The Burden of La Senyera

[This is a guest post by reader NZM. Do make her feel welcome. -ed]

As well as the strain of being the manager of one of the best football teams in the world, something that isn’t often spoken about is the amount of extra pressure that Pep is under as a representative and citizen of Catalunya. It has to be experienced first-hand, or at least understood with a solid comprehension of the region’s history.

“Fervent Catalan Pride” is a phrase which is bandied around when people write of FC Barcelona’s exploits on the field, but do many readers actually know what that means? This pride comes with huge responsibility and enormous pressure.

You can liken it to a “going to war for your country” scenario. Each time that Barça steps onto a pitch to play, they have the expectations of their worldwide fan-base demanding nothing short of a win. In addition, there are the extra demands of the Catalan fan-base who expect the club to win for Catalunya.

The heaviness and stigma of the latter cannot be ignored. It’s written into the history of the club. During the Franco era, the club was the bastion of Catalanisme. It was a place where Català could still be spoken after its use had been banned, and it represented a symbolic, often unsubtle, middle-finger towards Franco and Madrid.

As a Catalan, Pep has suffered for the club in more ways than most coaches or players have done in their entire lives. As a player, ball boy and coach, he has lived and breathed the La Masia spirit for a good part of almost 30 years. He feels it – it’s in his blood and in his roots. FC Barcelona is a part of his heritage.

It’s all intertwined – the Catalan nationalism and the Barça traditions. You cannot separate them. Politics and sport: never an easy mix. Luckily, religion doesn’t come into it as well.

In one of his recent comments, Kevin linked to this video:

After receiving his Medal of Honour Award from the Catalunyan Parliament, there was backing for Pep to be the next Catalunyan President. It was a somewhat romantic, sentimental and idealistic notion but, for the Catalan people, Guardiola embodies all that they respect and admire: loyalty; seny; passion; commitment; stubbornness; a desire to do it his way; outspokenness when it counts, and he has won more for the FC Barcelona in the past 4 years than anyone could have dreamed about. The Philosopher and a modern-day Don Quijote. Plus, he’s Catalan – born and bred; one of them. The local boy “done good”.

This is the difference between most top class coaches in the world and Josep Guardiola i Sala. When Scotsman Sir Alex Ferguson goes out to guide Manchester United, he’s not defending England in every match. When Portuguese Jose Mourinho manages whichever team he’s with, he’s not representing a country, a culture, or a way of life. Most managers are playing for a pay cheque, results and club pride.

Whenever Pep has gone out to play for or manage Barça over the past 30+ years, not only has he played physically and mentally demanding matches, but he’s also been representing Catalunya. Every time. It’s a Spanish province so proud of their identity that there is scarcely a week where calls for an independent nation of Catalunya are not in the press. It’s always present – that mandatory requirement for Catalans to stand for all that La Senyera embodies. That’s either a hell of a burden when the going is tough, or a towering sense of pride when it all goes right. There appears to be no stable, middle ground.

Pep is a man who lives and breathes football, and who is also a Catalan coaching in Catalunya. It’s a 24/7 way of life that he can’t switch on and off at whim. This is why Pep is so incredulous when people think of him as presidential and political material simply because of who, and what, he is. He’s just being Pep. Sure, he can play a political game when he has to, but it’s not what he likes to do, and it’s not part of his ethical and moral make-up for him to enjoy doing so.

His first 4 seasons as a Barça coach were wonder years. In 2007/08 and together with his former La Masia compadre, Tito Vilanova, he coached Barcelona B out of the Tercera División into the playoffs for the Segunda División. They won the play-offs and were promoted into Liga Segunda, or Liga Adelante as it is now known.

2008/09 saw Pep (and Tito) promoted to manage the Barça first team; a move that was not without controversy. Surely a team of this calibre needed a proven coach; a big name to lead them? The first part of the season looked as if the doubts were to be confirmed but, as Guardiola gained momentum and the team started to understand his methods and play better, the results started to show.

An unprecedented 6 cup win in his maiden season, followed by 2 more years in which only 3 trophies were lost out of the 10 cups that were played for by the Barça first team.

2011/12 has certainly seen the team swing on a pendulum of results. A fine season’s start with the Spanish SuperCopa and UEFA Super Cup was followed by winning the Club World Cup in December. The Champions League back-to-back-wins opportunity was lost in the semi-finals to Chelsea.

In the next few weeks, there’s more to come as the team looks to wrap up La Liga without the title after 3 years at the top, and a Copa del Rey final to play against a dynamic Bilbao outfit. Individually, yet reliant on their team-mates’ help, Valdés is playing for his 4th consecutive (and 5th in total) Zamora Trophy, and Messi for his 2nd Pichichi, as well as an attempt to break Gerd Müller’s long-standing record of 67 goals in a season from 1972/73.

This season’s injury list has been devastating for a squad which most deem to be small, yet is only 2 players less than that of Real Madrid and 3 less than the player cap under La Liga regulations. Over the past 9 months, only 5 out of the 22 first team players have remained uninjured and fully fit. Two of those are the goalkeepers Valdés and Pinto. Three players have been out long-term (Villa, Afellay and Fontàs) and a few players have had multiple injuries which have kept them out for 2-3 weeks each time. There have been weeks where Pep has struggled to put together a full team of starters and reserves, and has often had to draw from the Barça B team to fill the gaps.

Off the pitch, the squad has had to cope with Eric Abidal’s liver transplant and all that it entails, plus Tito Vilanova’s salivary gland tumour which kept him out for several weeks. It was patently visible that Pep missed Tito during that time as he cut a lonely figure on the sideline, with no one on the bench of Tito’s calibre in whom he could confide, or look to for advice.

Added to all this pressure is what happens behind the scenes – some events of which there is “talk” and “hearsay” but little in the way of hard evidence to categorically base upon fact.

