Guardiola restores Barcelona’s sense and sensibility
When you consider the importance Barcelona attaches to its Catalan identity, and the number of great local players the club has produced, it seems strange that Catalan coaches, or at least first team coaches, have had so little influence.
There have been a few, from Roma Forns back in 1927 through Josep Samitier, the great former player, and more recently the likes of Llorenc Serra Ferrer (actually Mallorquin) and Charly Rexach.
But when you think back tn coaches who stamped their personalities on the club, who marked an era, you think of outsiders like Helenio Herrera, Rinus Michels, Johan Cruyff, Louis van Gaal, perhaps, and Frank Rijkaard.
That’s what makes this season’s triumphs under Pep Guardiola so important to the club.
In less than a season in charge, Guardiola, who is about as Catalan as you can get, has reacquainted the team with the values he grew up with as a trainee at La Masia and the club have reaped the rewards with the Spanish league and cup already secured and a place in the Champions League final against Manchester United to look forward to.
Barcelona may very well lose that final against United and, who knows, with a resurgent Real Madrid under Florentino Perez things may not go this well for them for a long time.
But I get the feeling that whatever happens, Guardiola is set for a long spell in charge, whether as first team coach or perhaps in the future as some kind of sporting director.
Why? Because the more I think about it, what I think Guardiola has achieved is to give the club back its ‘seny’.
Seny is a Catalan word and a Catalan concept. It stands for what the Catalans see as their native good sense, as opposed to the emotional lack of sense, or sensibleness, you might find in Andalucia or elsewhere on the peninsula — the ‘Latin” Spanishness the tourist board used to promote, all bullfights, flamenco dancers and sangria.
It’s a quality Barcelona seemed to lose during the time I was living and working there, when Van Gaal was winding the fans up as much as his team delighted them, and when the wily Josep Lluis Nunez handed over the presidency to Joan Gaspart, who often seemed to be running the club as a fan would.
Fortunes improved under Joan Laporta, who signed Ronaldinho, stood by Frank Rijkaard and presided over the club’s second European Cup win in 2006. Yet still, it seemed that players like Ronaldinho, Deco and Samuel Eto’o were bigger than the collective, bigger than the club even, and it is only since Guardiola took over that the Barcelona team has started to reflect the Barcelona identity.
It helps, of course, that the nucleus of the squad is Catalan (Xavi, Puyol, Valdes, Pique), augmented by players who were born outside the region but were educated at the club (Iniesta, Messi).
Under Guardiola, Barcelona have played some irresistible, at times mesmerising football and now stand as probably the most admired team in Europe.
Yet for all the pretty patterns practised on the training ground and deployed to such effect, that Catalan seny has its place too.
Guardiola showed it when he complained so vocally about the refereeing in the Champions League semi-final first leg against Chelsea. “How is it that the team that played all the football ended up with the same number of cards as the opposition,” he wondered aloud.
That was characterised as moaning by much of the press but I suspect it was a calculated message Guardiola was sending out.
And which team would you say saw the refereeing decisions go their way in the second leg?
PHOTO: Barcelona supporters celebrate after their team won the Spanish first division title for the 19th time at Barcelona’s Ramblas May 17, 2009. REUTERS/Albert Gea