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Interview: Guillem Balague on Pep Guardiola

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Never has a manager been so sought after. The confirmation last month that Josep Guardiola would be taking the reins of Bayern Munich next season ended months of speculation and ‘exclusives’ that the Catalonian’s next move was to Chelsea or Manchester City or AC Milan. All this for a relatively young coach with just four years’ experience at his hometown club. 

Guillem Balagué's Another Way of Winning provides a fascinating insight into the life of Pep Guardiola, analysing his psyche as well as his footballing beliefs. Possessing inside access to talk to Guardiola and his players was a condition Balagué insisted on before agreeing to write the book, and this contact ensures this is much more than a factual, distant account of the coach behind the Barcelona side labelled by some as the greatest team in history.

The reader is taken through Guardiola’s playing career where, as a defensive midfielder, he was able to see the game unfold in front of him. 11 of 16 years were spent at Barcelona, but his brief spells at Brescia, Roma and Al-Ahli are also incorporated, including a four-month ban after a positive drug test in Italy, which was subsequently overturned.

"He was [Louis, former Barcelona manager] Van Gaal’s coach on the pitch," Balagué explained to The National Student. "He would absorb everything as a player, and this willingness to learn helped to build a basis for his later managerial success. Pep’s a perfectionist to the point of obsession. He gave everything to Barça: the year out has not just been him recharging his batteries, but also making up for lost time with his family."

The book delineates the incredibly strong emotional links Guardiola formed with his players which, along with the constant battles with Jose Mourinho that Balagué also examines, mentally drained the forty-two year-old throughout his tenure. We are told how Guardiola would agonise over moving players on because of these bonds, which transformed even team selections into an afflicting, arduous task. Balagué comprehensively dispels the myth that any coach could have brought success to such a talented group of individuals – which included Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets - citing Barcelona’s lack of success in the years prior to 2008 and documenting the tactical tweaks and man-management alterations that would eventually yield three La Liga trophies, two Champions League’s, and two Copa del Reys.

Balagué, a supporter of Barcelona’s Catalonian rivals Espanyol, also spoke to us about his experiences as a journalist, including nearly a decade spent in the North-West of England.

"I enrolled on a course at the University of Liverpool and was only expecting to stay for three months. That turned into nine years! When you’re a student, particularly a student abroad, you miss the support of your parents, but the care given to me by the people of Liverpool is something I will never, ever forget. I managed to survive without getting paid for an entire year, solely because of the kindness of the Liverpudlian people," he said.

As a regular face of Sky Sports and a columnist for The Times, Balagué appreciates that many aspiring sports journalists would consider his career to be unsurpassable. He makes an important distinction though, before providing a tip to those who wish to enter the industry: "There is a big difference between having an opinion on sports and sports journalism. My job is not just appearing on Sky and giving my thoughts. You have to build contacts, go to meetings, do mundane things, especially at first. My advice to those students looking towards sports journalism would be this: learn the industry. Build some foundations, understand the profession. I am doing something I love which is brilliant, terrific, but you have to be prepared to work at it. Learn your trade, give your all and reap the rewards." Pep Guardiola would certainly concur.

Another Way of Winning is out now in hardback, and also available on Kindle. Guillem Balagué, along with special guests, will be discussing his book at three events next month, taking place in Stoke, Birmingham and London. For more information, visit www.guillembalague.com

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