Certainly it’s no secret that Guardiola is a Joan Laporta supporter which caused some friction as Pep openly spoke of backing the former FCB President when the time arrived for the court cases between Laporta
and Sandro Rosell. So much discomfort was caused that contrived photo opportunities were created
and a press release was distributed to explain that there was no “ill-feeling” between Pep and Rosell.

It’s also no secret that Pep opposed the pre-season trip to the US occurring at a time when he needed to re-group the squad to concentrate on their fitness conditioning, and start teaching the tactics for the upcoming season. The trip left very little space for Pep to train anyone, given the large amount of press and promotional work that the squad had to perform while they were away. Guardiola was less than impressed.

Dealing with a board that is focused on business results and the bottom line is not fun. I know; I’ve been there. Everything and everyone becomes either an asset or a liability – a positive or a negative. Percentages and numbers do not reflect, for example, how vitally important certain team members are for dressing room morale, or in their support of other key players. The human element is very quickly lost.

So now we know that in autumn last year, Pep gave notice, to the Barça Board, of his intention to step down at the end of this season. It should now be noted that Pep’s open support of Laporta and Tito’s salivary gland tumour were events that also happened around this time.

By their actions in the following months, the board obviously didn’t take Pep’s announcement very seriously at first, and perhaps thought that there was ample time for Pep to change his mind.

Yes, Abidal was renewed, but his contract renewal dragged on for months. How much stress did that put on
Abidal (and Pep) during that time, and on the other players? A board with the players’ interests and morale as a priority would have renewed without hesitation. There is always a place for a man like Abidal – always. If he can’t play, he can teach and mentor.

The club certainly didn’t do itself any further favours, from Pep’s viewpoint, by announcing a pre-season trip to Indonesia, knowing how important that this time is within Pep’s plans. As time progressed and Pep didn’t make moves to re-new, the Indonesia trip was cancelled and replaced with a pre-season on the European continent. (Perhaps in an attempt to win over Pep?)

In recent days, we’ve heard how the club virtually offered Guardiola an open cheque book and full control if only he would re-sign. (Whether this actually happened or whether this “news” was leaked so that the club could save face, we will probably never know.)

Perhaps it was all too late; perhaps if things had been handled better behind the scenes; perhaps if Pep has felt the support of the board at all times, it needn’t have come to this. Quizás, Quizás, Quizás….

However, it’s patently clear that the pressure of being the manager of Barcelona has had a physical effect on Pep. He looks 10-15 years older than he did when he took on the job 4 years ago. There’s also the mental strain of the endless press conferences, the name-calling and behavior of certain rivals, not being there for his family and friends as he would have wished, the constant travel and the endless planning and preparation required to manage the team. It’s all part of the job, but not something that can be sustained for a lengthy period of time; not at a club like FC Barcelona and certainly not when the bad outweighs the good.

What a match for his last at Camp Nou – the cross-town derby vs. Espanyol on May 6th.

The Copa del Rey final on May 25th is his last official match duty. What a day that’s going to be. Even if Barça lifts the trophy, I’ll wager that there are going to be more tears of sadness than those of joy.

When most football managers leave clubs and quickly move to others, they go with a mix of regrets and fond
memories influenced by their levels of success, and whether their departure was their choice, or not. Most
coaches embrace their new challenges and the chance to start over with a clean slate.

Pep can’t; he won’t. He’s too wiped out. It’s time to recharge. It’s time to get his private life and health back in order. It’s time to grow his hair back. It’s time to breathe. It’s time to go. It’s about time.

The man who has given the club and fans so much to be happy about, and to celebrate in recent years, has left us all with 4 years of wonderful and special moments.

He’s given us an amazing farewell gift, perhaps the most precious that he could give at this time: Francesc “Tito” Vilanova i Bayó.

For this, we can be very grateful. If Pep had left Barça for another team, I strongly suspect that Tito would have gone with him.

The players know Tito and he knows the players. He coached Messi, Fàbregas and Piqué when they were much
younger. He knows the Barça system, the rest of the coaching staff and the workings of the club. There could be no better person for the role as the players and training team transition from a Barça life with Guardiola to a Barça life without him. (It also leaves the doors open in case Pep decides that he wants to return – an exceedingly remote chance, and probably not under this current board.)

My seatbelt has been re-fastened for the next ride.

Tots units fem força.

Pep – moltes gràcies per tot, i bona sort.

Tito – ser fort.

Footnote: I wish to recognise Manuel Estiarte who is also leaving the club when Pep departs. A former Spanish champion water polo player and Olympic Gold medallist, Manuel is a stalwart friend of Pep’s, and has served as Director of External Relations for the first team. He has also had some input into the coaching and conditioning of the team, as well as transitioning some water polo tactics over to the football pitch during Pep’s tenure. People who watch Barça play can see the similarities in how the ball is handled around the penalty box, drawing from the water polo, basketball and handball disciplines.)

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Isaiah is a co-founder and lead writer for Barcelona Football Blog. He currently lives in the greater New York City area with his wife and daughter.


  1. blitzen
    May 1, 2012

    This is a brilliant post, Michele! Well done and thank you! A few points:

    — I didn’t realize Manuel Estiarte was leaving as well. Is there any particular reason for that?
    –Abidal’s renewal. There were apparently tax issues involved with that, so I don’t think that had anything to do with Pep’s hesitation.
    –Excellent point about the burden/pride of Pep representing an entire nation. Coaching this team is stressful enough without that hanging over your head.
    –“Pep’s open support of Laporta and Tito’s salivary gland tumour” Hehehe. Needs more punctuation. 😛

    I asked in the previous thread but you may not have seen it. Did you watch the esport3 special on Pep? I hope to find it somewhere for download.

