Pep Guardiola gave his press conference today in London ahead of tomorrow’s Champions League semifinal match against Chelsea. I was impressed all over again by this man—a model of class, good humor, and humility. More than anything, Pep reminded everyone of how special this moment is for FC Barcelona, and encouraged us to enjoy it to the fullest.
It was a typically unemotional and practical performance by the likable manager, and while it didn't reveal much about what's in store for tomorrow's match, Guardiola's press conference did offer an opportunity to reflect on what this pivotal week may mean for his future as coach of FC Barcelona.
Pep emphasized how consistently excellent Chelsea have been over the past five to eight years, and that while they’ve changed trainers and some players, they’ve maintained the same spirit and the same core of special players.
Asked if he thought Chelsea would be out for revenge (after falling to Barcelona in the semifinals of 2009's Champions League), Pep downplayed the possibility, saying that the past is the past and that now both teams are playing to get to the final in Munich.
One reporter asked if Jose Mourinho, who he referred to as “your friend”, might have any influence on the match by contacting his former players at Chelsea to give extra encouragement. Pep replied in English by saying “first of all, thank you for saying ‘my friend’”, then downplayed this possibility, pointing out that Mourinho also used to be a coach at Barcelona. He added that these sorts of players have been coached by so many men over so many years, that they are motivated primarily by a desire to advance in Champions League play.
Asked about the stretch of games ahead, including the clásico on Saturday, Pep said that “women say that men can’t focus on more than one thing at once”, and that all his squad is considering is the match ahead—afterwards they’ll prepare for Real Madrid.
A reporter from the Czech republic asked if Guardiola had any special plans to beat their very special keeper Petr Cech. Pep replied in English saying “I told the players to shoot for the corners”, holding up his fingers to demonstrate the upper ninety.
An English reporter asked Pep about the reports that Abromovich wants Pep as the next manager of Chelsea. Guardiola said that this is no time to discuss these issues, that he’s here to play against Chelsea, and above all that Chelsea have a very fine manager already (in Roberto di Matteo).
Guardiola was again asked about his future, and if there would be a date when the public would be made aware of his plans for next year. He immediately began talking about “the gift” that is to be in this situation as a manager and as a club. He said that it’s a very special situation, that he’s incredibly grateful to his players, his club, his staff, and the fans for the opportunity to sit at a press conference before the Champions League semifinal. A very nice misdirection, and as a sign of the respect Guardiola commands, there were no further questions on this topic.
Not much to go on in terms of match tactics for tomorrow. Mostly we just saw Pep as his usual humble, hard-working and pragmatic self. His eloquence in three languages, his respect and deference towards all parties mentioned, and his overall message of gratitude and humility were what impressed me the most. We’re a lucky group of football fans to have this man at the helm.
Indeed we find ourselves in a special place as culés. In six days' time, FC Barcelona have the opportunity to advance to the finals of the Champions League for the second year in a row, and move within one point of a fourth consecutive La Liga title. Whether or not these feats are accomplished may have alot to do with the continuance of Mr. Guardiola.
My feeling is that if Barcelona wins the Champions League, Pep will walk away—perhaps taking a much-needed break from football entirely. Winning Europe's top competition for the third time in four years (and becoming the first manager to do it twice in a row) would surely serve as a marvelous farewell to his beloved club. Combined with a ridiculous trophy haul from other competitions, Guardiola—on the strength of four remarkable years—would go down as arguably the greatest manager of all time.
If Barcelona does not win the Champions League, however, and if defeat is handed out by rivals Madrid—perhaps domestically and in Europe—I think Pep might just be motivated to come back next year. He's tired, I think, but not having stated that this will be his final year means he's almost surely considering another. Like all great competitors, Guardiola wants to go out on top.
So while we hope and pray for glorious victory, let's remember that these be the good ol' days, and that in winning we may actually be losing our greatest asset—the incomparable Josep Guardiola.