The vision that Pep Guardiola has for Barcelona was unforeseeable back in 2008 when the Catalan legend was given the top job at the club. Of course, back then people werenai??i??t so optimistic and the club was going through a relatively bad phase.

After Frank Rijkaard was fired, Barcelona was in a state of chaos, as compared to the rosy situation the club finds itself in, right now. The superstars of that team ai??i?? Ronaldinho and Deco, were amongst the top athletes of their generation and were beginning to take things for granted. The credit for all the success that the club has seen isnai??i??t down to just Guardiola but, in retrospect, can be casually (and conveniently) blamed on the Gods of football ai??i?? and fate ai??i?? for looking favorably on the club and everybody concerned.

It took Johan Cruyff to suggest that Barca set up a youth system. It took that youth system to produce a generation of players that the world of football might not see for the next few decades. The Class of ai??i??87, which includes the likes of Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas and Lionel Messi were expected to break records. The ai???little fellowai??i?? who, although talented, with the likes of Ronaldinho and Deco, as his mentors was on the verge of following in the footsteps of the next Pele and next Maradona ai??i?? Robinho and Javier Saviola ai??i?? by not truly meeting the expectations.

Class of ’87: Pique (top left), Cesc (top right) & Messi (bottom right)

Ronaldinho (who was already the best player on the planet by then) and Deco had won everything and were beginning to be seen as a bad influence on Leo. The club had to fix things and perhaps Guardiola was at the top of the priority list.

Itai??i??s easy for philistines to state that Pep couldnai??i??t possibly fail with a star studded team like the current squad but by digging a little deeper, one canai??i??t help but respect the sheer genius and determination behind the now-balding and ever-diplomatic, head honcho of the Blaugrana. Pep Guardiola has proven naysayers (many of whom were Cules) wrong by showing an understanding of the sport and the club in so many ways.

It seems, Guardiola has lived by certain principles or philosophies namely – ai???It is more risky not to take risksai??? and according to him, ai???there are no good or bad coaches, only coaches with courage or without courage.ai??? Both those statements have been made by the Catalan and are reflected by his actions on and off the field. Barca needed a coach with the courage to take risks. One of those (huge) risks was to handle the ai???Ronaldinho and Decoai??i?? issue. Rest assured, there arenai??i??t many coaches active, who have the cojones to sell their best players. Alex Ferguson, to his credit, has that virtue and proved the same when he sold the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham; Guardiola did the same by selling both and rebuilding his squad.

Guardiola has made decisions over the last three and half years that has consistently shown that he is willing to take risks and moreover, that his idea of the team (in terms of tactics and formations etc) lies in his undying belief and faith on the players at his disposal. Sergio Busquets, Pedro Rodriguez, Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas, Thiago Alcantara, Javier Mascherano, Dani Alves, Seydou Keita and Isaac Cuenca (most Cules hadnai??i??t heard of him before this season) are some of the players that he bought or promoted to realize that dream.

Javier Mascherano: Liverpool sold only a midfielder; Barca bought a defender too!

The plan, however, is very complicated to say the least. On looking at the bigger picture, one can best understand it by keeping legendary AC Milan coach Arrigo Sacchiai??i??s idea of how football should evolve in mind. Sacchi believes that the sport will evolve to a point when all the outfield players will essentially be midfielders. Pep Guardiola has time and again shown that if given a choice he would choose a bench full of midfielders because of their versatility and has indeed stated the same recently. The Catalan boss recently said that he believes that midfielders are the most integral part of the squad because they see the game from a more comprehensive point of view.