    • messifan
      May 1, 2012

      I think Manuel Estiarte was hired to assist Pep in PR. They’ve known each other since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

    • nzm
      May 2, 2012

      Thanks, blitzen. The article started out as a response to a comment, and ended up as a long one, so I decided to turn it into an article and submit it! 🙂

      ~ Yes, as messifan pointed out, the Estiarte appointment was part of Pep’s management team enrolment. Estiarte is a wonderful man with a great history himself, and his loyalty lies with Pep, therefore it’s time for him to move on too.

      ~ the “tax issue” with Abidal was only revealed after his contract negotiations had been going on for a couple of months. I believe that this was possibly a cover-up or another “save-face leak” by the club. No, it had nothing to do with Pep’s hesitation, but more to do with the club playing hardball with a player upon renewal, or possibly not wanting to renew because of Abidal’s liver issues. We’ve all assumed that the club did know that Abi would need a liver transfer and renewed him anyway, but it’s an assumption, not a fact. We also don’t know if Abi’s renewal was an attempt to appease Pep, either. Personally, I’m just happy that Abi was renewed in the end, but I’m sure that the whole process was more complicated than it should have been. If there’s a harder way to do something, the Catalans will find it! 🙂

      ~ I read the article at least 20 fricking times before sending it, and now I can see at least 3 glaring puntuation and grammar errors in it that I would like to fix. They eat away at the virgo perfectionist! 😀

      ~ we didn’t watch the special – it was simply a couple of programs on him that were repeated over the day. We set our recorder to get them and the #@*!ing thing crashed. They’re on again today and will most likely be repeated ad nauseum, so we’ll have another go. They’re bound to pop up on YouTube or on a torrent site.

  2. barca96
    May 1, 2012

    I hope you post more often!

    Why don’t you be our Barcelona correspondent 🙂 ?

  3. barca96
    May 1, 2012

    Sorry to hijack your post but the previous post was up after I went to bed and was already done and dusted by the time I wake up.

    I don’t like the dances in the first place as I much prefer to thank the assister and then do a group hug.

    And I didn’t like it at all that Pedro was left standing there. Not cool at all.

    But after reading various comments it got me thinking.
    Since the coaches and some people on this community are complaining about it because of the circumstances that we were 5-0 up, is it okay to dance around when we score the equalizer or going a goal up?

    I assume the answer would be yes but when you’re just going 1 or 2 goal up, you don’t really have time to get into dancing mood. You do a group hug and get on with it.

    At 5-0 or 6-0 the players maybe sick of doing the group hug.

    And did you see the whole team going to Thiago or Alves to celebrate? Everyone was just walking back.

    Or imagine there is one or two guys (Alves or Thiago) who are really sweaty and smells, some guys will just have enough of it after the forth time 🙂

  4. May 1, 2012

    Really good post – important points that many outsiders miss. I’ve had so many people (on my FB feed, after he stepped down) questioning why he’s tired, mocking his lack of stamina and comparing him to (who else) Fergie…so this helps explain why. And that excellent video illustrates that maybe we believe in Pep more than he does in himself!

    Just one minor quibble – while Ferguson does not represent England, he does represent MILLIONS of Manchester United fans and indeed the club itself, which has a significant history and tradition of its own. I can’t say the same for Mourinho or Capello – but I think it’s important to recognize that it’s not just Guardiola (or Barcelona,actually) that represent more than just a football team to many people.

    • nzm
      May 2, 2012


      The millions of Manchester United fans around the world do not expect Man U to play for their countries, as is complicitly expected of the Barça team by the Catalunya fanbase.

      Every team in the world has the history and traditions, and Man U and Barça are no different in this respect.

      However, do the Man U fans expect Man U to play for England in every match? No.

      Do the Catalan-based Barça fans expect Barça to play for Catalunya in every match? Yes.

      That’t the extra burden that is on the club, players and management of Barça.

      It’s a hard thing to explain unless you’ve lived in Catalunya or have a solid background in the history of the area and can empathise with the culture and background politics. It’s very much an “us vs. the rest of the world scenario” where FC Barcelona is seen as a powerhouse when it comes to representing not only football, but Catalunya as well.

      Pep took this on board very seriously and it’s something that the foreign players find it hard to identify with. I feel that this extra burden of responsiblity to Catalunya has a lot to do with Pep’s burn-out.

      Towards the end of his May 2001 article, Pete Jenson in The Telegraph also alluded to Pep’s relentless pursuit of upholding club values – for the club and Catalunya:

      • Messiah10
        May 2, 2012

        Great article. I missed it when it originally came out. Thanks for posting it here. Love the quote at the bottomw of youngsters and the Milan team full of veterans in the 05 CL Final. Dear oh Dear won’t he be missed!

    • nzm
      May 2, 2012

      Perhaps another point to emphasise here, Nabeel, to which I alluded in my article:

      1. Sir Alex Ferguson is a Scotsman coaching an English team for which he never played. His loyalties and priorities are not based on doing well for a country, but for the club, the results and, less importantly now for Sir Alex, his paycheck.

      2. Pep Guardiola is a Catalan coaching a Catalunyan team for which he played through the age ranks, was a ball-boy at Camp Nou and attended La Masia. His loyalties and priorities are very much based on doing well for a club which is in his blood in many more ways than Man U is for Sir Alex, as well as maintaining the club values, achieving the results – AND playing for Catalunya each and every time.

      The pressure on the Barça players and coaching staff is huge, and made more so by that Catalunyan influence. Each game is virtually an international test match, regardless of the opposition.

    • Messiah10
      May 2, 2012


      I’d recommend watching the documentary: El Clasico – More than a Game. It was done by University students in California. They did a fantastic job focusing on the historic rivalry from both aspects of clubs. It talks of Catalan culture and of the Franco regime’s brutal suppression of the Catalunya identity. As NZM mentions, FCB became the center of Catalan culture. Therefore, SAF could never represent MU the way Pep represents FCB. I would say George Best, born in Belfast, is more of a comparison to Pep. Though, he was never a ball boy, captain, and CL trophy winner as player and coach for a club in Belfast. NZM does a brilliant job in describing what it is Pep means to the region and how he feels a sense of duty to the region. Anyway, you should check out the documentary. Really good. You also get to see Ray Ray on it!

