Book Review: “Pep Guardiola: Another Way of Winning” by Guillem Balague


Let’s get this out of the way right now: If you are looking for an in-depth tactical analysis of the “Guardiola system”, this isn’t the book. If you are looking for a detailed account of Pep’s four seasons in charge of FC Barcelona, this isn’t that book either. Instead, this book is (or claims to be) an introduction to the man himself, with insight into how he thinks, what motivates him, and why he does what he does. In that sense, Pep Guardiola is a success. The reader is left feeling that they have a deeper understanding of how Pep relates to people and how that was the catalyst behind certain events. More on that later.

The book is divided into three parts, each with a different theme. The first part deals with Guardiola’s decision to leave at the end of the
2011-2012 season (“Why Did He Have to Leave?”). Then there is a brief account of Pep’s youth, playing career, and his personal quest to learn as much as possible about football from coaches and players whose vision of the game he admired. This section covers Pep’s time coaching the B team and how he came to be chosen as first-team manager. The third part chronicles Pep’s four seasons at the helm, with emphasis on the most important games, such as the CL finals and the numerous Clasicos. Balague discusses at length Pep’s relationship with his players, staff, and the media, and a whole chapter is devoted to the “rivalry” with Jose Mourinho. The final chapter returns to the theme of Pep’s departure, the final games, the tributes–and the response from within and without the club.

I am on record as not being a fan of Guillem Balague, but having purchased the book I resolved to go into it with an open mind.
Whatever I think of his personality, he is a decent writer and certainly has access to sources and information I do not (as he often reminds the reader). The book unfortunately suffers from poor editing. There are numerous avoidable typos (at one point he says that Inter took Eto’o in exchange for Ibrahimovic AND paid 46 million Euros in instalments!) as well as repetition of phrases and paragraphs that make it seem like the book was written in separate chunks that were later patched together. At one point he refers to Pep as “Spiderman” out of the blue, and it isn’t until nearly the end of the book that he explains the analogy. From someone who makes his living using words, I found it sloppy and annoying. From a purely factual point of view, there is not a lot of new information in this book. Most of the content could be gleaned from previously-published sources–interviews, match reports, ect.—and there are some passages where the reader feels doubtful that the way the author relates an anecdote is really quite how it occurred. The strength of the book lies in the direct quotes from interviews Balague conducted with Pep’s friends, colleagues and players (including one who preferred to remain anonymous–for some reason I suspect it was Dani Alves).

If most of my previous comments sound negative, there are plenty of positives to this book as well. The author has a light, engaging style that allows the reader to appreciate the highs and lows of Pep’s time with Barcelona. One of the most enjoyable sections deals with Pep’s season coaching the B team. Like many, I wasn’t really following the B team at the time, so I was fascinated to read about the enormous changes Pep implemented when he took charge—merging the B and C teams and keeping only the cream of both teams. In the end he let 27 youth players go. Imagine how difficult that would have been for someone like Pep to do! And that is really the crux of this book—the way Pep Guardiola forms close emotional relationships with his players, and how this tendency affects his actions, his decision-making, and ultimately was one of the reasons Pep made the decision to leave when he did.

“On the day he announced to his players he was leaving Barcelona, he was clear: `If I had continued we would end up hurting each other.’”

According to the author, Pep has a fundamental need to feel loved by those around him. His passion for the game and personal charisma make it easy for players to “fall” for him. Pep is very affectionate with his players, and that affection is returned—most of the time. Now and then Pep comes up against a player who cannot or will not form an emotional connection with him. When the player is performing well and doing what is expected of him, that is OK. But if the player is also not adapting to what Pep requires of him tactically or is causing problems within the team—and shows no desire to improve the situation—Pep slams the emotional shutters down. Thus players like Eto’o and Ibrahimovic were eventually frozen out. Pep’s difficulty distancing himself from his players also meant that daily decisions like choosing a lineup for a game could be painful for him. As a former player he understood how it felt to be left out of a team, to have to settle for a few minutes here and there. In the book Pep describes how he suffered when a player was angry or ignored him. Thus the benching and eventual sale of Bojan (who Balague describes as a “victim of Messi”) was incredibly painful for them both.

Ultimately I came away from this book with mixed feelings. It was an enjoyable read, but aside from the two sections I have highlighted above it felt like there wasn’t much substance to it. Anyone looking for a comprehensive account of the “Pep years” will be disappointed, but then the book never really claimed to be that. As an exploration of Pep’s character and motivations the book is a success, even if it does venture on occasion into melodrama. I would recommend it as a casual read, but take it with a grain of salt.

By blitzen

Canadian, cule, corporate wage slave. Came late to the beautiful game, but fell under FCB's spell in 2006 and never looked back.