To prove that he isnai??i??t like most philosophers, i.e. all talk and not much action, Pep has experimented with midfielders like no coach before him. Javier Mascherano can now be referred to as a centre-half or a defender and nobody would argue with that. Lionel Messi, who started as a winger, under Guardiola, was moved to the centre and is now famous for his role as a ‘false 9‘, which involves him dropping deep to help retain possession in midfield. Furthermore, the minute opponents were beginning to get used to the idea of Messi dropping deep and adjusting their squads to handle Messi (Mourinho used Pepe in the Clasico last season as a defender/defensive midfielder and the Portuguese stuck to Messi like industrial strength glue), Guardiola pulled a fast one by switching Messi from a relatively unorthodox false 9 to a more orthodox number 10 (in the recent Clasico, Messi played behind Alexis Sanchez).

Lionel Messi: False <number of your choice>

In essence, Pepai??i??s constant experimentation with the lineup has made him perhaps the most unpredictable in terms of who will start a match and where. But his switching of players didnai??i??t stop with Messi alone. He experimented by playing Mascherano as a defender (something that paid off) and Sergio Busquets by giving him a free role between defence and midfield (the recent Clasico being a great example), Dani Alves has been played as a right back, wing back and a right sided forward or winger (same with Adriano).

This constant experimentation has been criticized by many fans and pundits alike, with many of these so called experts, questioning the need to fix something that isnai??i??t broken. However, Guardiola stuck to his principles and this is manifested by the fact that Barcelona has not played the same lineup in any of their 27 matches this season.

With the tweaking of the lineup, Barcaai??i??s coach has also gone back in time by reintroducing the 3-4-3 and taken it a step further. Barcelonaai??i??s formation has switched from a 4-3-3 to a 3-4-3 to a 3-5-2 to a blob of players that seemed to show nothing but chaos; but that is where the Catalan boss has shown his tactical aptitude. Pep, in his wisdom, had faith in the players he had and has the ability to express his ideas to the squad so that they understand their roles completely. In fact, Barca under Pep only seem to have the concept of a ai???formationai??i?? for about the first ten minutes of a match, while he figures out what the opponentai??i??s game plan is, before switching to whatever is required. Players are moved around according to the opponentai??i??s weaknesses. The secret, however, is that all those midfielders and their versatility is there for everybody to see. Pep himself has stated that formations are nothing, what is important is to use the players available so that their abilities can be exploited to the maximum.

Recently, Santos coach Ramalho, found out the hard way, that at times Barcelona play with no forwards. Indeed, if formations were everything, one wouldnai??i??t blame the reader if they mistook Pep and Barcelona as an ultra defensive team when they see them play a 3-7-0. To be able to pull off such a stunt required a combination of courage and personnel. The current squad is full of players, who are extremely good at a number of roles but not necessarily the best at any one aspect of the game.

For example Sergio Busquets might not be the best holding midfielder in the world but he is definitely the best holding midfielder for Barcelona and thatai??i??s just one of the many examples. Victor Valdes is definitely not the best goal keeper in the world but there isnai??i??t a single person who would deny that Barcelona couldnai??i??t have a keeper that suits their style of play better. There is some truth to the praise that Pep gave Valdes after the Clasico, about the courage that the Catalan shot stopper showed to continue to distribute the ball to his defenders even after conceding an early goal in what was, probably the biggest match of the season (or at least the biggest of the first half of the season).

The sheer brilliance of Guardiola and his team has forced pundits, coaches and clubs alike to accept that the metaphorical bar, as far as how the sport should be played, has been raised. Critics and fans of rival clubs might take the easy way out and state that Guardiola has an easy task because of the squad he has and the purchasing power of the club but in actual fact, Guardiola chose the hardest path (and inarguably one with higher returns) by taking the best squad on the planet and persevering to make them even better.

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.

The great football teams in the history of the sport were not revered just for their trophies. Those squads were pioneers in many ways. Eras that were known because of their approach to the game such as Total Football, Counter Attacking, indeed even the now infamous ai???Anti-Footballai???, all were tactics that required a large dose of faith. Pep Guardiola is, undoubtedly, a great coach but what if this was just the beginning? His rivals might be praying to the same football Gods, who conspired to make this squad, that he chooses to leave Barcelona (like he has stated time and again) and we canai??i??t blame them, but to all the neutral fans out there, what if he doesnai??i??t?