  5. Laurentiu88
    May 2, 2012

    what are you thinking about Higuain leaving RM? i for one am happy if they let go of such a striker…

    • nzm
      May 2, 2012

      …to be replaced by a better one, perhaps?

      Sometimes it’s “better the devil that you know, than the angel that you don’t”! 🙂

  6. nzm
    May 2, 2012

    Just to clarify a couple of things, as this article was written on Saturday before a couple of the mentioned points were confirmed:

    1. Victor Valdés has now won his 5th Zamora Trophy, and

    2. The Barça vs. Espanyol Derby is now being played on Saturday 5th May at 21:00 local time.

    This link will tell you what the time will be in your corner of the world:

  7. Gogah
    May 2, 2012

    It’s better to burn out than to fade away

    • May 2, 2012

      2nd para:

      Even as his side produced some of the finest football the world has known, even as it controlled games and destroyed teams, in three years landing an unprecedented haul of trophies, he seemed unable to enjoy it, worrying always about what came next, about sustaining that level of brilliance, his anxiety graphed in the retreat of his hairline.

      Is it just me or does anyone else find this utter BS? If Pep wasn’t able to enjoy the successes, he’d have left. Talk about imagination running wild!

      Besides, I find it annoying that when we were eliminated out of the CL, many people were quick to suggest our decline. The ‘philosophy’ was failing, we have no plan B etc. etc. Yet when EE were beaten, ‘tiredness’ was the issue. Of course, how could anyone else including Mou be a part of the reasons attributed to their exit? It was simply because the team was tired.

      And of course, tiredness wasn’t the reason why we were eliminated at all. We didn’t take part in the Clasic that weekend, neither did we churn out 11 grueling back-to-back wins in La Liga cutting the gap from 10 points to 4. And of course, we didn’t have any concerns with people getting injured did we? No. Either they didn’t occur, or matter.

      Pep’s ideas and his ideas itself did the trick. Of course, if any of the 4 balls that had struck the post had gone in, it’d have been a different matter altogether. But that’s irrelevant. It doesn’t fit the narrative of a team fast declining.

      As they say, one misstep and people are having a ball with #findeciclo

      • May 2, 2012

        I sure don’t. I think that the pressure on Guardiola was immense, right from the beginning. There was the pressure to win silver, as we had gone two years without it. There is, as nzm beautifully points out, also the additional pressures attendant to coaching the Catalan National Team (or true one, anyhow).

        All of those conspire to wear a coach the hell out. I think he enjoyed his job at first, and certainly enjoys the excellence, and the results. But attendant to those, at least to me, was a degree of anguish rooted in the sense of fatalism attendant to being Catalan. We saw its release in the uncontrolled, joyful weeping when we won the Club World championship.

        Prima facie, we wondered why such a comparatively minor championship would inspire such emotion. Looking back at it, seems clear now. The weeping was part joy, part relief, part incredulity and yes, part fatigue. One part of me actually thought he might leave after his first season, as absurd as that seemed. Where does one go from six trophies, after all?

        As to Guardiola not being able to enjoy the successes, that is indeed why he’s leaving. Recall his comments about how the big matches, particularly the Clasics, aren’t fun any longer, etc. So he’s leaving. Would he have stayed had they been fun? Probably not. As he said, four years coaching FCB is an eternity. nzm explains exactly why.

    • nzm
      May 2, 2012

      The analogy to a Greek tragedy is a good one, although if Jonathan Wilson understood more about Catalunya, he would have learned that this is very much a “Catalunyan tragedy”.

      The Catalans have that same sense of fatalism and lemming-like march towards their own doom. It stems from a huge sense of pride and an unwillingness to change direction even if the followed path has dire consequences.

      There’s no doubt that Pep contributed to this situation by being Catalan. That’s the very point that I’m making in my above article.

    • blitzen
      May 2, 2012

      I generally enjoy Jonathan Wilson’s writing, but this time I think he was too in love with the metaphor he was building to actually consider the facts. This team is hardly “coming to an end”. Considering the injuries and level of fatigue, the season has been a success. Three trophies won and one more very possible. Yes, the two “big ones” slipped away, but that hardly spells the “end of an era”. You can’t say that until you take next season’s results into consideration. If Tito wins major silverware, will he be writing about the myth of the “resurrected hero”? He’s been reading too much Joseph Campbell.

      • G6O
        May 2, 2012

        There is no reason why a decline should be inevitable – as someone said in the comments section in the Guardian, Capello’s Milan was actually more dominant than Sacchi’s, with a lot of the same players.

        In a way, Guardiola’s decision to leave may have been influenced in a significant part by a desire to stop that natural process of decline before it unfolds. Cruyff stayed for two years after the 1994 final and those were two very bad years. Similarly Rikard probably stayed a year too long after he has lost control of the team. Of course, Pep’s situation is very different because he is adored by the players, but if he felt that he couldn’t handle it anymore, then it was logical for him to take that decision, for the better of the club; otherwise things may have really gone downhill.

