A conversation with Leonor Gallardo

A conversation with Leonor Gallardo, PhD in Physical and Sports Sciences, professor at the Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha and director of the Master’s program of Sports Development for the Spanish Royal Football Federation. She is co-author, with Juan Carlos Cubiero (President, Eurotalent and professor at the Universidad de Deusto, San Pablo-CEU) of two books:  La Roja: El triunfo de un equipo [The Reds: Triumph of a Team] (Alienta Editorial 2009)  and, more recently, Liderazgo Guardiola: Como lograr que tu equipo sea admirado [Guardiola’s Leadership: How to Create an Admirable Team] (Alienta Editorial 2010).

Professor Gallardo was kind enough to reply to my fan-e-mail after I saw her interview on TVE’s ‘Deporte Noche’, a midnight must for any cable-connected Liga fan who suffers from a) insomnia; b) late-night talk-show wearies; and/or c) lingering jitters after a major mid-week match. She graciously agreed to participate in our BFB community, answered my questions and trusted my English. Enjoy!

Liderazgo Guardiola is available from many major Spanish booksellers (including on-line stores Casa del Libro, Planeta del Libro and the inevitable El Corte Inglés.)

SoMa:              Guardiola’s Leadership, your book inspired by the Catalan coach’s extraordinary season last year, has just been published. What do you hope to contribute to the public’s knowledge about Pep as a leader as well as a coach?

Leonor:            While this book can help readers get to know the coach, our focus was his leadership style and demonstrating the similarities between a good coach and a good businessman. In the world of sports, this sort of analysis hardly exists, since most studies focus on the way teams play. Nonetheless, Guardiola’s successful, elegant and innate leadership style is also relevant to businessmen.

SoMa:              Aside from press conferences, Guardiola tends to decline interviews. How did you find your sources for your portrayal of the coach?

Leonor:            It’s true that he doesn’t give interviews, but this is a smart strategy. Interviews would take up much of his time and, besides, in an interview you always run the risk of offending someone. We portrayed him based on information provided to us by the people who surround him, like his coaching assistants, players, and so on.

SoMa:              It’s often said that Barcelona aspires to embody a ‘philosophy’ of soccer. In your opinion, how does Guardiola represent that philosophy, both on and off the field?

Leonor:           It’s a philosophy centered on creativity in all areas and placed in the service of ‘defending one’s home’, in this case his reliance on the masía and elegance in everything.

SoMa:              In your opinion, how does Guardiola differ from his predecessors who have also adopted the Barcelona philosophy, such as F. Rijkaard and, especially, J. Cruyff? If the team does not win any titles this season, do you believe that Guardiola’s leadership style will influence the team in the future, as Cruyff’s has, or will it dissipate, as with Rijkaard?

Leonor:            What sets Guardiola apart is the fact that he was raised in Barcelona’s system from his days in the cantera, and so he is thoroughly familiar with the team’s system. The same goes for his players, who came up through the system, too. Cruyff has never faded into the background and Guardiola will remain just as influential, if not more so. It’s possible, too, that he will always be present either as a coach or team director.

SoMa:              What do you think of the team’s slogan ‘More than a club’? Do you think that this stance, which unites the sport with a national and sociopolitical awareness, will ultimately hurt or help Barcelona as a soccer team?

Leonor:            No, I don’t think that the slogan’s political meaning will have any negative impact on Barcelona’s objectives as a football club. For Barcelona, soccer remains more important than politics.

SoMa:              If Barcelona is ‘more than a club’, can it also be said that Guardiola is ‘more than a coach’? How would you describe the emotional connection that exists between the coach and his players?

Leonor:            Guardiola surrounds himself with the best players and always ensures that they know he feels this way about them. It’s the so-called ‘Pygmalion effect’. It’s a productive connection; his players also think that he is the best of coaches.

SoMa:              A soccer match is often described as a battle between two personalities; an example would be this year’s Champions semifinals, portrayed as a confrontation between Guardiola and Mourinho. In your opinion, how does a coach’s personality influence a team as compared with that of his players?

Leonor:            It has a great influence, since the coach’s personality manifests itself on the soccer field and, more so, in the team’s press conferences. For this reason, refraining from criticizing others or making inopportune comments to the press is another lesson we can learn from Guardiola.

SoMa:              Soccer’s most entertaining personalities are not always found on the bench, now that television commentators have become an essential part of the soccer experience for many Spanish fans. One of the few female commentators is Maria Escario, presenter for ‘Telediario’ (the national Spanish daily newscast). In your opinion, what influence, if any, has Maria had in associating a ‘feminine face’ to sports journalism in Spain?

Leonor:            Today there are many more women in the world of soccer. This is due to the fact that women like soccer, too. But in terms of their influence on sports journalism, I don’t believe it exists. They are separate issues.

SoMa:              As a university professor and author who specializes in sports, how do you view women’s participation in the Spanish sports world in general?

Leonor:            Sad. Lifeless. That is to say, nonexistent.

SoMa:              During TV coverages of soccer matches, there is usually at least one ‘take’ of a young, pretty woman enjoying an afternoon in the stadium. In your opinion, are women considered part of the team’s general fan base?

Leonor:            This is a topic that is attracting more and more interest; women like soccer and so they are also part of the fan base. I don’t find anything different between men and women in that sense.

