So much to learn from the maestro philosopher of modern football

“Pep Guardiola: Another way of winning” by Guillem Balague

This is a very enjoyable book to read. As a diehard football fan with a weakness for tactics and philosophy behind every play, this book really hit the spot for me. And there’s arguably no better person to analyse when it comes to tactical mastery than Pep Guardiola.

And he really doesn’t disappoints. The book eloquently portray the complete picture of Pep Guardiola, from the days of his childhood, to La Masía, to becoming the captain of Barcelona, to exile, to assembling what in my opinion as the most exciting team ever play the game of football (Barcelona 2008-2012, that won 14 trophies in just under 4 years). All the struggles, the hard works, the fighting, the opportunities, the doubts, the glories, the pressure, the ecstatic joys, the meticulously planned rules, the passion for the club all written grippingly by Guillem Balague.

The same template is repeated with the coverage of Pep’s time in Bayern München (2013-2016, that won 7 trophies in 3 years) where Pep’s footballing philosophy was implemented with much greater varieties and insane evolution of the modern game. For instance, at one match he deployed a 2-3-5 formation that left only 2 defenders, Xabi Alonso as a holding midfielder plus 2 full backs that turned into midfielders, and the remaining 5 as strikers (a pyramid formation last used in the 1890s!), or another match where Bayern changed formation 7 times, or that match against Juventus where Pep used 4 wingers at once (and won).

The book also illustrate the difficulties of managing star players and their inflated egos, especially when there are more than 1 star competing for the same spots, as well as the difficulties of transferring Pep’s philosophy onto several rigid or entitled players. And it also portrays a vivid picture of the pressure that football managers constantly receive from the fans, the club hierarchies, and the media.

While the football stories are fantastic, I actually learn a lot more from the way Guardiola conduct himself. From his discipline, intellect, and respect for others, to the way he carry himself in many different situations, to how he meticulously planning ahead of the opportunities and risks, how he revamp the club to embody his footballing philosophy (even arranging different lunch seating all the time to ensure no small groups formed within the squad), down to practicing the small specific moves after analysing the opponent and/or the situation. Lessons that can be implemented in many other areas of life.

Perhaps my favourite part of the book is when on top of having learned from being managed by top coaches such as Cruyff, Robson, Van Gaal, Mazzone, and Capello, before taking the job as a coach Guardiola still travels around Argentina to learn a lot from coaching legends Ricardo La Volpe, César Luis Menotti, and of course the fabled meeting with Marcelo Bielsa where he spent 11 hours in Bielsa’s villa and came out of it bringing a book full of notes from cover to cover. My other favourite part of the book is at the very last chapter when Pep talked on Catalan radio in memory of Johan Cruyff that has just recently died, which reveals a lot about Pep’s footballing philosophy that is heavily influenced by Cruyff’s way of thinking.

The only drawback for me is the untidy timeline of the book. Yes it reads like a documentary, with all the back and forth in the timeline, which is fine. Exciting, in fact. But it is exactly because of this that many topics become overlapping, with the unnecessary intention of seeing several events from different vantage points (from Pep, from the players, from the club president, etc).

For example, it occurs in the story of Pep vs Mourinho, which was already told in the early chapters but then repeated in part III chapter 6, and it is also occurs in the story of problems with Zlatan Ibrahimović that was scattered across the chapters that makes it confusing in which season did he exactly played for Barca. But it is perhaps most obviously occur in the story of the end of Pep’s tenure in Barca, which was told at such gruesome length right at the beginning of the book, which then proceeded to be re-told again 4-5 more times.

But nevertheless, in the end of the day it is a beautifully written book, a very thorough book. A book that paid attention to so much details that Pep himself probably could not express his life and his philosophy this well. It is a book that teaches us a lot about the modern game of football and its arguably maestro inventor. And it is a very passionate book written by someone who clearly live and breathe football.

The book ends with one chapter about Pep’s move to Manchester City in 2016 and his potential set up for the English Premier League team. And as we all now know in 2021, Pep eventually has a tremendous success at City, with this season the club is on the way of winning Pep’s 3rd league crown, his 9th trophy overall in 5 seasons. And so, his success story continues.