  1. Most of the content could be gleaned from previously-published sources–interviews, match reports, ect.—and there are some passages where the reader feels doubtful that the way the author relates an anecdote is really quite how it occurred.

    Typical Balague.

  2. Great rundown, appreciated that…Haven’t read the book and really had no interest despite being a Pep fan, fully. Guillem Balague has zero credibility for me and makes any account he has to give pointless.

    It’s never clear whether this is an ‘authorized’ biography or not as I couldn’t imagine Pep ever leaving Balague to write about him after all the rubbish he has thrown at the club…What did you ascertain from the read, did he have Pep’s blessing or privileged access?

    1. It’s definitely not an “authorized” biography, but it does seem that he had some access to Pep. He mentions that Pep agreed to several brief interviews after training sessions, 10 or 20 minutes at a time. It’s never clear which sections of the book draw from those interviews, and my personal feeling is that Pep would not have discussed anything controversial with him (his relationship with Mourinho, for example).

  3. Thanks for the summary Blitz. One thing I don’t really get it while did Ballague claim that Bojan was a victim of Messi? I would expect it to be because Messi is taking the #9 spot but then Henry, Ibra and Villa all are victims too.

    1. Balague always seems to take some digs at Messi. He can never stop saying about Messi, without taking it to Xavi and Iniesta.

      Bojan looked like a future genius very young. But once he started playing for Barca team, in our best years, I cant remember a single stand out match from him. Unless he was happy with a predominant bench role, he was always going to be out. His comments, after leaving the club, mostly indirectly pointed at Pep, if I remember right. If Balauge doesnt mention that, but only says ‘victim of Messi’, then thats typical of him.

    2. Yes, sorry, I should have been clearer on that. One section of the book expands on the theme that Pep’s biggest innovation was to turn Messi into a false 9 and make him the focus of the team. Obviously Messi succeeded in that position to the point where other players who would normally play in the centre were forced out to the wings. He refers to them all as “victims of Messi”, since he was the reason they no longer fit in the team. So Henry (but he was leaving anyway), Eto’o, Ibrahimovic, and Bojan were all “sacrificed” for Messi.

      The section on Bojan is particularly annoying, as he rehashes that Italian interview Bojan did where he talks about why he left and his relationship with Pep. Balague makes it seem like Pep had an active campaign to exclude Bojan from the team, when in that same interview Bojan admitted that he wasn’t training well or taking any steps to improve the situation.

  4. Did he mention that Pep couldn’t do it without his team? 😆

    (for those of you who watch Revista La Liga, you will be familiar with this wording, as this is Balague’s go-to comment when talking about Messi – that he wouldn’t be half the player that he is without his team.)

    1. He did not, no. 😀 Actually he was quite effusive in his praise of Pep, it’s clear he is a fan—of the man, not his team, obviously. At times it was almost too much, in fact. I can imagine a certain type of British reader snorting in derision over some of the more flowery passages.

  5. I don’t know if this is confirmed or not, but:

    Barça will play a pre-season game against Guardiola’s Bayern on July 24 at the Allianz Arena.

    (via @TotalBarça)

    Pep vs Tito!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Ye gods, it’s worse than I thought …. Sanchez just missed an on-the-doorstep sitter for Chile (vs Egypt). I can’t even figure out HOW he missed it. It would seem to have been impossible. And yet ….

    1. I’ve been trying to figure this out for months, now.

      And the sooner he figures out how to not shoot over/wide/backwards/into-the-ground/nothing-but-air/against-his-own-legs from 5 yards out, the better for everybody (and not least of all himself)!

    2. pinch yourself and wake up, alexis, as i no longer want to be part of your bad dream… 😉

    3. Still, brilliant display for Chile. Everything good about Chile was down to him. Showed what he can do when he’s the main man.

    4. It’s purely psychological at this point. You can’t be that close to goal and be playing instinctively and miss that often. He is definitely thinking about it as soon as the ball arrives and therefore he chokes. I hope he sorts it out. Maybe a penalty kick would do him good?

    5. Maybe. But look at Neymar. He scuffed a sitter (maybe two sitters) at Wembley. It just happens. Sometimes it’s incredibly hard to toe-poke a goal when the ball is scooting across the box and the keeper is stretching to block the shot.
      Anyway, like I said, Alexis was immense for Chile, beating his man, distributing deft passes. At one point he sprinted 40 metres to strip an Egyptian player and then almost set up a goal. Don’t know who else at Barca (except Pedro) would have even thought of doing that.
      Anyway, it’s good to see that Chile, under their new coach are still an all-action, thrills-and-spills team. Hope that never changes.