        However, there is one thing that that has to be heavily stressed and it is that the times are very different now than they they were back in the days in terms of the structure of football. The team that has dominated the longest was Madrid from the late 50s and early 60s, and they did it by buying the best players from all over the world which other teams weren’t doing at the time (or at least to the same extent). Since then there was actually a long pause between the next superteams assembled this way appeared in the late 80s and even then, until quote recently it was a lot of teams that were buying players and competing. Until the late 90s teams from Portugal, the Netherlands, France and Germany were competitive (Borussia Dortmund won the CL in 1997) and were able to buy good already established players, and in the big 4 leagues it was 5 or 6 clubs that were competing both on the transfer market and in the league. Deportivo, Atletico Madrid and Valencia were all competitive teams that won La Liga between 1996 and 2004, in Italy, Parma, Lazio, and Roma were seriously competing for the title in addition to Milan, Inter and Juventus, the Premier League had not established the entrenched hierarchy of teams that can be only broken into by spending a billion. But once the clubs became global brands this changed – those clubs that had the most historical charisma, had the infrastructure to generate revenue (big stadiums) and/or happened to be successful at the time the trend was developing, managed to make more and more money than the rest, that difference accumulated year after year, and now you have a very small circle of clubs that can actually compete – it’s us, Madrid, United and City, Chelsea, Bayern, and to an extent Milan and Inter, but the Italian clubs are falling further and further behind (in large part because they make half as much money as the other big teams). For the foreseeable future it is not clear how anyone else could break into the club and seriously challenge.

        All of this means that exactly the same kind of decline that was experienced back in the days when there were many teams who could actually compete can’t happen anymore. That small circle of teams will continue to be very successful, the question is which team within that circle will win it in a given year and can anyone sustain a long winning streak, which, however, is extremely difficult because each of those teams is full of world-class players at each position and the level of the competition between them is so high that the typical margin between victory and defeat is the tiniest it has ever been. That we have been able to dominate the way we have for the last almost 4 years in such conditions is a testament to the greatness of the club. But even if there is a dip in the next year in addition to this one, it is not going to last that long, we have the players and the infrastructure to come back on top quickly. The regrettable thing is that in the environment of the 70s or 80s, we could have dominated for a lot longer because we would not have had to deal with 500-million euro squads against us (which ours uniquely isn’t). That Ajax team of the early 70s could have dominated the whole decade had it stayed together, even with a temporary decline in form for a year or two after 1973, but it fell apart, same with their team from 1994-1996 which dominated all of Europe and consisted mostly of players around the age of 20 who continued to great careers in various teams all over Europe. We, in contrast, can afford to and do retain our homegrown players, which puts us in a position to sustain dominance over much longer periods. And I am confident that we will, we have all the pieces in place, but it’s not going to be interrupted dominance in terms of trophies, simply because of how difficult it has become to win it all against teams that start games with 200 million euros worth of players on the bench.

        The danger for the game as a whole is that those same differences in income that generate the differentiation between the small group of superclubs and the rest will also differentiate the clubs within that group. This has in fact been going on for the last two decades – there were as I said above about two dozens of teams in Europe that were generally able to compete for the CL 20 years ago, and that list has been steadily shrinking, with the exception of cases like Chelsea and Man City. Ajax is long out of that list, Juventus is pretty much out of it now, Liverpool is out, Arsenal is almost out too, etc; look who was in the G14 group back in the days and how may of those clubs are taken seriously now. Now Madrid is making 50 million more than us every year, we are making 50 million more than United (who are saddled with unproductive debt), United make 50 million more than Bayern, Bayern make 50 million more than Arsenal, then it equalizes after that, but you get the point – keep this going for another 5 to 10 years and it will get real ugly and uncompetitve, and the financial fair play rules do absolutely nothing to address the problem, they will only make the inequalities more pronounced because these are differences in legitimate income. For us the worry is that we will have to rely on La Masia being able to produce better talent than Madrid’s money can buy; this has been the case so far, but for how much longer? Messi is once a two or three decades player…

        • Messiah10
          May 2, 2012


          really good stuff. I agree with almost everything you mention. The exception being that no small teams can win the CL anymore. I think Borussia Dortmund have a chance to do it IF their team stays together. There’s a podcast of it on BBC World Football. It’s short but talks of how they’ve managed to win the Bundesliga 2 years running from the brink of Administration in 97 & 2005. It’s a big IF because I saw Lewandoski being linked w/PL teams lately and Mario Goetze is always in the transfer rumours. They are still a long shot and I think your spot on when you mention the trend of globalization and how the clubs with history and success during this period capitalized on the tv deals and sponsorship $. I believe something like the NFL and NBA have in lines of salary cap and total cap is needed. There has to be regulation to what clubs can spend to equalize the playing field. Otherwise, you’ll have historic clubs like Rangers FC going into administration trying to keep up. It’s sad.

          • G6O
            May 3, 2012

            They are not going to stay together, that’s the thing. If they were able to do that, they would not have sold Sahin to Madrid.

            Dortmund has a lot of passionate support in Germany, so they can in principle be in healthy financial state for as long as they wish. But they are not a global brand so they can not compete with the likes of Madrid for wages and their players unless they are really loyal to the club, will go to the big teams, for the money and for the fame, before they get a chance to become a global brand.

            BTW, we are in a really unique situation when it comes to that, precisely because the club is seen as the national team of Catalonia – the local players have an incentive to stay that is not matched at any other club that produces a lot of homegrown players. Obviously, there is a question mark attached to the commitment of La Masia players who are not Catalan, especially as more and more of them will be non-Catalan in the future, and not everyone of them will have been saved by the club the way Messi was. But then it also helps that we are one of the richest clubs in the world and can afford to pay high wages. Dortmund is not in that situation.

  8. Peterj
    May 2, 2012

    You guys all like to bash rosell,even though he has done a good job since he came on board

    • nzm
      May 2, 2012

      Care to elucidate on your one-line to indicate which part of this article bashes on Rosell? I’ll gladly counter after you state your viewpoint.

      • May 2, 2012

        RoSELL has done some good things, but he has also done some things that don’t reflect well on the club. When he does good things, they are acknowledged, just as the crappy things are. So I’m with nzm in requesting a further explanation.

