On January 7 this year in Zurich, Pep Guardiola told a press conference what many in football were very keen to hear: that after over six months out of the professional game, he was ready to make his return. He spoke with FIFA.com before news broke that he would take the reins at Bayern Munich
When you left Barcelona you professed to feeling somewhat empty. How are you feeling now?
I’m fine. It had got to a point where I decided enough was enough. My family also deserved much more than I’d given them in recent years. And right now we’re experiencing a real adventure, tasting a very different way of life. But, though I may not look it, I’m only 41. That’s young for a coach and I’ll be back coaching this year.
What aspects of football have you missed during this time away?
I’ve missed the game itself. All the stuff that surrounds it, not so much. But I have missed figuring out the way a certain team plays and how you can beat them, deciding on which players to select to try and win a match. For me at least, that’s the only reason I’m in this game. If it wasn’t for that... Everything else, well, they’re not things that I have a constant need for. I can live perfectly well without them. In fact I’d say you can have a much better life without them. But the game itself, that’s what draws you in.
What kind of a project would it take to bring you on board?
Like every coach, you want to be wanted. It’s as simple as that. However well you’ve done before, what you’re aiming for doesn’t change. Feeling wanted is the most important thing in our lives, and it’s the same for our people and for a club too. You want them to show they want you and also to think that you might enjoy your time there. Like I said when I started at Barcelona, I didn’t go into the job thinking about winning titles come May. It’s about having a good time and encouraging the players to try and do what you think is best for winning matches. The idea is to enjoy the game.
Even so, having so much success at Barça has set the bar high for your next role. Does that put added pressure on you?
Yes, but I wouldn’t change it! I prefer to carry on like this, having experienced what I’ve been through, rather than starting out somewhere you’ve got to win everyone over. Things are a bit different now: when I started out at Barcelona some 86 or 87 per cent of people didn’t want me. Now, thanks to how well everything went, there’ll be clubs that are more interested in me. These things happen in life and you can’t control them. We achieved what we did all together, thanks to so many people, and I’ll remember everything I experienced during those years. Whatever anybody says, those experiences belong to me and nobody can take them away from me.
Over the past few months there have been rumours aplenty about your return to coaching, with stories linking you to a host of clubs and even the Brazilian and Argentinian national sides. Did the rumours reach you in New York?
Years ago it would have been impossible, but nowadays you’ve got computers and the internet, which means you’re constantly connected. It’s just about staying in touch with your people, speaking to them and knowing what’s going on. And I’m not talking about following what’s said about me, I’m talking about finding out what’s going on in the world. Information always gets through.
How did all this speculation make you feel?
It made me feel bad for the coaches who were in the clubs at the time. I personally wouldn’t like it if I was coaching somewhere and my club was releasing this kind of information while I was still there. But I’ve kept out of everything, I’m still out of it and I’ll stay that way, out of respect for the people who are trying to do their jobs. That said, it makes you think that you’re not getting the offer because of how good you are, but because of what you’ve won. We won a lot and that’s why I’m more in demand now than when I started out, when only three or four people at Barcelona believed in me. The others didn’t feel the same way.
In a past interview you once told us that “the tactics are the players”. With that principle in mind, is it possible to get another team playing the way Barça do?
The principle behind Barcelona’s style was very simple: play with the ball, do everything with it. Every footballer around the world decided to play football because one day in some corner of their small village or big city, wherever it was, they kicked a ball around and enjoyed it. Barça’s system, even if people say it’s very complicated, is as simple as that: we’ll get the ball and just let them try and take it off us; let’s pass it between us as much as possible and see if we can score a goal. That’s what my predecessors handed down to me and the message I tried to get across while I was there too. I don’t know how they’re doing things now but, from what I’ve seen of how they’re playing, I imagine it’s still similar. So when you go and coach somewhere you have to believe in what you’re trying to put across. And what I’ll try and do in the future is what I did when I was a player, what I believed in, and what I’ve coached for the past five years: attack as well as you possibly can, keep hold of the ball and pass it to a guy wearing the same colour shirt.
In that context, you must be very pleased and proud to see how Barcelona are doing under Tito Vilanova.
Yes, of course. The best present, the best prize that I could receive would be for everything to keep going well. When you do things right then they can continue to go well, and that’s a real honour for me. After what was passed down to me, the fact I was somehow able to pass the message on and that things are still going so well is really rewarding.
By the midway stage of La Liga Barça already had a big lead over Real Madrid. Is the championship race virtually won?
Too many things, far too many things, would have to go wrong for Barcelona to lose this Liga title. I don’t see it happening, the gap’s virtually insurmountable. Not because Madrid aren’t capable of winning all their games, but because I don’t see Barcelona losing enough matches either. It’s too big an ask. The Barcelona players are used to success and they’ve got so many qualities. I think that this La Liga race is pretty much over.