Martí Perarnau, you’ve been working with Pep and Bayern for three years now. Is this chapter now closed for you or is there something else on your mind?
I’m currently working on a new book about the tactical evolution in football since 1860. It’s a crazy, non-commercial project. Usually we think that football as we know it started evolving about 40 or 50 years ago, but it truly didn’t. In the book, for example, I write about Edward Niedham, the captain of Sheffield United, who wrote about build-up via the central midfielders – in 1901. Imagine that: 115 years ago, players were thinking about tactical development.
Is Pep interested in those historical topics?
Very much. He doesn’t know too much, he’s not an expert on the history, but he is definitely interested. For instance, if you look at Messi’s positioning as a false nine in Barcelona: The idea came up in a talk Guardiola had with Juanma Lillo, one of the greatest experts on the history of tactics, who was telling him about players like Adolfo Pedernera who had played in this position before.
When did Pep add this experience to the Bayern game?
Take a look at the game against Cologne in October 2015. He played a 2-3-5, the pyramid system. People on Twitter were making graphics to compare it to the system of Hungary in the 1950s. He read that and told me: ‘Look, they’re saying that my team has played like one of the greatest national teams in the history of football’.
Like a tree at Säbener Straße
Did your writing process change between the first and the second book?
The first book was something I had planned well in advance, I tried to describe Pep’s life in Munich during his first year. It was a very chronical thing: What happens during training sessions, team talks, matches, afterwards in the players’ lounge. After that, I originally didn’t have a second book planned, but well, here we are now.
How did your relationship with the players develop in the years after your first book?
During my first year, the players and I were all quite shy. Some friends called me a ‘tree at Säbener Straße’ (laughs). After everybody had read my first book, they knew that they could be more trustful with me.
Did you have a special relation to one player in particular?
I have been talking a lot to Xabi Alonso, who has been very open to me. Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm, and David Alaba as well. Philipp, Xabi, and Manu are very serious players – so I often enjoyed talking to David, who is just a very funny guy.
What did a typical day at the Säbener Straße look like for you?
If training started at 11 in the morning, I would be there when the players arrived and talk to all the people around. I had lots of fun with the security guards, most of them only talking Bavarian (laughs), but also tried to get an impression from the gardener, the women’s team and of course most of the time with Pep’s staff. Then I would watch the training and speak to some players or Pep after that, about the plan for the weekend or general things. After that, I’d go to my room at the Wettersteinhotel and write everything down.
Did you ever travel with the team?
No, I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible. I was granted full access by Pep but didn’t want to disturb the team. In some moments you need to step aside, because as soon as you start to have problems with the players, the book project is ruined. That’s also why I tried to be quiet on Twitter and not attract too much attention.
Did you become a fan of Bayern Munich while writing the books?
I mostly tried to keep my emotions out of the writing process and remember that I’m a tree at the Säbener Straße (laughs). People often criticised me for being a friend of Pep and writing about him from a special position. I’d correct that: I’m not a friend of him, I got to know him in 2013 and we have a trustful relation – but it’s still extremely professional.
In your book, you didn’t only talk to people inside the football business, but also with creative artists like the chef Ferran Adriá or the conductor Christian Thielemann.
For me, Ferran Adriá was very important. I met him in 2015, in the middle of the project. By then, I knew Pep very well, had talked to him a lot – but when I spoke with Ferran Adriá, I got to know him even better than when I was watching the practice at Säbener Straße. Ferran has an open, different mind and already knew Pep from his time in Barcelona.
So they knew each other quite well?
It’s not about Ferran knowing Pep, it’s more about them having the same way of thinking, the same ideas of life, which he shared with me.
Is the positional play vanishing already?
Now Pep Guardiola is at City, where you were saying he wants to “create history”. Is this a similar approach to when he arrived in Munich in 2013?
It’s actually very different. When he came to Munich, Pep was a young man who had only lived at home so far. There was La Masia, Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, the Cruyff football – he was in his comfort zone. In Munich there were so many new things: the culture, the language, the legends here and their heritage. In Manchester it’s the opposite: You won’t find the history of Bayern or the playing style of Barcelona.
Would you say that Pep’s work in Munich will have a long-term effect or has Ancelotti already changed too many things to still see Guardiola’s handwriting?
Bayern have made a very impressive decision with Carlo Ancelotti. He is the best coach in the world when it comes to managing the feelings of a team. While Pep has the profile of an architect, Carlo is working more like an administrator. It’s a good step, but Carlo will need more time to adjust the tactics of the last three years. Carlo can perfectly administrate Pep’s tactical legacy and continue to send a competitive team out on the field. The spirit of winning every single match is the true heritage of Pep at Bayern – and Carlo can keep this at the level of the last few years.
From a fan’s perspective, it might be hard to watch the miraculous “juego de posicion” vanish.
I wouldn’t say it’s vanishing, it might just not be as clear as last season. You have to keep in mind that the positional play is extremely hard to practice. The players have to work for it each day and stick to the strict principles of the game. If they don’t, there will be major problems. It’s small things that change everything.
Give us an example.
For instance, if Arturo Vidal adjusts his position only a little, Xabi Alonso will play better. When Xabi loses too many balls, it’s always about his colleagues being too far away. It’s similar to Busquets at Barcelona. Take Barcelona’s recent game against City: Andre Gomes and Ivan Rakitic were too far away from Busquets and as soon as Silva pressed him, Manchester got a chance.
Let’s stick to Xabi Alonso. He doesn’t seem to be well-protected at the moment.
That’s the problem. The positional play has many strengths, but it does also have its weaknesses. One of the main risks is the position number six. The first theory to protect this position is to place another player right next to him, a second number six. But in this case you would destroy the positional play, as one of its main principles is to be escalated in the midfield.
Jupp Heynckes won the Champions League with this system.
And Pep used it too. He played Alonso and Vidal, Lahm and Kroos, or Schweinsteiger and Alonso – but only in very special moments. He mainly trusted in the alternative protection of the number six, which is either putting it far back between the central defenders or to play the wing-backs close to him. But that is not it: You’ll always put too much pressure on the number six if the eight and ten are too far away from him. As soon as Thiago and Vidal can make Xabi’s line of passing easier, this problem will disappear.
After reading your book, it felt like Xabi Alonso played an important part in Pep’s football at Bayern. On the other hand, it was hard for him to let Toni Kroos leave to Real Madrid. Would Kroos have been the better Xabi Alonso, who was just the best replacement for him?
To answer this question you have to add that Toni Kroos is a different player from Xabi Alonso. Xabi is the perfect number six for the positional play, but not in any other model. Kroos is more versatile then Alonso, in my opinion he is much better as a number eight. In Pep’s first year, Toni Kroos played as number six in the Supercup against Chelsea, mostly because Bastian and Javi were injured. After thirty minutes, it became clear for Pep and Dominic Torrent that he was struggling against Torres, so they put Lahm in the position for the first time. He could demonstrate his strengths much better after that.
So the ideal situation would have been to keep Kroos and still buy Alonso?
Xabi as number six, Toni as number eight and Thiago as number ten – that would be the most amazing midfield I could think of. Maybe add Philipp Lahm as false right-back and it’s perfect.