SoMa:               Thank you, Professor Gallardo.

SoMa is off to visit the suegros in sunny Valencia later this week (no jealousies ~ she will be in gate Z986 at lovely O’Hare airport at game time on Sunday; the Hunky Spanish Soccer Husband is seriously ticked).  So she says Adiós until she can reconnect herself sometime next week.

By SoccerMom

SoccerMom obsesses over FCB and this blog instead of grading papers, burning dinner and/or raising her small children. She blames a Spanish husband and easy access to Hispanic-targeted cable sports channels for her football addiction and consequent failure as a professor, housekeeper and mother.


  1. First!

    By the way, what barcelona is doing now, and how they are playing, has repercussions for many years to come. When players like Keirrison, Ibra, Villa, Arshavin and Fabregas make comments like they would only leave their teams to play for barcelona, it warms my heart. I have a feeling there are many more young players watching the game, and thinking,’thats the only team I dream about playing for’.

    I just think we will be flooded with talent for years to come. If La masia comes calling for your kid, with the opportunity to become the next xavi, iniesta or messi, would any parent refuse?

    1. I saw this comment on the last post, and I was hoping you would repost it. A great tie-in to how set we are for the future. Not only do we have a fantastic young nucleus now, but our philosophy will make us attractive to future generations of footballers, awesome

    2. Ooops. I didn’t know it went through on the last topic. I got rejected because soccermom was putting up her masterpiece… I wasn’t worthy!

  2. Good interview. Plus a post I actually understand! I’m getting wasted tonight!

    And welcome to chicago on sunday> It’s cold out here though, get ur jacket!

  3. Fantastic interview. I’d love to read her books, especially her second one, to get more insight into Pep. Unfortunately I have a feeling that they aren’t available in English and my Spanish only gets about as far as uno cerveza por favor.

    I’m ecstatic that she thinks Pep will be around either as coach or in a sporting role for years to come.

  4. Great interview SoMa. Love the dirrerent angles we are getting to see OUR team from. Keep it up!

    I noticed the “women in sports” references, and I agree that sports in general has not tapped into the female fan force as much as they probably should be. It is probably the “last frontier” left, as the world becomes more and more globalized and games are broadcast all over the world. Football/Soccer will reach a point where they have tapped into all the male fans (and a few female fans too), and the only way to increase their market will be to purposedly target female fans.

    1. Maybe that influenced the club’s decision to have a “salmon” colored away shirt this year?

    2. Could be?!?! Definitely was not my favorite color. I think teams do little things here and there to cater to that audience, but I still think for the most part they are neglected.

  5. Wonderful piece and an excellent job. I believe I’ll pick up the book to try and continue to work on my reading comprehension. Thank you!

  6. Mmh… I should learn Spanish so that I can read this book 🙂

    Thanks for the interview, some insightful statements about Pep! Hope he stays for live @ Barça.

  7. Guardiola surrounds himself with the best players and always ensures that they know he feels this way about them. It’s the so-called ‘Pygmalion effect’.

    Great interview SoMa and terrific work. Making the effort to get in contact with the author and engaging her in an interview is really going that extra step!

    I found her response above about the “Pygmalion effect” quite interesting.

    One of the things that’s debated a great deal among supporters is whether or not a player fits the Barca system. In general there’s often a sense that either the player and his style of play fits or does not with the Barca’s.

    The emphasis tends to be on the player’s existing talent rather than his commitment, willingness or ability to learn and adapt.

    But learning and adapting – changing- is largely what Pygmalion is about. And that process of change is a two way process. It’s not only the “student” who is learning and changing but so is the “teacher.”

    Not having read the book it’s difficult to say how accurate this assessment of Pep is. But if we assume for the moment that it is accurate, it would suggest that Pep understands that players aren’t widgets who do or do not fit into different predefined slots in a system that isn’t able to accommodate and evolve.

    It suggests that when a new player is brought in Pep would do so acknowledging that learning and change are going to be required and that regardless of how big the transfer fee is, that change is going to take time.

    1. (cough!) Ibrahimovic (cough!)

      Good observations, Euler, and nice stuff, SoMa! Hey, you’re going to be in my fair city on Sunday? Excellent. Bring some nice weather with you, please.

  8. So just to get my head around europe’s gossip columns today…
    Cesc already agreed his 4 year deal. He hasn’t agreed it yet. Is happy with Arsenal & would only consider us if he decides to leave.
    Yaya is going the other way as part of the deal. Or else is just going to Arsenal.
    Villa is signed sealed & delivered. Villa still considers himself a Valencia player for the next 4 years of his contract.
    Ibra is going to Chelsea. No actually, he is going to Man City for €40million to re-join Mancini.
    Oh yeah, Pep considers Mario Balotelli to be the new Henry & Mino Raiola is working to make it happen.
    It all makes so much sense…

    1. The sad reality is that WE are the ones getting HLEBed the instant the season ends. I mean, would somebody take him if we paid them????

  9. Wow, amazing work. It makes me feel very close to the team. Really appreciate your hard work, SoMa. What we have here are really some expert opinions. Don’t take it for granted! Never saw anything like it anywhere and is in English! thanks SoMa!

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