  7. Don’t know if anyone saw Revista on Sky but there was an interesting section on Graham Hunter’s disbelief that Villa hasn’t been playing regularly and how it might cost later. Plus some consensus that nothing is going to change under Roura as he is seen as only preserving the status quo. Bit early to make that assumption I think but I’ve no trouble seconding Hunter’s thoughts. Some withering comments on R M as well. Seems like its open season on our main opponents 🙂

    1. I have nothing but respect for Graham Hunter, but he’s not a doctor or a physio, and it seems that Vincente Del Bosque doesn’t think Villa is fit enough to start either. YMMV.

    2. I dont think anyone is disputing that Villa is over his injury now. Comments from management about his injury are just covering the fact that they dont rate him enough to play him.

      To be fair to VDB, he’s had no match time. You can’t play for the world champions if you can’t get a game for your own club. Just a waste of a great talent IMO and one that we may well come to regret at the business end of the season.

    3. Being over his injury doesn’t mean he is necessarily match fit. We know nothing of how he is in training or how long it took his body to recover from the 90 minutes he played last week.

    4. ^What she said. For the life of me, I can’t understand why people are so quick to jump onto the “Barça’s evil coaching staff has it out for poor David Villa!” train of thought.

      The training staff see much more of Villa than we do. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they’re not idiots. If he’s not playing, it stands to reason there is a legitimate reason to why he is not. Isn’t the simplest explanation that he’s not fully match fit after such a long lay-off due to injury?

    5. Well you could turn that around and say that by talking about his injury all the time we will drop his value. Whenever he started he did ok, imo. Except for the one time he started on the right wing, he was terrible in that one. It’s not like we set the world on fire, but he was better than the season before.

      Reports say that Tito follows and prepares the games and analyzes the opponent (I think that is a very healthy thing, as long as he doesn’t overdo it). But who decides the line-up?

      It is not just Villa who should get more game time.

      We bought Song to cover for Busi AND to play CB. Most are of the opinion he failed as a CB – the technical staff certainly seems to feel that way. I think he plays well in the midfield but any meaningful playing time is rare and in between. If this is how we use him I would have really liked to see us spend those 16 million euros on someone else…

      I think it is extremely important to start rotating more. For the life of me I don’t understand why we are not doing so.

    6. mmm seems like you are right… on the official fc barcelona websites it says 19 million euros, which is a bit more than 25 million dollars.

    7. Barca should also consider using him as a central midfielder. I think he would be fantastic just in front of Busquets both defensively and offensively. He is so strong on the ball, can pick out offensive passes (not Busquet’s strength) and can be a powerful presence in the box.

    8. Everybody says Barca should play Villa because he’s a proven goal-scorer, as if that is enough. Messi (who has basically stopped defending and tracking back) is Barca’s luxury player. We can’t afford two.

  8. From Barcastuff: Mascherano: “The starters are Gerard and Puyol, that’s clear. I just try to replace them as good as I can when they’re not there.” [md]

    I’ve been one of his biggest critics at times but comments like this are sheer class.

    1. Perfectly said! Every time Mascherano talks to the press he is absolute class indeed. I also read on barcastuff last night that he said “the worst thing about Barça is that one day you’ll have to leave”

    2. Masch is very articulate and thoughtful with his comments.

      In his first press conference (not his presentation) at Camp Nou after having played a few games, the attending press gave him a standing ovation at the end of it.

      He’s a reporter’s dream-come-true because he provides so many golden and insightful comments and soundbites.

      I would love him to be captain (after Puyi hangs up his boots) but that’s not gonna happen!

    3. In his first press conference (not his presentation) at Camp Nou after having played a few games, the attending press gave him a standing ovation at the end of it. — So nice to know this. Your inputs on such happenings, are soo much appreciated nzm.

  9. “We bought Song to cover for Busi AND to play CB. Most are of the opinion he failed as a CB – the technical staff certainly seems to feel that way. I think he plays well in the midfield but any meaningful playing time is rare and in between. If this is how we use him I would have really liked to see us spend those 16 million euros on someone else…”

    Song is, in my mind, dangerously close to being a failed, Chygrynskiy-esque transfer. He played some at the beginning of the season at CB when we had all the injuries, and was frankly pretty awful. He is better in midfield, but with how rarely he plays you really have to ask yourself if it wouldn’t have been better to keep the large sum of money and just give his minutes to Dos Santos.

    The scary thing is – with Barcelona looking at central defenders in the summer there is a large possibility Song will be completely useless in our system – if we buy another CB then Mascherano can be used during the rare times Busquets needs backup, and Song has no role in the team.

    I always had the impression he was a panic buy, and I can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel right now.

    1. I don’t think he was as awful as was made out to be at the CB position but that does not make him a success at that postion. I am afraid I agree with the rest of what you said. We should have kept the money for next summer (CB? GK? Neymar?)

