The study room at La Masia

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.

Comments (19)

  1. Ironic that this is one of your only articles that doesn’t yet have a comment, even after you asked for them.

    Until I ruined it.

  2. I never ask for comments, I only want applause.

  3. Okay, I’ve just seen that, in fact, I did, technically, ask for comments. But that, like everything I have ever said, was a joke.

  4. Guardiola: The Improver of a Model: The most beautiful One, … and the Most Effective?
    However, Barca diddn’t have an Alternate Plan (Plan b)

    Guardiola: 4 years Improving Football/Soccer

  5. its too harsh to write off barca. They have taken a huge blow with Guardiola’s resignation, however the system that pep has left behind will remain even if he would have stayed or left(e.g. the 5 second rule). The man replacing him will perhaps be someone who isn’t as acclaimed as the bielsa’s and so on.

    lets see what happens

  6. Wait…Jose Mourinho gives team talks naked??

  7. I’d never write off barca, but i just can’t help but think that this is barcelona’s phil jackson moment. In 2015, we could potentially be talking about how Messi (Kobe) cant win without shaq (xavi). next year madrid will be better, bayern will be better, city will be better, juve will have returned to europe with their fortress of a defence, dortmund and leverusen, chelsea, a young and fearless newcastle, PSG, and hopefully if the glazers aren’t being typically american owners with no other objective but maximum profit, United will be stronger as well. add in the fact that the spanish players will have an extended season due to the euros, and that la liga is finally getting better, and you begin to see that business as usual is about to resume. as a united fan, i’ll be glad, but as a football fan, goodbye to an era and one of the great (not greatest) teams and coaches. I wouldnt write off pep either, but the only place he can go to continue his career the right way is old trafford (again depending on whether he believes the glazers will let him buy what he needs). he won’t deal with the egos at city or chelsea or milan or even bayern, and if he thinks he can there will be so much pressure if things dont start out the right way, and peps perfectionism will defeintley create divisions with established egomaniacs. and arsenal can’t give him the cash he needs. united has the youth and an iconic player who isnt intelligent enough to revolt

    • …next year madrid will be better, bayern will be better, city will be better…

      And Barca will be right up with them. Guardiola has implemented a philosophy that will last for decades, and Barcelona will be dominant in European football for years to come. They will better this season, which is by no means a failure, as they could still finish with 4/6 trophies. Barcelona are just getting started.

  8. 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.

    that brought some good old nostalgia

  9. in soccer the coach is Vital! Barca will fall back next few seasons before they move forward. Plus their Key Ball distributor (Xavi) just isn’t the player he was the last couple years, he couldn’t even finish the match. Guardiola knew that the next few years the team was going to only get worse that’s why he stepped down now. He could see it, maybe because he is the Oracle.

  10. To call Chelsea’s performance against Barca ‘ART’ is laughable. You said it yourself, it was passionate above all else, but that doesn’t elevate it to art in any way. In fact, quite the opposite. Art is about skill, beauty, elegance … Chelsea’s victory, while inspiring, was gritty and frantic…if anything, it was beautifully unartistic.

    This entire ‘art’ v ‘science’ debate, apart from being mislabeled, is anything but over. If by ‘science’ you mean tactical discipline and ball possession – which was Pep’s mantra – you shouldn’t underestimate the resurgence of this style of play. Marcelo Bielsa is inspiring almost every coach in Europe, not to mention Latin America. And with guys like Sampaoli poised to be the next big managers, i wouldn’t call it a match just yet.

    BTW, Pep left because it became evident that slight tactical changes, and consequent squad changes, are needed at Barca — he’s simply too loyal to his boys to make the changes himself. It might be cowardly, in a sense, but he just doesn’t have the heart to reduce the role of his regulars. And he’s smart enough to know its needed, given that the ‘art’ they’re up against is increasingly composed incessant defending up the middle and destructive football.

  11. ironic indeed…

  12. This is ridiculous. Guardiola made his decision in September – and has said so himself. He was under pressure from himself – Mourinho has nothing to do with it. To suggest that he would leave because of one relatively poor season (they may still finish with 4/6 trophies) is laughable.

    Barcelona are by no means finished; indeed, next season under Tito Vilanova will be fascinating. Instead, they enter into a new era: Guardiola will no longer grace the touchline, but his legacy will remain as they take to the field each week. He has defined the club he has spent 25 years of his life with and, even if he never does return, his vision will see Barcelona to unlimited successes.

    It is incredible that anyone who loves football could disparage Guardiola like this.

    • i hope you realize only 3 or 4 trophies actually count for something in football. That is the league title (madrid), the european cup (chelsea or bayern), and the one or two domestic cups depending on where you play, for example england has two, the carling cup and the fa cup. spain has one the copa del rey, and the “completely fatigued due to the high pressure system they;ve played for 3-4 years” barca have a shot at it. bear in mind messi has played every minute of almost every match the past 4 years, season and summer with argentina, and that shot gets a little tougher. the other trophies, the supercups and the club world cup are really nothing more than glorified friendlies and anyone that UNDERSTANDS football would never argue against that. obviously the club world cup has a little potential but its not anything special yet.
      as for your earlier response
      And Barca will be right up with them. Guardiola has implemented a philosophy that will last for decades, and Barcelona will be dominant in European football for years to come. They will better this season, which is by no means a failure, as they could still finish with 4/6 trophies. Barcelona are just getting started.

      they will be back next year, messi will have had a summer off, and spain might get bounced out early due to the fatigue in the team. then again its spain and the depth is unreal. but they definitely will be just as good, not better. getting to champs league semi final and pushing for the league title and potentially winning the cup is not a failure. just dont disillusion yourself and think the great days we’ve just seen pass are gonna be back soon. the kids arent as good as we thought they were. one or two bad result in a row will have everyone screaming for a new coach. rumours will surface how pique was getting on peps nerves. guys like alves and sanchez will show their selfish sides when things go a little rough. xavi will get even older. la ligas not a cakewalk anymore. the philosophy cant stay the same, people much smarter than you and i know how to counter it. just give up barca fan. it’s over. for now and the forseeable future. europes caught up and everyone gets figured out eventually

  13. You have to be really high with very bad quality marijuana to write this shit.

  14. The undermining in this article of Barca and Pep’s brilliant achievements is the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen in a while. The author -whoever he is- deserves a Mourinho finger poke in the eye.

  15. This post is crap. If it was meant to be entertaining it failed. Luckily there are actual football games to watch every few days, since pundits are so often ridiculous.

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