The Boy from Santpedor
Josep Guardiola i Sala
In Catalonia, Josep Guardiola is just Pep - one of the most talented players of the Dream Team, Barça captain and now head coach. Guardiola is the local boy made good. Foreign stars come and go but Barcelona is where Pep Guardiola belongs.
From Boy to Man
Josep Guardiola joined FC Barcelona in 1984 at the tender age of thirteen and like all young hopefuls spent his adolescence away from home at La Masia, the club's hall of residence for young players.
Pep made his way up through the youth system and made his debut on the first team in 1990 as a gangly nineteen-old. This is the way Phil Ball, author of the excellent book on Spanish football Morbo describes how Johan Cruyff discovered him and turned him into the linchpin of the Dream Team.
'In his first week at the club, Cruyff turned up unannounced at the 'Mini' stadium, a venue just down the road from Camp Nou used by the youth and B teams. Just before half-time he wandered into the dug-out and asked Charly Rexach, the youth team manager at the time, the name of the young skinny lad playing on the right side of migfield. 'Guardiola – good lad' came the reply. Cruyff ignored the comment and told Rexach to move him into the middle for the second half, to play as pivote, a difficult position to adapt to and one not used by many teams in Spain at the time. 'Pep' Guardiola adjusted immediately, as Cruyff had suspected he would, and when he moved up into the first-team in 1990 he became the true fulcrum of the Dream Team.'
The Fabulous '4'
Guardiola formed part of an ideal eleven made up mainly of Basques – Zubizaretta, Bakero, Beguiristain, Goikoetchea – and foreigners – Koeman, Laudrup and Stoichkov and four Catalans - Ferrer, Sergi, Nadal (from Mallorca) plus Pep himself.
The Dream Team was a wonderful side that played exciting attacking football winning the Liga for four consecutive seasons from 1991 to '94 and the European Cup in '92. All the players were idols but there was something special about Josep Guardiola.
Not only was his youth endearing but his enthusiasm for Barcelona and Catalonia was infectious. He often celebrated victories by wrapping himself in the Catalan flag, despite playing for Spain argued in favour of Catalonia's national team and was well-known for his love of Catalan poetry, particularly Miquel Martí i Pol. Much like Puyol today nobody doubted his degree of commitment.
Despite his lanky gait, he had a touch of class only equalled by Laudrup and as the player with the clearest tactical vision was soon calling the shots on the field and it was Guardiola that transmitted Cruyff's complex ideas to the other players. When Barça fans refer to the classic 'Number 4' they are referring to a style and position that Guardiola made his trademark.
What Barcelona's football is all about is possession with quick and constant movement, short, one-touch passing, intelligent positioning. It's about running, certainly, but running the right way.
Current players Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta and, soon to be, prodigal son Cesc Fabregas are all heirs to a school of Barcelona football that runs from Cruyff through Guardiola
When Bakero hung up his boots in 1997, it was no surprise that Guardiola should take over the captaincy. However, despite winning the Liga. Copa del Rey double, Barcelona under Louis Van Gaal didn't excite the same passion as Cruyff's Dream Team and 2001 Guardiola decided to finish his playing career away from his beloved Barça.
The Heir to the Throne
The last few years of his playing career were important. Guardiola avoided FC Barcelona's sad decline into mediocrity at the beginning of the twenty-first century. His image remained untarnished, and so was able to take on the first team coach position with his credibility intact.
He also worked under a number of different coaches finally retiring Mexico in 2006 and experience Italian football is always a plus for any potential manager.
However, whilst at Roma, he was accused of taking Nandrolone and the length to which he went to completely clear his name are the mark of someone with an extremely clear conscience. He was finally cleared of all charges in October 2007.
In 2007, Josep Guardiola took over the Barça B team when they were in Tercera (fourth tier of Spanish football) and took them up to Segunda B in his first season.
After two seasons without any trophies, it was rumoured that José Mourinho would replace Frank Rijkaard but partly because he is a local boy with a glorious past and partly because of his success and professionalism, President Joan Laporta appointed Guardiola to the job at the beginning of June 2008.
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