I wouldn’t be here without Cruyff, reveals Guardiola
City manager talks about his former coach and mentor, a man who taught him to always ‘want more and more’
He was unique, totally unique,” Pep Guardiola says of Johan Cruyff on a quiet Thursday afternoon in London. “Without him I wouldn’t be here. I know for sure this is why I am, right now, the manager of Manchester City and before that Bayern Munich and Barcelona.”
On a sofa tucked away in a Bloomsbury hotel, the intensity of Guardiola’s gaze sharpens the impact of these words about his former coach and mentor. “Before he came we didn’t have a cathedral of football, this beautiful church, at Barcelona. We needed something new. And now it is something that has lasted. It was built by one man, by Johan Cruyff, stone by stone. That’s why he was special.
“I would not be able to do what he did. You hear all these people saying: ‘Oh Pep, what a good manager he is.’ Forget about it. Cruyff was the best, by far. Creating something new is the difficult part. To make it and build it and get everyone to follow? Amazing. That’s why, when I was Barcelona manager, I went to see Johan many times. I made especially sure I went a lot in my first year when we won everything, absolutely everything.”
At the end of that 2008-09 season, when Guardiola was 37 and after he had spent the previous year, his first as a coach, looking after their B team, Barcelona completed the treble of the Copa del Rey, La Liga and the Champions League – beating Manchester United 2-0 in the final. Guardiola’s reputation was sealed during that extraordinary managerial debut but he stresses: “I always went that season to see Johan to try to make him feel how grateful I was to him. Of course I wanted to talk to him about new ideas, but the main feeling I always had when I said goodbye was that he might feel how pleased I am and see how deep my gratitude goes.”
That same gratitude means Guardiola is attending the launch of Cruyff’s autobiography, which the Dutchman finished working on shortly before his death from cancer, at the age of 68, just over six months ago. It’s also the reason why Guardiola is willing to engage in a rare interview, during an afternoon when he and I will share a stage with Jordi Cruyff, Johan’s son and his Barcelona team-mate in the 1990s.
While his bond with Cruyff Sr grew into one of the strongest in European football, Guardiola is still amused by the fact that when he first played for Cruyff the Dutch master gave him a severe rollicking at half-time. “You were slower than my granny,” Cruyff told the teenage Guardiola.