COMMENTARY | You watch what's going on in the FC Barcelona family, once the epitome of class in the soccer community, and you just hope that the approaching season will be as interesting as the off-the-field off-season fireworks involving the greatest coach in club history and his former employers. At least the pre-season appears very intriguing as Barça plays Bayern Munich on July 24 at the Allianz Arena in a friendly game. Friendly? Really?
Pep Guardiola vs. Sandro Rosell & all has become the summer's big spectacle, the leading attraction in the 'washing the dirty laundry in public' category. Sooner or later the bubble had to burst. The gentlemen's agreement which had gone into effect when Guardiola left Barça in June 2012 after an incredible four-year run is off the table. It's a no holds barred war of words that can damage the image of a club which always claimed, justified or not, a moral superiority over all, especially its main rival, Real Madrid.
Guardiola became a legend in four years as Barça's coach because he won three straight La Liga titles, two CL titles, the world club title, but mostly because he beat Jose Mourinho's Real Madrid 5-0 and 6-2. Like in an archetypal western Mourinho was depicted by Spanish media as the bad guy, probably rightfully so, while Guardiola always wore the white hat; but don't rush to canonize him yet.
It is easier now to understand why he did not renew in 2012 after holding the club hostage for the entire season. He just couldn't take it anymore working and winning trophies for the enemy (club president Rosell) of his friends and allies (Barcelona icon Johan Cruyff and former president Juan Laporta). Laporta built a great team, hired Guardiola in 2008, but brought the club on the brink of financial ruin. Before losing the 2010 elections he made Cruyff Barcelona's honorary president. New prez Rosell sued Laporta and his team, seeking financial reparations. He also inelegantly stripped Cruyff of the title, claiming the club statuses did not provide for such a title. It also seems that Guardiola did not appreciate that his assistant Tito Vilanova was announced as the new coach the same day his departure was made public.
The discord stayed under the rug for a full year. Pep went on a year-long sabbatical, living in New York, and in June was named Bayern's coach. Barça won La Liga with a huge margin, but lost the CL semifinal to Bayern by a combined 7-0, an unprecedented humiliation. Tito's cancer relapsed and he went to New York for treatment three times, including a two-month stint in January-March. In June Barcelona signed Brazilian marvel Neymar. Then the bomb exploded.
A Brazilian radio station claimed that Guardiola had played interference trying to lure Neymar to Bayern, telling Neymar's father that Vilanova wouldn't know how to use Neymar alongside Lionel Messi. Did he say that? Who could do that to a colleague and friend of two decades (who is battling cancer, no less)? OK, Pep's no saint, but IF he really said that, then what is he?
A great strategist, Guardiola knows that the best defense is to attack. At a press conference on July 11 in Italy he lashed out at Barcelona's management team with incredible virulence, claiming Rosell & Co. have used Vilanova's illness to damage his reputation, even if he had asked to be left alone when he went halfway around the globe. Pep doesn't give details, and there seems to be no proof there are any; until his outburst you could not find a single bad word about him in the Spanish or global media emanating from the FC Barcelona office. Rosell is an unpopular president, maybe not the most competent, but somehow it is hard to picture him calling every 10 minutes and hanging up, just to harass Pep.
Guardiola acknowledged that he only saw Vilanova once in New York and if they didn't see each other more often it was because it wasn't possible, "and not on my part." The only meaning one can find to this "not on my part" is that it implies it was because of Tito, but Pep, again, did not elaborate. Vilanova did. In his own press conference on Tuesday he said that they met on his first trip to New York, but did not see each other during his two-month stay. "It wasn't because I didn't want to. I was the one suffering, I was the one being alone. In those moments I needed him." Who is lying here?
Three of every four Barcelona fans believe Tito, although three of five side with Guardiola against Barcelona's leadership. Rosell calls Guardiola a living legend and calls for unity because he knows he doesn't stand a chance to challenge the Cruyff-Laporta-Guardiola trinity in the eyes of the culé faithful. From afar it seems that Pep is the one who let the dogs out with retroactive resentment ("I did my time there...") or maybe with genial méchanceté meant to destabilize the team that he built and now is the most dangerous foe for his new club. Whatever Guardiola does, Tito and Rosell must shut up and go buy a great central defender and a quality goalkeeper. And, of course, keep Messi happy.
Vladimir Moraru played soccer for 15 years and has watched it for 60. He hasn't seen a player like Messi and a team like the 2010-2011 FC Barcelona
- Sports & Recreation
- Pep Guardiola
- FC Barcelona
- Sandro Rosell