So. You have this slice of chocolate cake that you’ve been craving for what seems like the best part of your life. And you have it. And it’s good. So good that you start looking for places to put a ring, or you wonder if you should build a shrine to this piece of cake.
It’s that good.
Then you have a second piece, because if the first piece was that good ….
But it isn’t. And you’ve gone and messed it up. But what the hell does any of this cake bollocks have to do with Barca, and Guardiola?
As we look at our coach, Pep Guardiola, the man who, at 38 years of age, has led our beloved club to the best stretch in its storied history, you have to wonder about that second piece of cake.
Best Liga start ever in the club’s history.
The unalloyed adulation of players and fans.
The hottest coaching property on the planet.
Yet like that second piece of cake, there’s nowhere to go but down, as in “Maybe I shouldn’t have had this.”
We are in an extraordinary place in this club’s history. Because even as the players march on to more and more glory, machinations are brewing in the back room, events that could make Guardiola decide to pack his bags for less vexing climes.
Joan Laporta, a.k.a. King of Catalunya, put his neck on the block with the choice of Guardiola. He’d just danced around a motion to censure, a vote that sent a shot across his bow. So, in the swan song of his presidency, he put his money on a guy from the farm, a guy who had danced with the greats, pulled the B team up by its bootstraps with a combination of hard work and incessant demands of hard work from his charges.
Many wondered whether those techniques would carry over into the big time. Laporta took the risk that he would, and we are all basking in the results of that very calculated risk. Guardiola has also made improvements in the club’s match preparation, and medical approaches. When players are injured, it is rarely severe, and they almost always come back ahead of schedule. The man is dipped in gold, and he has a contract offer on the table, one that he could pretty much fill in a dollar amount for.
Why hasn’t he?
My rather dim-witted speculation focuses on three reasons: intensity, need and politics.
Guardiola is a very intense coach, who really isn’t that far removed from being able to play the game. He feels everything very deeply, and puts it all on the line, every match. You need look no farther than his emotional outburst at the end of the Club World Championship to understand the depths of this man’s love for his club, his players and winning. They were tears of joy, of relief, of vindication. Six major trophies in less than 12 months is pretty difficult to argue with.
But that kind of intensity takes its toll on a coach. Here in the United States, a head coach at a major college program decided to step down for health reasons. He has the same kind of intense coaching approach as Guardiola. It’s hard to work that hard, week in and week out, with so much at stake. Every loss is “I told you so,” every less than dominating performance forces people to ask “It is falling apart? Is this it?” The pressure is unimaginable. Guardiola has spoken of the demands attendant to his coaching style. He isn’t a Sir Alex Ferguson type, who will stay with the same club for decades.
And yet, Guardiola has a need to keep winning. He’s almost always been a winner, as a linchpin of some dynamic, magical Barca sides and now, as its coach. He loves winning, and you can almost see a little part of him die when we don’t win. Intense coaches are shredded inside by losses or draws. They have an almost physical need to keep on winning. There is also a psychological need to keep on winning, to satisfy not only their own needs, but the insatiable fans and press.
We all saw it, and we questioned his methods ourselves, after a couple of draws! Is the standard that high? Yes. Absolutely.
Now, we have elections. Sandro Rosell is the leading candidate, a man who has positioned himself as anti-Laporta. What of Guardiola, should he win the election? As long as Guardiola keeps on winning matches and trophies, it would be difficult for even the most beloved president to can him. But what if we don’t win the Liga? Or Champions League? At the first hint of imperfection, what will the likes of Rosell say, and does Guardiola really want to be a pawn in that political game?
Laporta says that Guardiola is taking his time deciding his future, because it is an important decision. Premiership sides are said to be salivating at the prospect of landing the world’s hottest coach. And Pep sits, and thinks, and coaches.
So here’s the question: Will Guardiola sign a new contract?
I think, that with all that I have mentioned, particularly the politics, no. A coach needs to have comfort, and confidence that the long knives aren’t waiting in the grass for him to screw up the first time. No coach wants to have “embattled” attached to his name. Ask Rijkaard whether he’d rather have gone out after we won the double, or as he did, shoved out by a management that couldn’t tolerate mere excellence. The machine runs on silver, and the more the better. It’s pretty hard to coach while looking over your shoulder. “He has the responsibility to keep on winning,” said Laporta in comments on BarcaTV, about the possibility of Guardiola’s renewal. And truer words have never been spoken.
Also, I don’t want Guardiola to leave not on top, even as it means potentially harming our club’s chances at future success. I want my mind’s eye to always have him smiling, being tossed in the air by his players, with yet another trophy in the background. Sometimes, if you love someone you have to let them go, right?
As much as it pains me to say it, Guardiola will be leaving us, for where, I can’t possibly say. I will mourn that day when it comes. Whether your view is that the time to soon, or exactly right (my view) is up for debate.
Which is where we all come in. What say ye?