The Prince and the Courtier, Part II

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).


Categorized as Barcelona

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. Soccermom, this is genius: because the more you reveal about the secret affinities of Pep, the less we actually know about him, and the more we want to know…

  2. Speaking of Guardiola, El Periodico notes, for those of us who howl about how he doesn’t use subs, that in 13 of 16 matches this season, our Philosopher has used all 3 subs.

    We can still quibble about timing and who they are, however. Heh.

  3. Gracian wrote his book of advice for the intelligent courtier, forced to work for capricious and power hungry noblemen. It is about life at court. Rosell and Laporta fit that bill very well. The courtier must please, by exercising his superior intellect without freaking out his superiors. Machiavelli wrote his book for the tyrant himself (the Medicis)…Run of Play had a great post about the difference between Mou and Pep as well. Mou has a Faustian, Satanic air. Pep is the Jesuit. When Cruyff said that you play football with your head, he wasn’t talking about headers.

    1. Some of us even read books about football! 😀

      (If you are a fan of Matt Le Tissier, pick up his book, it’s lots of fun! Wish I had been able to see him play live.)

  4. Awesome research! A very well written article too BTW..

    The comment above by cliu sums up the two-part series perfectly..

    Truly, més que un blog..

  5. SoMa, you have blown me away again. You manage to be bothe erudite and entertaining at once. Brilliant. This is definitely the best FCB blog around.

    And Cliu, thank you for reminding me about Run of Play. I was trying to recall the name the other day and couldn’t. Now I will add it to my favourites.

    1. “This is definitely the best FCB blog around.”


      good one, man, I almost thought you were serious

    2. I find it mildly amusing to respond to trolls with nonsense. They say nonsense, I say “Chimichanga DUCK. DUCK chimichanga.”

      But I think that behavior is frowned upon 🙁

  6. Love it !! As much as I loved the Mou post, because incidentally enough I’m a huge Machiavelli “The Prince” fan ! BUT I do appreciate the research and the comparisons with Gracián whom I didn’t/don’t know much about. Great read.

  7. No problem, blitzen, read and enjoy Run of Play’s wildly literary take on the beautiful game. And Kxevin, I thought nerds were “by definition” smart. You should have written dumb soccer jocks or something like that. All of the smarts in the world can’t dispel the fear and anticipation of the Classico — or of Barca playing Chelsea this year. Won’t the players need to wear helmets or something? Am I being a chicken? Will tiki-taka win the day? I’ve never been known to have a strong stomach for sporting adversity. You should have heard my friends and me cursing Del Bosque after Spain went down to Switzerland in the World Cup. BTW, I am soccer mom myself, and just pulled my son out of AYSO.

    1. Jeez, is AYSO any good anywhere? Here in NY kids play for AYSO if they can’t make the travel teams. Or the rec leagues. Or the pickup games…

    2. club soccer costs $1500 a year! We had a great year at AYSO with an Italian dad who coached a group of kids to love the game. This year, we have finally realized what AYSO really is, which is complicated. It is cheap, and low key — and they say it’s not about winning. as soccer is a game, I’m not sure what that means. my son loves the game, but now we are looking at club soccer costs and thinking, this is crazy!

  8. Hey guys have not been around in a while. Just wanted to say how much I love this blog. and though I have no been commenting much (not that anyone misses my INSIGHTFUL comments) I have been lurking. I’ve been busy with a project that I had to stop till I get my new laptop. But wanted to commend the blog and all of its writers and readers because it has not lost its humor,tolerance,corkyness, and man SoMa rocks so hard.

  9. i might have missed it earlier and i want to confirm: so the clasico will be sunday 11-29 despite the elections?


    1. Not that I don’t believe you, but…source? I need to see for myself before I can breathe easy.

      Otherwise I will somehow have to convince my brother to let me download the match onto his laptop on the Monday night. 😀

    2. *

      Scroll down to November and you’ll see the date was changed to the 28

    3. That’s all you’re going on? What about this (text at the top):

      “The date of the game cannot be considered definite until the kick off time (GMT+1) is given.
      The date and time of games will be decided approximately ten days before.”

      Last I heard they said they would decide “mid-November”. I don’t take this as confirmed at all. 🙁

    4. I mean the obvious compromise solution is that they should change the date of the election.

    5. Word is there’s a “very high” probability that it will end up on the 28th.


      Seems like sponsors put their foot down on it not being on Monday. The compromise solution apparently is that El Clasico will start an hour after polls close (3pm EST). I’m sure La Liga was trying to avoid having it so late for Asian viewers though… but what can you do.

  10. i messed up, sunday is the 28th, but yeah the default on the official calendar on the FCB site is always sunday, so it would be good to have a source showing that it is definitely gonna be sunday…trying to plan that weekend…thanks.

