Story of a Legend: Pep Guardiola
Born in 1971, Pep Guardiola took no time in demonstrating his passion for and potential in football as a kid, joining Barcelona’s youth team at just 13 years old. Starting out as a talented winger, the decision by then-Barcelona manager Johan Cruyff to move him into the 'pivot' position was one that would bring much success to the player and the club in the coming years. Six years later and Guardiola found himself featuring in the same 'pivot' position, this time in the first team under the same manager who had watched him as a kid. He immediately showcased his orchestra conductor-like qualities, becoming a constant in the Blaugrana midfield. His breakthrough in 1990 brought with it an unprecedented decade of domestic and European success for Barcelona, as Pep featured as a pivot in outrageously talented teams that featured superstars such as Hristo Stoichkov, Michael Laudrup and, later in the decade, Luis Figo and Ronaldo. Between 1990 and 2000, Guardiola and Barca won six La Liga titles, two Spanish Cups, two Super Cups, one Champions League and one European Cup Winners' Cup. Guardiola also unsurprisingly rose to the international stage on 20 May 1992 after impressing in the defeat of Sampdoria in the Champions League Final at Wembley.
Pepe left Spain in 2001 after 379 appearances for Barcelona to join his friend Roberto Baggio in Italy at Brescia. Although Pep was only there for a short time, following a false doping accusation and a brief stint at Roma, the Brescia faithful still remember him fondly. Guardiola took up a position in the central midfield, together with a young Andrea Pirlo providing balls for a young Luca Toni and the Divin Codin’ Baggio. Many credit Guardiola for developing the role of a free ranging defensive midfielder that Pirlo is famous for today. Pep Guardiola left Brescia in 2003 and retired from professional football following two years at Al Ahli in Qatar and a final season at Dorado in Mexico.
In 2007 he began his career as a manager, coaching Barcelona B for a season before being brought up to manage the first team. Between 2009 and 2012 Barcelona went on a historic run of titles, conquering three La Liga Titles, two Champions Leagues, two Spanish Cups, two European Super Cups and two Club World Cups. Reflecting on this magical run, Guardiola said “The reason is tiredness. If it wasn't, I would have liked to continue. We will see what happens in the future. To win 14 titles in four years is very difficult to achieve and we are proud of how we have done it.”
After a one year sabbatical spent touring the New York gallery scene, Guardiola took his talents to Bayern Munich. Pep took over the Bavarian club immediately after they had won the treble under Heynckes, beating Dortmund in the 2013 final. In his first two seasons at Bayern, Guardiola won two Bundesliga titles, a DFB Cup, and a Club World Cup. Many critics were initially skeptical of how Pep might do, but the consensus now is that he has them playing better than anyone thought possible.
As Guardiola tries to overcome the 3-0 deficit following the first leg, he will certainly have mixed emotions. After 17 years as a player and 4 as coach, this is Pep’s first time competing against his childhood club. Both Barcelona and Pep know that reaching their goal will mean seeing an old friend suffer. Or in Guardiola’s words, “That’s the beauty of sport. Sometimes you laugh, sometimes you cry.”