tension or division. We are one. We are not little groups because in all teams this is what ends up killing team spirit.

The squad, the group, were seduced. Upon leaving the room, Xavi commented to a team-mate that everything that they had needed to know was there in that talk. There would be many more team talks, but the one at St Andrews laid the foundations for the new era at FC Barcelona.

“I was a footballer and I know what I’m saying. In every talk, from that one in St Andrews to the last one, I have put my heart into them. When I don’t feel it, I don’t speak, it’s the best way. There are days when you think that you have to say something, but you don’t feel it, so at times like that it is better to keep quiet.

Pep continued the methodologies introduced at St Andrews when the team returned to Barcelona. The new training complex was shaped according to Pep’s instructions. He changed things so that the players felt like employees of a football club and not Hollywood stars.

A dining room was designed to encourage all the players to sit down at meal times together, previously unknown in the first team at Barcelona.

Whereas previous training sessions that used to take place on a training pitch next door to the Nou Camp that had a fairly high-profile feel about them because of their location, the Joan Gamper training ground, to which the first team moved in January 2009, was strictly off limits to press and public. The media christened it ‘La Ciudad Prohibida’ – ‘The Forbidden City’.

“For me, two of the most important novelties were the move to the training ground and getting rid of the hotel meetings,” said Xavi. “It helped too that he made us eat together after training sessions. That way we watch our diet. At the start, it was a bit of a pain for me because I couldn’t make plans, but you get used to it. With the meetings it was the same.

“I wasn’t used to being at home a couple of hours before the match and at first it was very strange for me. I felt like I wasn’t well prepared. It felt like I was too switched off. I even thought that fate would punish me with a bad game for not giving 100 per cent of my time to it beforehand.

“But I soon realised that, with these new rules, I would also benefit. Thinking too much can put too much pressure on you; this turns into nerves and I have learnt to analyse what is really important. Minimising the meetings reduces our stress levels all year round.”

Pep Guardiola: Another Way of Winning by Guillem Balague (Orion, RRP £20) is available from Telegraph Books at £18 + £1.35 p&p. Call 0844 871 1515 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk

Read the entire article How Pep Guardiola got the Barcelona players on his side to halt team’s decline into decadence

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