        Further, clarify “you guys.” It’s well known that I am pretty emphatically NOT in the RoSELL camp. I think he’s a vengeful little weasel who has his interests at heart more than the club’s. I’ve gone on the record about that before. But I wouldn’t make my views correspond to those of the entire BFB team.

        But from his comments on African youth players, soci restrictions, financial skullduggery to make Laporta look bad, dragging that crap through the legal system, again to bring Laporta down, crazy talk about “no color copies,” situational “transparency,” selling the shirt …. to my view, he rather deserves some bashing.

        So far, he hasn’t done a good job. He hasn’t done much of anything at all, except, as a president, win less major silver with another president’s team. His biggest transfer as a president is Fabregas, who has been a very expensive mixed bag. Next season will be his first as an actual president. He made the right coaching decision, though I do suspect that Guardiola had a lot to do with that. We still have to see what he will do in the transfer market.

        Has he done some good things? Sure. The renewal of Abidal, which we assume to be for the right reasons, is a good thing. Can’t really think of much else that he’s done. Some suggest that with a different president, Guardiola might be staying longer. I’m not willing to make that connection. I think that our coach was just dead tired.

        Anyhow ….

        • blitzen
          May 2, 2012

          He agreed to the appointment of Tito as coach. We already know from the press conference that that was Pep’s and Zubi’s idea, not his. He should get some credit for that.

          • May 2, 2012

            Not that he had much of a choice in agreeing to what Guardiola wanted, though. Even a weasel isn’t stupid.

          • blitzen
            May 2, 2012

            Of course he had a choice. Pep was leaving anyway. He could have taken the opportunity to bring in anyone he wanted. But as you say, Rosell is many things, but stupid is not one of them. It would have pissed off a lot of people if he had disregarded Pep’s wishes and cast a shadow over the new coach coming in.

          • May 2, 2012

            It would have pissed off a lot of people if he had disregarded Pep’s wishes and cast a shadow over the new coach coming in.

            Egg-sactly. Guardiola is a saint right now. Ain’t no going agin’ a saint, pardner!

        • messifan
          May 2, 2012

          How about Masch, Adriano and Alexis? They were brought in under Rosell. Tbf, Pep wanted Cesc for a long time. Not saying that Rosell is an angel, but I’d give him some credits.

          Also, Rosell is still the president, and it is he who makes the final decision. If he didn’t want Tito, he would veto the choice and none of us would know it. Recall last week, very few seemed to think that Tito was an option.

          • nzm
            May 2, 2012

            Tito really wasn’t considered by a lot of pundits because if Guardiola had gone to another club, there was a high probability that Tito would have gone too.

            As far as players bought and sold yes, Rosell has final say, but the legwork is done by the Barça scouting team, in conference with Zubi, Pep and Tito. Rosell signs off on the deal if it all looks ok.

            Cesc had been long considered way before Rosell’s tenure. If you recall, Laporta’s last deal was to try to get Cesc, but then Cesc signed another contract with Arsenal and put himself out of contention. Laporta then signed David Villa as his final signing for the club.

            Maybe the only deals that Rosell has directly been involved in was bringing Afellay to the club, and sending Chiggy away against the wishes of Pep.

          • May 2, 2012

            messifan is right. I forgot about those. Good deals, all of them. Full credit for that.

        • Blau-Grenade
          May 2, 2012

          A good president could have made Pep’s life much easier, and I might go so far as to say fun. I can easily see Pep staying longer under a different president like Laporta. Coaching pressures aside, I believe the lack of rapport with Rosell is the primary reason why Pep is leaving.

  9. May 2, 2012

    Loved the post nzm! Great insight from a Catalan perspective on our beloved coach. You should definitely post more often 🙂

    This has certainly been a rollercoaster season. I don’t think any club has ever quite gone through what Barcelona has this year. Mind you, a Barcelona that is considered and expected to be the world’s best.

    And the fact that you point out only THREE out-field players of our 22 remained uninjured/fit all season is remarkable. To be able to reach the CL semis, fight until the end for the Liga, and be in the CDR final (not to mention the three trophies already won) is, again, remarkable.

    Mes que un club.

    • nzm
      May 2, 2012

      Thanks, mani.

      It’s been quite remarkable that the team has done so much with that injury list, hasn’t it?

  10. Huckleberry
    May 2, 2012

    Two things are clear: 1. Guardiola loves Barça. 2. Guardiola is not a careerist. He put the things to be well done above his own benefit.

    Considering that, Guardiola did, what he thought would be the best for the team, the club and perhaps Catalunya, and then eventually for himself.

    In Pep we trust! 😉

  11. James08771
    May 2, 2012

    Thank you for this post, nzm.

    You’ve helped me a great deal in appreciating the dual pressure in fighting for FC Barcelona and Catalunya. While I’ve recognized the “mes que un club” phrase, you’ve really provided a deeper understanding of the thought process behind born and bred Catalans who are immersed in everything that is Barça. I also really enjoy your comments and I love how you are a frequent contributor here at BFB. Your passion and academic-like understanding of the club’s activities are completely evident and I know that we all learn so much from you. My hope is that you do more posts in the future as you would be taking the quality of this blog to greater heights.

    Here’s a question for you, and for anyone interested in responding: I’m with the assumption that should Guardiola ever wish to return to coaching, he would prefer to return to Barça (although I agree with you that he may prefer to wait for this current executive board’s time in power to expire). If his coaching itch returns while things are going great under Tito (hopefully), do you think he will bide his time or take the first interesting position available?

    Thanks again!