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12 Responses to “FC Barcelona’s Corner: Evolution Of Football Under Pep Guardiola”

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  1. brian says:

    Nice article :)

  2. silverg says:

    I couldn’t agree more. And because Im fan of FCB, I hope for this dream football to continue on and on. Until the end, lets enjoy while it last.

  3. aditya says:

    well written article…. I say that not because I am a Cule myself… but because I believe the article is very close to the truth that is Barcelona…

    Pep should be given his due credit as a Pioneer of sorts of the beautiful game but I wont be too worried when he leaves because I am sure Pep will have the good sense to share his knowledge/insights with others before he leaves, if he hasn’t already…. to be honest I believe, that there are others in the club who share his ideas about the way Barcelona should develop… include his assistant Tito Vilanova and the rest of the team management… infact the whole philosophy is in the making and I expect that everybody will play the part.

    However, one thing that I would like you to comment upon (an issue which you haven’t quite addressed here) or perhaps write a whole article that talks about how this team has been built around “little Leo” by none other than Pep himself and how it will only be a matter of very real speculation of how much the level of greatness of this Barca side will fall when Messi finally calls it a day.

    • Inder says:

      That’s an interesting topic:) ill check with my editors and look into..ae barc without messi,imo, will be like any team losing their top scorer..arsenal after Henry…thanks for the idea:)
      as for pep, i do think that ppl seem to conveniently forget the effort he’s put into the team..messi was off track..in terms of injuries and with ronaldinho preferring late night parties to continuing his form of before..

      • aditya ray says:

        I recommend watching “Messi’s” matches against Spain for a clearer idea… like the one last ( in 2010) Sept… and the one’s to come…though Spain is not exactly Barcelona

        but it would be great to analyse how (barca’s) success rate and thus its greatness is attributable to Messi being at the “centre” of things

  4. Dev says:

    Hhey great article. The things which you have written are not unknown but the way you have presented it is very good…
    #InPepWeTrust

  5. Biobluesboy says:

    Thanks for the interesting article. I am somewhat in awe of what Pep has accomplished, as there is no other team on the planet playing anything close to Barca’s possession/recovery football. What amazes me is how in their last champions league game, pep played the entire B squad (plus Pedro) and not a thing was different! They still had something like 75% of possession! How terrifying that performance must have been for every other manager of a rival club! Someone should write an article about what’s rising at Barcelona, and why there may NOT be any drop-off when the class of ’87 retires!

  6. aditya says:

    also lets also not forget Rijkaards role in all this

    • Inder says:

      Indeed, Rijkaard,ronaldinho,deco, eto’o…they are responsible for bringing that winning mentality back to the club..before them,things were in a bad state and it was important that the team believed that they could win..the 06 CL being the most important cause Barca always had an issue in Europe..that success after 92 was a must..ronaldinho was a class act..amazing what he could do with the ball,all with a smile on his face lol

  7. Inder says:

    The talent is definitely there..it is surprising how many great players the B team has…la masia has made sure that the next generation will be competitive..however i must say that this current squad is extremely special..replacing xavi,messi and iniesta will be impossible…and the club would do well to try and avoid looking for another messi..the next generation of barca will need to form their own character…cuenca has been a revelation and it seems cristian tello is great as well..id think its important that pep stays cause of this..there are very few coaches willing to give the youngsters a chance..it can’t be easy considering all the pressure to win…thiago can already be considered a huge success

  8. Inder says:

    The problem with a team sport is that it is extremely difficult to quantify the contribution of an individual..in Messi’s case..his ability to create space and run straight at defenders alone is with it all..pep,barca and co are extremely lucky that messi has the eye for goal…in Spain,i think del bosque’s inclination to play a slightly more defensive approach with alonso and busquets doesnt actually help..but its understandable since he doesnt have messi…