  11. spanish teams fared “mas o menos” in europe today, sevilla won 4-0, atletico won 1-2, but getafe lost 0-3 and villareal lost 1-0 (!)

    however, im sure getafe will have no problem giving us fits in three days time.

  12. WHy is there no love for Pastore Kxev?
    I’ve watched him only 2 or 3 times for Argentina buy oh boy, he does connect with Messi very well. It looked as if they were team mates in a club team.

    Just watched Milan vs. Madrid.
    Notice how Ibra went after Alonso late in the match but Alonso just ran away
    Earlier in the match the NOSE kicked and tripped Alonso while he was running.
    Did something happen between them in the Clasico last year? They don’t seem to be fond of each other.

  13. “Guardiola is so reserved that he almost seems to provoke attempts to provoke him.”

    President Barack Obama, anyone?

  14. Ssaw this on barcastuff

    Ricky Villa (ex-Tottenham): “Yes, I compare Bale with Messi, Ronaldo – he’s playing that level at the moment.”
    (Profanity) English!!! What a way to start a day for me.Sigh. Disgusting.

  15. Some more English wankfest over Bale!

    Roy Hodgson on Daneil Commoli;
    “If it’s true that Gareth Bale is a player he spotted and brought through then we’ll be happy if he can produce one or two more of them for us!” the Reds boss told the club’s official website.

    Why is Bale suddenly in the spotlight?
    From my experience, the English media and people only talk about players who scores and sometimes, just sometimes, about the players who assisted. They don’t bother to look at the whole match. If he scored one, all of a sudden he was good.
    What happens to the likes of Wilshere’s, Cesc’s? Players who help build up play and who started the play.

  16. Bale poned Maicon in every single possible way. Why hate on the hype? His performance against Inter was amazing — but the whole Spurs team has this ability to fight to the bitter end. Sometimes, I feel that Barca loses its will towards the end of a draw, esp. on an away game. Maybe Pep needs to talk to Redknapp’s motivational counselor. I think it would be awesome to see a

    1. Crazy aspect to this whole thing: that crazy fightback at the end of the first leg (Spurs get it to 4-3 from being down 4-0) now gives Spurs the tie-breaker advantage against Inter. So if the Spurs can match (or do better than) Inter’s next two results, Inter will be SECOND in the group.

      Hilarious! 😛

    2. i think i was the one most vocal when criticizing bale(hate, hate, hate). he just really isn’t that great technically, what do you want me to tell ya? sorry i don’t think he’s as fly as a g6. he has awesome pace & can burn you one on one but, outside of people who’ve only seen his performances against inter, he’s known for losing the ball more than anything else. he’s a super quick left back that couldn’t cut it there because he couldn’t defend ably so he’s been featured on the left side of midfield recently by redknapp. depends on the opponents approach but you’d see him @left back w/modric on the left side of midfield & double pivot(palacios, huddlestone) @the beginning of the season/end of last season. now that vander vaart is playing behind crouch, modric has moved into the doble pivote w/bale in the left midfield role & assou-ekotto, the cameroonian, behind him taking on the defensive responsibilities.

      maybe i haven’t given him enough credit on his performances vs maicon & inter(i thought he did great) but i attribute that mostly to rafa benitez not knowing his opponent. he should’ve doubled up on bale, knowing that most attacks would originate there given the welshman’s pace.

      i watch tottenham on a consistent basis and hope, for the sake of the team & the premiership, he does well but all i’m saying is that he’s not worth anything approaching 50 million dollars or technically right for barcelona.

  17. cliu, I don’t think it’s hating on the hype as much as it is people very justifiably being skeptical of the next great hope. The Premiership is excellent at turning them out, then they find their way to a club outside the Prem, and who knows? Redknapp has said that Bale is “priceless.” Now he obviously doesn’t mean that. Every player has a price, even Messi (shudder!). But it does mean that the number would probably start in the crazy range, and go up from there. And Bale seems to have about zero interest in leaving Spurs, to boot, so tack on crazy salary money atop that.

    And for what?

    Players look so good against clubs because Inter played Spurs quite a bit differently than they played us, for example, frankly, with a bit of complacency. Take that second assist, for example, in which Bale has about an acre of space to run into. Swap Bale for Pedro!, and who doubts that the exact same thing would have happened, except that P! can also do that on the right side of the pitch, as he is two-footed.

    Fans become enamored of players before they don the colors, then quickly fall out of love. We only need to look at the example of Zlatan Ibrahimovic to illustrate the point. He came and for the most part (giving skeptics their full due), it was “Huzzah, now stand back!” It was thus from the beginning, then he hit a purple patch, as every player does, and it’s “He sucks, is static and was a mistake. Bring back Eto’o.”

    So what if we spend 50m+ for Bale, and he isn’t any better in our system than P!? Do we think that the fans would turn on him any less quickly? He doesn’t have the luxury of being Spanish like Villa, with the attendant much longer rope.