    • blitzen
      May 2, 2012

      I said in an earlier threat that I don’t see Guardiola coaching in Europe for now. Not at a major club, anyway. I don’t think he would want to be in a position where a club he coaches could come up against Tito’s Barça. That’s just my personal opinion. I do see him coaching again in 2 or 3 years, but somewhere very different from Europe. Mexico, maybe, or Brazil. Any club in China, Russia, or Qatar/Dubai would write him a blank cheque. Not that it would be about money, I’m sure he’s rich enough. But I think he would enjoy the challenge of coaching somewhere very different. Or maybe he will surprise us all by taking charge of a lower-level club in England or Italy, just to see what he do with it.

      Unlike many others I don’t see him coaching a national side, at least not until he is much older. I don’t there think would be enough daily contact with the players for his taste, and he wouldn’t like not being able to oversee the athletes’ regular diets and training regimens. Also, being a national team coach involves a great deal of travel and he has said he wants to spend more time with his family, not less! Maybe when the kids are grown. And it is much too soon for him to consider coaching the Catalan NT for the reasons nzm has pointed out (plus Cruyff still has that job).

      For the near future I seem him golfing a lot, taking vacations with his family, doing some consulting a la Cruyff perhaps.

      • James08771
        May 2, 2012

        I agree with you, I could totally see him taking on a long-term project overseas. He does have already-established connections in the Middle East and Mexico. I just wonder how comfortable he and his family would be in moving elsewhere.

        I suppose if he were to go anywhere, my money would be the Chivas position. In my opinion, he would have plenty of incentives for this move. He would be reuniting with Cruyff, his close friend and mentor, so it’s easy to see Guardiola being given complete control and trust with the project. He would be bringing his family to a Spanish-speaking country, so the social transition will not be as challenging. Plus, he has already spent time in Mexico so he should have an understanding of the Mexican footballing culture. And as far as money is concerned, Jorge Vergara is one of the richest men in Latin America and would surely dish out a blank cheque to secure Guardiola’s services towards a long-term project. It would also be interesting to see how much input Guardiola would given with regard to Chivas USA in MLS.

        I’m so excited about the prospect of Guardiola’s potential return to football. He just has so much to offer and can really be a stalwart in enlightening other football cultures with his knowledge and experience. Raul is right, football needs him.

      • barca96
        May 2, 2012

        I would like him to stop golfing. He needs to take care of his back. I dont want him coming back for the 2nd stint and still having a back problem.

      • Messiah10
        May 2, 2012


        Tim Vickery mentioned on BBC World Football Phone In that there’s a BIG push for Pep to be the Brazil National Team coach. Tim says it’s an interesting thought but that Pep would need to find that Xavi/Iniesta midfielder to orchestrate his philosphy. Currently, Brazil don’t have that player. Pep has talked about how his dad used to rave about Brazil teams of the 50-70’s and how Barca are more like those Brazil’s than the current Brazil team is. Interesting thought.

    • nzm
      May 2, 2012

      Thank you for your comments, James.

      Not much to add to what blitzen has written.

      One thing’s for sure – Pep likes to surprise, so I wouldn’t like to wager on what he’s going to do next! 😀

      I’m not sure that he’ll coach in Spain again because of his ties to FCB, although Bilbao holds a fascination for him in that they’re similar to Barça, but more adamant that they want develop and play predominantly Basque players. Bielsa has Bilbao tied up for at least another season though, and I’m not sure that Catalunya could take the “betrayal” of Pep going to El Pais Vasco!

      As far an international undertakings, if he did go for that, I’d like to see him take on Argentina. He knows Messi and Masch and where they play best. Pellegrini’s master-stroke in moving Demichelis to play midfield has seen a revelation in how he plays, and I believe that this would be a team challenge that Pep could easily slip into.

      If he returns to Barça, I’m not sure where he’ll slot in. If not manager again, maybe Technical Manager although I doubt that he’ll enjoy working to a budget. I just get this inkling that he’s going to challenge for the Presidency one day…maybe!

      • James08771
        May 2, 2012

        Thank you for replying, nzm. I appreciate it. And I’m happy to see that you will be posting again, and hopefully often. Kudos to Kxevin for working to make it happen.

        I agree with you in that I don’t believe he would coach any other club in Spain. It has too great a risk of appearing treacherous to culés. Although you raise an interesting point that I never considered. Given his close relationship with Messi, I could definitely see him being inspired to help Messi win the World Cup as the Spanish players at Barça have already won it. As Brazil 2014 is only 2 years away, I can’t see Sabella being removed until then. But if Argentina doesn’t win then, perhaps Guardiola would consider taking over Argentina’s preparations for Russia 2018. In my view, it would represent Messi’s final chance to win the World Cup as he’ll be turning 31 during that tournament. It’s an intriguing proposition, as claiming a World Cup victory alongside Messi could immortalize both as perhaps the greatest player and coach ever, respectively.

      • Messiah10
        May 2, 2012

        Even though Bilbao think a lot of Pep, I also don’t think he’d go b/c one of his coaching influences is Bielsa. He visited with Bielsa and others before he took the B team or 1st team job. Not sure which. He thinks a lot of Bielsa and I don’t think he’d want to follow in his foot steps or come there if Bielsa had been let go. Only speculation of course. 🙂

  12. May 2, 2012

    On a different note, is anyone interested in running the liveblog today? If you are just post here or email us.

    Since I’m in a bit of a rush today preference will be given to someone who has done it before. Sorry eager young padawans.

  13. May 2, 2012

    I’d also like to take my hat off to this post. It’s not only excellent, but provides a perspective that has occurred to me, but I just wasn’t able to put it into words such as these. Nicely done.

    Those wanting more from nzm will be getting their wish, as I’ve been arm-twisting in an attempt to have her join Team BFB in an official capacity. For now, we’ll have to make do with the occasional post, however. So this isn’t an official welcome, but I hope very much that it will be soon.

    • nzm
      May 2, 2012

      Thanks for the kind words, Kevin.

      Yes, Kevin approached me to officially become part of the BFB Mod Family, and I’ve asked if it can be in a couple of months’ time, as the silly summer season is coming and the house guests wanting to visit Barcelona are starting to queue up!

