Pep Guardiola The Evolution

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The art of leadership is knowing when to lay your baton down and let the orchestra play.

— Herbert von Karajan

I had no idea what to expect when I dove into this book. Would it be more of a biography or maybe an analysis of Pep himself? I was interested either way but really had no expectations. My perspective on Pep was a bit uneducated in all honesty. I had this view that he saw the game in only one way and squeezed as much as possible out of his teams to perform in his singular vision. For some reason he also seemed to be a bit off-putting, I don't know why exactly but in reading this book I quickly came to realize that this was more based on my lack of knowledge about him than it being an accurate characterization. This book was written by Martí Perarnau, a Spanish journalist who has spent a large part of the last several years around Pep. He first wrote the book, Pep Confidential which was about his 2013-14 season with Bayern Munich (*I haven't yet read this book). Pep Guardiola: The Evolution was a book about, well, evolution. A large portion of this book got into the nitty gritty about Pep, the manager and the man, and his personal evolution. In many senses the football aspect of this book was an avenue to describe much of this evolution.

Let me preface these reviews with saying that to really get the entire picture I would suggest reading any book we discuss from cover to cover. But I will focus on a couple key areas that I think are worth sharing with you. For context, this book was written during his three years at Bayern Munich, a place much different from his comfort zone that is Barcelona. Moving to Bavaria may have seemed an interesting choice when he took the job but what the reader is quickly reminded of is how much Pep enjoys a challenge and how this whole experience allowed Pep to influence Germany and Germany to return the favor to Pep.

"systems don't matter, it's ideas that count"

In chapter 3 Pep goes into a quite detailed discussion about the process of having an idea, transmitting that to his team, and ultimately his players learning and implementing it. It's funny because for so many people on the outside it seems as though Pep has ideas and by having the best players these brilliant performances appear out of thin air. And although having the Messi's and De Brune's of the world helps greatly, it's still about having a vision and convincing players that this is the best way to do things. The quote below does a nice job of painting this picture and showing his process.

The coach explains his ideas using words but the player then assimilates them through repeated practice, relying on direction and advice in a context that is as close as possible to a competitive match. ‘We have to convince the players about the usefulness of the tactical concepts they are practising and they learn on their feet, playing football because that’s what it’s all about.’
It’s not about mechanically repeating a series of actions but about understanding exactly why you are doing them. ‘It’s vital the players make their own decisions during training sessions,’ explains Guardiola.

What I really liked about Pep's process of teaching and implementing ideas to his players is that he is very clear about making sure the players have a general understanding of the concepts but that they 'make their own decisions'. So often coaches try to force feed exactly how to do things rather than give players an opportunity to be creative within a specific vision.

Philosophy as a frame of reference

To build upon the idea above, it was clear that in Pep's own personal evolution he was successfully able to shift his vision of philosophy as gospel to a frame of reference. What makes him such a brilliant manager amongst many things was how he was able to take bits of his education under Cruyff plus experience at Barça and piece it together with the players at his disposal at Bayern Munich.

In reality the true measure of a coach is not so much the quality of his convictions but rather his ability to teach and embed them even in less than ideal conditions. A good coach should be constantly revising his beliefs, amending and adapting them to achieve the perfect synergy between his own philosophy and the club he represents. A belief system should never become the straitjacket of dogma and it’s clear that Guardiola now sees his philosophy as just a frame of reference within which he can move and expand.

the work of a master craftsman

By definition a Craftsman is 'a person who practices or is highly skilled in a craft; artisan'. For those of us fortunate enough to call ourselves coaches this is an excellent reminder that what we are in fact are artists. Maybe not in the way in which an artist is talked about in pop culture but as the quote below shows us we are in fact the artists who have the unique ability to form sportsmen or sportswomen.

One of the people who has most influenced Pep is Argentinian volleyball coach Julio Velasco who has this to say: ‘A coach should approach his work like a craftsman, not like a shop steward. That’s where the real joy is. We are the artisans of the training and formation of sportsmen and should be more concerned with the progress they make rather than the results they achieve. It is the process that matters, not the victories. That’s where the joy and satisfaction comes from. Our first priority is to ensure that our players develop and after that we think about how to win.’

Like I said, this is just a great reminder of the fact that being a coach we must be comprised of more than a one-track mind focused solely on winning. Winning should be a byproduct of developing players and people as noted above. 

Final Thoughts

This book was fascinating and the way in which this book was written keeps the reader captivated, I found it hard to put down. It doesn't matter if you know the outcome of his tenure in Germany or not, it's like you are hearing about it for the first time. I can't recommend this book enough, not only to those in soccer but anyone who considers themselves a coach. If you decide to read this I hope you get as much out of it as I did. I'd love to hear any additional thoughts and comments as well. Click here to purchase your own copy.