At last it’s happened: Pep Guardiola has ended the Barcelona experiment – he’s gone and quit Camp Nou!
Obviously anyone who knows anything knows that this has been coming for a while, so the debate instead lies with the nature of the final straw. Was it the pressure, was it falling out of love with football or just the need for a break that did for Pep? Huh? Huh? Huh?
Nah, it was none of those. A coincidence it is not that this was the week in which old Jose was finally, conclusively proven right about football: it really, really is not to be taken seriously; to be legitimated as an area of study by fanciful analysis and pseudo-terminology about the different kinds of ‘pressing’ which might be employed.
This was the week that Chelsea and Bayern Munich beat Barcelona and Real Madrid in spite of the rather significant disadvantage – or so many would have you believe – of being worse at football than the two Spanish skill-jockeys. Even if no-one quite understands what the phrase ‘skill-jockeys’ means, because I just made it up, the conclusion’s the same: passion can beat skill(z), and, evidently, that isn’t a footballing world that Doctor Pep wants to live in. Some people will look to point out that Guardiola wasn’t actually much of a man for stats – not in his press conferences at least – but these are the people who get to me: the people not prepared to embrace lazy stereotypes in the name of making easy assumptions. Guys, facts aren’t where it’s at: idle pigeonholing is. So onwards we go.
Passion beat skill(z): Chelsea played with ten men in Camp Nou and clung on with the mantra ‘get your body in the way of it!’ (with added swears). Who’da thunk it? Not Doctor Pep, obviously, who is defined (well, we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he is defined ‘at work’) by his belief in football as scientific endeavour, to be honed with precision and commodified into a set of statistics. Suddenly, on Tuesday, all that was wrong.
The outmoding of a way thinking which had sustained Pep for four years as Barcelona manager appeared to hit him immediately after that defeat to Chelsea: “’I think we failed because we did everything we could but we couldn’t score and football is about scoring,” he explained, clearly dumbstruck and talking crazy. Football is about scoring, he said. And then it was over. The ideological war had been lost – football as art vs football as science saw art win out as science’s secular leader accepted defeat.
Now, the end of the war should obviously be celebrated, as war is never good, dear friends. 110% possession simply to prove a point was perhaps a low-point for the scientists, and some of the things John Terry has done in the name of those who point to football as “unquantifiable” are definitely best left to the courts. Still though, the end comes with a sense of sadness too. Seeing the leaders of a once great movement reduced immediately to the appointment of Tito Vilanova as their new strategist, a man defeated by Jose Mourinho’s finger alone, might already have created some victor’s guilt.
It wasn’t, you see, supposed to end like this. Pep Guardiola will walk away with his dignity relatively intact, while aspirations towards 150% possession and the proliferation of statistical analysis will eventually go the way of all of football’s other great fads – mullets, neckerchiefs, yo-yos – and disappear from view. It’s all too mundane this way. The end was meant to be this year’s Champo League final: Barca vs Real, a mass brawl, fingers in eyes, winner (still Jose) takes all.
Today the occasion has somehow become a solemn one, fixing in on respect and sad handshakes. It feels wrong. It’s not in keeping with how the rest of this thing played out, with that marvellous sense of farce in games between Barcelona and Real Madrid, where the main battles were fought in this war. Without Pepe running in to take a swing at Guardiola’s face in today’s press conference, it just wasn’t the same as in the olden times. I miss the olden times, where we could laugh at all this.
Perhaps then, now that it’s definitely all over whatever anyone says times a million, and football is now definitely for the artists and not the scientists, there will come a time when we miss the battle. In that spirit, I’ve thrown together some definitely real highlights of the ‘football as art or science debate’:
1. Science: Pep Guardiola’s assertion that we were all “in the Matrix”
Barcelona’s 5-0 victory over Real Madrid last season led, famously, to Pep Guardiola’s claim that the win had come because he was “The One” who could see through the matrix. This was followed, with unashamedly little narrative coherence, by the assertion that he would eventually “bring balance to the force.” Crazy times indeed.
2. Art: Jose Mourinho’s refusal to explain why he had begun to perform team talks in the nude
“It’s art,” Jose jabbed, “it doesn’t need explaining, it just works.” Unsatisfied, journalists pushed for a more detailed response, but Jose, the post-modernist, simply offered to pose for more nude photographs. What we all wouldn’t give now to return to those days.
Why not reminisce in the comments section? Pep Guardiola is gone, and so, I am definitely sure, is his legacy, but we can at least remember some of the great standoffs his time at Barcelona produced.