Guillem Balague

Guillem reflects on Pep Guardiola's formative moment.

by Guillem Balague

Guillem reflects on Pep Guardiola's formative moment.

Despite the fact that, since 2011, the old farmhouse no longer serves as a hall of residence, the revolution that started there three decades ago continued and reached its zenith with the arrival of Guardiola is first team coach as he put his faith in La Masía’s finest "products". It is, as the the Catalan sports writer and former Olympian Martí Perarnau puts it, "a differentiating factor, an institutional flag and a structural investment" - and it is one that pays dividends as well. In 2010 it became the first youth academy to have trained all three finalists for the Ballon d’Or in the same year, with Andrés Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernández standing side by side on the rostrum.

"I had the best year of my life at La Masía, " Pep recalls. "It was a time focussed upon the singular most negotiable dream that I have ever had : to play for Barça’s first team. That anxiety to become good enough for Johan Cruyff to notice us cannot be put into words. Without that desire, none of us would be who we are today. Triumph is something else. I am talking about loving football and being wanted.

Even though Pep managed to overcome his lack of physical strength and got himself noticed, the final step was missing : the call-up to the first team. But when Johan Cruyff needed a number four, a player to direct the team in front of the defence, the Dutch coach wasn’t deterred by Pep’s slight physique. He called him up because he sensed that he could read the game and pass the ball.

On that day in May 1989, Pep had to drop everything, including a girl he was just getting to know, grab his kit and travel with the first team to a friendly in Banyoles. Suddenly, unexpectedly, he had made his senior Barcelona debut. He was eighteen years old. If he’d hoped that the girl would be impressed with his new status, the same could not be said of Cruyff who was distinctly underwhelmed by Pep’s debut performance.

"You were slower than my granny!" the coach told him at half time; but Pep grew to understand Cruyff’s methods when it came to chastising his players : "When he attacked you most and when you were at your worst was when he helped you most. But since it was my first experience with a coach, who was so important to me, that affected me enough for me never to forget it."

"Slower than my granny" - those words marked the beginning of one of the most enduring and influential football relationships in history.

Extract taken from "Pep Guardiola - Another Way of Winning" by Guillem Balague. Avaiable on Amazon