      “Barca should also consider using him as a central midfielder. I think he would be fantastic just in front of Busquets both defensively and offensively. He is so strong on the ball, can pick out offensive passes (not Busquet’s strength) and can be a powerful presence in the box.”

      Agreed, apart from the powerful presence in the box thing, which I don’t ever remember him being at Arsenal. Also I’d very much prefer to give those minutes to Thiago.

      Song should play more, though. Or maybe we can convince another team to pay us the 80 M sell on clause we put in his contract?

    2. But Song didn’t play CM for Arsenal. There is no reason at all why, playing CM for a team like Barca, he could not get into the box and cause mayhem. I really think Song is a wonderful player and if he fails, it will be Barca’s fault, not his.

    3. I sort of agree with this sentiment. It won’t be Songs fault, but it will be Barcelonas fault for buying a player who fairly obviously didn’t fit the needs of the team, not because they failed to use him properly after the purchase.

      Let’s be honest, are you going to leave any of Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, or Thiago on the bench to get Song time at CM? I wouldn’t.

    4. Yup, do it in a heart beat. He’s as good as any of them offensively and better defensively.

  10. And here you go, having back an exhausted Messi back from a friendly, just because he wants to play the 90 minutes of the game. Can imagine how happy he is for not scoring tonight.

  11. I hope we do, cause it’s getting ridiculous. And not having Tito around, i doubt Roura will have the balls to do it.

  12. Messi Fan invades pitch during Sweden vs Argentina. Rubbed and Kissed Messi’s head. Messi looked like a kid. That guy looked like he just climbed Mt Everest afterwards 🙂!

    Messi had a good match, a lot of nice passes. He was basically their playmaker. Unfortunately everywhere on the web they’re saying that Messi is off target, didn’t score. What a load of BS! Why do they only think that Messi is all about goals?

    1. He was in a Baggio like mode or Riquelme. Messi will turn into an AM later on but I don’t think it will be in the Iniesta mold. It will be more like Baggio and Riquelme but maybe not that slow, perhaps Zidane.

    2. You know, this seems like it’s cute, but it happens almost every time he plays for Argentina these days. Why is the security so lax at these games? Eventually some “fan” will turn out to be dangerous.

    1. Yeah – it was beautiful. After it, a thought fleetingly crossed my mind about Oezil being a good replacement for Xavi. 😆

    1. Haha but the nicest goal of the little match went to the other newbie. I saw Cuenca speaking to John Bosman. That’s great. Hopefully he can give some pointers as he used to be a top striker. Hopefully Cuenca can add goal scoring to his array of skills and then he can catch up with Tello.

      I still think it’s a bad move for Cuenca to go to Ajax. It’s like a step down. I’m a fan of Ajax too and I can’t deny it.

    2. Disagree. Top-flight football and playing time in a good system never a bad thing. Can’t send him back to B, not that I would want to see him fall into Eusebio’s clutches anyhow.

      The club was adamant about a no-purchase agreement, so he will be back this summer.

  13. He may be back this summer but its not going o be any easier to get a game. If Villa isn’t good enough Cuenca is light years away. Seems pretty simple to me.

    Hey, I like this putting opinion forward as fact….

    1. actually i think it is hard to compare the two. i think they bring different things to the table. out of tello, villa and cuenca, cuenca to me seems the most versatile.

    2. If it came down to Cuenca and Villa, Cuenca all day. It just seems to be that Villa isn’t up to his standard, and really hasn’t been since the return from the injury. Yes, playing time is part of the issue, but he has regained match fitness.

    3. So the fact that Villa is still one of our top scorers despite the fact he never starts counts for nothing and he has regained match fitness despite never tarting two games in a row?

      Seems to me some people have had a problem with Villa since he joined, mainly because because other favours players have never made the grade. Facts are that as well as being top scorer for Spain the world champions, he has scored a barrowload for us in his first season unlike almost everyone else. He started last season injured as was shown by his leg break, came back this season scored a heap of goals and found himself ignored by management in favour of a forward who couldn’t score if they left him a ball at halftime and twenty minutes in which to hit the target. Unbelievable!

    4. Between Villa, Cuenca and Tello, Cuenca always for me. He may not be as sharp as Villa from a striker point, but we cant get a better winger than him, with his dribbling/passing skills and workrate.

  14. Ok. Cards on the table time (admittedly after a few glasses of wine which isn’t advisable). I don’t think Cuenca will ever play for the firsts again. Like JDS and Bojan he has no area in which his skills are world class and thats what you need to be a first team regular at Barca.

    We’re talking about skills that everyone has. It won’t be enough to save him (imo)

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