Previously, we considered how Special Soccer Coach José Mourinho (as quoted in Madrid’s El País, the London Observer, The Daily Telegraph and the BBC — that rag!) shows a certain philosophical affiliation with fifteenth-century political strategist Niccolò Machiavelli and his masterpiece, The Prince.
This week, we analyze La Liga’s other Míster J., Pep Guardiola, as football’s philosophical heir to seventeenth-century Jesuit Baltasar Gracián, whose Art of Worldly Wisdom contains a treasure of maxims for the would-be nobleman in ignoble times.
Gracián: Avoid the faults of your nation. There is not a nation among even the most civilized that has not some fault peculiar to itself that other nations blame by way of boast or as a warning.
Turbulent elections, unreasonable restrictions, accusations of mismanagement and personal vendettas … no, it’s not the United States midterms (it’s not always about US us) … it’s the not-so-behind-the-scenes scenes at FCB! I’m just waiting for the Marx Bros. to march in while Margaret Dumont warbles ‘Hail, Catalonia’.
Guardiola has managed to remain the fashionably-unshaven public face of Barcelona while deftly deflecting all inquiry regarding his controversial bosses: ‘Sé que volem el bé del club’ (El País, 19 Oct. 2010). At first I thought this meant ‘I know that the club is flying, baby’ and not ‘I know they want what’s best for the club’, which just goes to show that there’s more to Catalan than just changing your Spanish js to xs and ds to ts. ‘De eso me encargo yo’ — ‘Leave it to me’, he says. ‘[This nonsense] will not affect the players’.
Gracián: The thing itself and the way it is done. Substance is not enough, attention to circumstance is also required.
Guardiola’s commitment to Tiki Taka Football is Total. Nothing is ‘enough’ … not grabbing the 3 points, not knocking in a goleada. The way games are won or tied or lost consume him as much as, if not more than, whether or not they are. According to an appreciative profile in El País (17 May 2010), Guardiola’s defenders attack and the forwards defend– simple in theory, complex in practice. But ‘for a footballer’, says Xavi, ‘the kind of football he proposes is a luxury’.
Gracián: Do not make mistakes about character. Better be cheated in price than in the quality of the goods.
Eto’o. Ibra. Villa. Three front-line strikers in as many years at a big hit to Big Daddy wallet while Rosell scrounges the sofa cushions for extra change. But Pep’s ‘feeling’ about character — feelings, by the way, which seem to have borne out by petulant, public gripes about millions owed and boring philosophers and such– suggest that he doesn’t mind losing the kitty on a bad hand.
Gracián: Do not be a scandalmonger. Do not be witty at the expense of others; it is easy but hateful.
Guardiola is so reserved that he almost seems to provoke attempts to provoke him. Ex-players quibble about him to the press like jilted exes on Twitter after a dinner of Heineken and a bag of Doritos. When Ibra scoffs that Guardiola is an unapproachable snob out of touch with his players, for example, el Míster replies: ‘I only represent myself; I can’t respond [to what other people think about me]. I’m Barcelona’s coach’. (El País 7 June 2010). That’s all.
La Liga’s Other Mr. J nurses his own Guardiola grudge like a mangy dog licking a wound. When Mou jabs ‘Hey, other teams have strikers that cost a lot of money too and they don’t score goals either and no one ever says anything about them’ (El País 30 Oct 2010), Guardiola ignores Mou and supports his man: ‘If [Villa] scores, good; and if he doesn’t, that’s o.k. too […] He never stops, he always opens up spaces’. El Míster left it to all-around-likeable-little-guy-Leo to chide the reporters: ‘You shouldn’t listen to Mourinho. He’s always trying to drag us into his [mind] games’ (El País 31 Oct 2010).
Gracián: Comprehend the dispositions of people you work with. Cause known, effect known.
Cf. ‘Feelings’, above. But Guardiola also comprehends the motivations of all the players on his squad, especially the ones who never not want to play. Puyol. Xavi. Messi. And he lets them play. And play. And play. Even the players who want to play and play and play, and then start up about their pay. Like My Man Dani Alves. Do we have another Situation on our hands? Is there some kind of Feeling, Nothing More Than Feeling, afoot? No, says Coach P. ‘He gives us a lot more than he takes away,’ he says (El País 2 Nov. 2010). ‘There’s no problem’.
Gracián: Join in the game as far as deceny permits. You may now and then go where you must go, yet not beyond the bounds of decorum.
Well, he doesn’t march across the field to give the Special One sign to the traveling fans. And he doesn’t flash the ‘Triplete’ signal to his ex-team’s rival spectators. (And in the interest of journalistic justice, we must acknowledge that he doesn’t have people beaming those little lecture-lasers at his face throughout the game, either.) But for all of his pressed collars and swanky scarves, Pep’s no buttoned-down stuffed shirt. He’s been fined for snapping at a linesman ‘You’re making all the wrong calls’ (Pitas todo al revés) in last year’s March match versus Almería, and then accusing the officials of lying (El País 8 June 2009). When FCK’s Solbakken tried to explain away his post-match confrontation with Pep as some kind of ‘Norwegian joke’ (Oh those crazy Norwegians with their mad sense of humor!), Mr. P insisted that it was not o.k. to refer to Pinto as some kind of ‘rotten apple’, especially in the Camp Nou! Totally uncool! (El País 3 Nov. 2010).
But the Sidelined Pep is not always in Time Out. After the Iniestazo versus Chelsea, his friends reminisce: ‘For about fifteen seconds, he forgot he wasn’t the ballboy, until he remembered and adjusted his tie ‘Shit, I’m the coach!’ He still has the soul of a little kid who played ball in the neighborhood’ (El País 17 May 2010).