      By then, I’ll have a good idea of my schedule, and will be able to commit time to upholding the fine quality of this webspace. 🙂

      • mom4
        May 2, 2012

        Wait…I don’t understand…house guests during silly season…but…but don’t they realize there will be no games to go to…why visit during silly season when you can visit and watch some beautiful football…not comprehending the incomprehensible…sorry…

        • nzm
          May 2, 2012

          Ha! Not everyone comes for football, mom4 – silly, isn’t it? 😀

          There are actually a few headed from Australia and New Zealand (it being winter down there) and then we have the European continental friends wanting to come to a beautiful, hot city with a beach…and free accom. 😀

  14. barca96
    May 2, 2012

    Why is Aguero constantly linked with EE? He has more connections to us (Messi asking the club to sign him) but somehow he is always not in our radar.

    And why does EE need another striker? They have 3 free scoring already.

    Why are we never seriously linked with Aguero?

      • May 2, 2012

        And because we don’t need another doorstep bottler. Did you SEE some of the chances he spurned in the Manchester derby? Looked Barca quality. 😀

    • nzm
      May 2, 2012

      Because he’s Maradona’s son-in-law. 😀

      • barca96
        May 2, 2012

        No seriouly.

        We could”ve signed him while he was still at Athletic but they never really went or it.

        And I don’t understand why.Maradona keeps on insisting that he should go to EE? He has no connections to the club at all. I understand that he left us on a sour note butwhy EE?

  15. nzm
    May 2, 2012

    Noises coming out of Rome that Lucho’s future at Roma will be decided in the next few weeks.

    Thoughts on him being Tito’s assistant?

    • blitzen
      May 2, 2012

      I adore Lucho, but I’m not sure being Tito’s assistant would suit him. He has a very strong personality of his own, and might have trouble going back to being someone’s number 2. If it does happen I would be thrilled, but I don’t know if it would even interest him.

      If Lucho does leave Roma I would love to see him coaching in Spain. He could take over at his beloved Sporting Gijon and bring them back up to the Primera. Or go to Valencia, as it seems likely that Unai Emery will leave.

      I do think Lucho will end up coaching Barcelona at some point, whenever Tito has had enough.

    • Blau-Grenade
      May 2, 2012

      I would second Lucho being Tito’s assistant. He is from the same golden era as Barca and understands the system/philosophy well.

    • Blau-Grenade
      May 2, 2012

      I would second Lucho being Tito’s assistant. He is from the same golden era as Pep and understands the system/philosophy well.

    • barca96
      May 2, 2012

      I thought it was meant to be a long-term project at Rom a. I never expect any coach to last long there. They have always been firing happy.

      But I don’t think he want to come back only to be a no. 2.

      I’d prefer Oscar Garcia to be the no.2 but it looks like he is becoming a head coach else where.

    • Messiah10
      May 2, 2012

      Typical footballing managerial expectations in today’s game. Roma bring a guy in w/Barca DNA to implement the style and philosophy and when they don’t win the Scudetta in the 1st season he needs to go! Crazy. Similar to AVB at Chelsea. Brought in to revitalize an aging squad and begin another era and gone 7 months later. Even though results after can’t be argued. However, it’s disheartening to fans of clubs and to the game in general when instant success is expected. I think anyone wanting to get into coaching nowadays has to be a bit of a nutter!

  16. nzm
    May 2, 2012

    Team announced vs. Malaga:

    Alves Puyol Masch Adriano
    Iniesta Keita Cesc
    Cuenca Messi Pedro

    • blitzen
      May 2, 2012

      Surprised Puyol is starting. I would have thought they would want to rest him for the Espanyol game. Maybe Bartra will come on in the second half.

      • mom4
        May 2, 2012

        Ditto, Blitzen.

        Love that Busi is getting some rest before the derby.

      • nzm
        May 2, 2012

        He’ll either be marking Cazorla with Masch taking care of the rest, or vice versa.

        • mom4
          May 2, 2012

          I absolutely love Santi. I hate playing against him.

    • Ryan
      May 2, 2012

      Hoping for some Messi goals to get closer to Muller’s record!

  17. barca96
    May 2, 2012

    Does any one here use dolphin browser on android to comment on thi site?

    It is really killing me how laggy and error prone it is. The worst part is when I try to correct a spelling. To get the cursor back to that place/position alone is a b@#; h.

    It was a breeze on the iphone safari.

    • mom4
      May 2, 2012

      I use the Google browser I think for my droid (mostly computer/droid illiterate). It works well, but I really have to be motivated to post something as I hate typing on the thing.

  18. Blau-Grenade
    May 2, 2012

    Dear M, Thank you for this wonderful post. You are heaven sent :). S.

  19. Messiah10
    May 2, 2012

    68 GOALS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  20. catalantractorboy
    May 7, 2012

    I didn’t have time to read all the comments so I might have missed somebody saying this. But as well written as the article was, anything based on the way Barça represents Catalunya being called a burden is utterly wrong in my opinion.

    Being a pillar of the Catalan community defines Barça. It has and always will do. The club and the fans embrace it. It doesn’t add more pressure because results on the pitch are not the way Barça represents Catalunya. It’s through the clubs ethos, through the fans and through the dedication time, money and effort to promoting the ideals and value Catalunya.

    Visca el Barça I Visca Catalunya!

    • nzm
      March 22, 2013

      It doesn’t add more pressure because results on the pitch are not the way Barça represents Catalunya.

      So if Barca loses on the pitch, it would be ok? Gimme a break!

      I’m sure that Catalunya would love Madrid laughing at their football team even more than they do, if they lost on the pitch. It would completely nullify all the other things which you state that the club represents to and for Catalunya.

      Club ethos only goes so far if there aren’t the results to back it up.

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