    A few good matches don’t a Barca player make, as there are so many questions: Can he play in our system? How does he play when tightly marked, or when the bus is parked? How’s the temperament, to deal with the incessant fouling? What kind of a passer is he?

    All important questions, and things that people often don’t look at when salivating over a flavor of the moment. Hope I’m making sense.

    1. Geez. Again with the Ibra talk.
      According to barcatwitter, we are preparing a 56mill bid for Bale.
      My face really turned pale after reading that. It is just crazy! I thought Coentrao was the better player(never seen him).

    2. Sorry, but it isn’t as much “Again with the Ibra talk,” as much as his brief tenure with us is a perfect example of culeitis, or in its Latin terminology, playerus lovushatus.

      No way in hell are we going to spend 50+ on any one or anything not named Fabregas. You read it here first.

    3. The thing that gets me about that Bale effort was the fact that he committed himself to beating the defender for pace. When was the last time we saw one of our wide players do that?

  18. From Pep’s twitter:

    In 16 official games this season, Barcelona have already hit the post 14 times : Villa 5 times – Messi 3 – Pedro and Bojan 2 – Keita and Iniesta 1

    Whether it’s in all comp. or just La Liga isn’t specified.

  19. Bale is a very talented player but too much is being inferred and generalized based on his two games against Inter.

    People are forgetting now the way Inter started off last season. Mourinho didn’t have them “parking the bus” in that extreme fashion all season long. He started out trying to play a more forward moving system and it met with very poor results.

    Why? Because while Inter’s defensive player were tactically disciplined and strong positionally, they collectively had extremely poor pace. As such Mourinho scrapped the way he was initially trying to play and just had the defensive line play extremely deep. In addition, he had the two holding players focus a great deal on covering for the lack of pace at the back line by providing constant support.

    Benitez has completely changed the way Inter was playing. He’s scrapped the deep lying back line and is trying to impose his way of playing on a team that doesn’t have the personnel to support it.

    Rafa wants Inter to play with a much higher backline in order to compress space. But Inter doesn’t have the pace as a team to play that way tactically.

    This is why Bale has had such good matches in particular against Inter. He has tremendous pace and Inter’s high line is complete disaster against a player like that. Inter never should have played like that against Bale two games in a row. One was bad enough. Two is just inexcusable.

    Maicon had a terrible match. But the bigger question is why was there no help provided on that flank to contain Bale? Why would he continually be left 1 vs. 1? Where were the holding players and why were they not providing support? It was just bizarre to watch.

    Benitez was ideologically rigid in those two matches against Tottenham. And that rigidity maximized the danger that Bale’s skill set presented.

    Why has Bale not played that way against ManU?

    The attention that gets foisted on players in the EPL very suddenly is often disproportionate to their talents and Bale is just the latest example. It’s not Bale’s fault at all – he’s seems like a fairly quite player. It’s just this machine making noise that surrounds the EPL. For example, Patrick Barclay already wrote that Bale is the world’s best player after Xavi. What?

    Barca are extremely unlikely to make a bid on him. I doubt that they’ve moved off of the obsession with Cesc and it’s very clear that they need another striker. They don’t have the luxury of spending enormous sums of money right now on a left sided player, especially one whose skill set may not mesh with the way Barca plays.

    1. molt bueno.

      yeah, you’re gonna use muntari & zanetti as your doble pivote, to boot? are you sure, rafa? zanetti was too preoccupied w/van der vaart & modric to help out on inter’s right. why pandev wasn’t switched to that side and the youthful/inexperienced biabiany to the other is what should be asked. you could’ve contained/made predictable bale’s runs depending on who was marking him first, maicon being right footed & pandev left footed, but their high line was always gonna be suicidal.

      good having you back, ferris euler.

    2. I have been talking about Gareth from before that. He was in stellar form to help them reach 4th last season, and scored a beautiful volleyed goal earlier this EPL campaign (I forget against who).

      The boy can play, his talents vs. Inter have been amazing but he’s been more than that.

    3. But why do you only talk about his volleyed goal Josep? Was that his only contribution? How about assists? Goals?

    4. nice cuts.

      first on rafa’s new bad inter, and second on the bale deal.
      indeed, why would people think bale could split defense for us while messi-xaviniesta-villa-alves is already playing for us and that the bus is still parked tight in front of the other goal? bale won’t find that acre of space, unless you wanna see him run backward. and if he were to play instead of iniesta, i will see him 1) lose balls after balls 2) do back passes after back passes.

      speaking of talent, i think bale is good, he is a game changer, but i will have to see if he will be consistently create that kind of chances for his team. therefore, i won’t rate him so highly just yet. he is playing in a league where technical skills is not that much needed after all, yea? but even if he is good, he won’t fit us.

  20. I am impressed by Bale, but I never said we should marry him. Bale should stay at Spurs. Watching the AC Milan, Real Madrid game and RM look scary!

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