Pep Guardiola has been described as many things during his footballing career, both good and bad, but the one adjective that appears more than most is "revolutionary".
His unique style of football – branded Tika-Taka – took the world by storm when he became Barcelona manager in 2008, where his team was as entertaining as it was successful. After another fruitful spell in charge of Bayern Munich, the Spaniard now stands alone at the pinnacle of football, widely regarded as the most sought after manager in the world.
But the man himself admits he would be nowhere near his current position without the influence of Johan Cruyff, the footballing genius widely regarded as the founder of modern Barcelona.
Article continues below
Cruyff was the manager of Barcelona when Guardiola was first trying to break into the first-team in 1989. The Dutchman handed him his debut but brought him right back down to earth after a poor first-half performance. “You were slower than my granny,” Cruyff told the teenager.
Speaking to the Guardian, Guardiola admits he can look back on and laugh at the exchange but at the time it rocked him to his core. It left for former midfielder fighting for his Barcelona career, which he thought had ended that night.
Article continues below
Asked if he thought Cruyff said the comment in jest, Guardiola said: “No. I was in a bad way because it was my first friendly in the first team. It was in the summer against a team [Banyoles] in the third division. I wanted to play the second half and Cruyff said ‘No.’ Just like that. I sat there and thought: ‘Never again will I play for the first team at Barcelona. It’s over.’
“I didn’t understand it then. This was how Johan Cruyff worked. He was demanding a lot, but when you got there, and you were in his team, he was an incredible protector. He would push and push you and then he would protect you. He was a master at handling players. He knew when you needed to be pushed or protected.”
Guardiola would, of course, go onto play for Barcelona many times – over 300, in fact – and made so much of an impression on Cruyff that the Dutchman named him in his all-time XI alongside Pele, Diego Maradonna and Alfredo Di Stefano.
“If it was me I would pick Messi”
Curiously, there was no place for Lionel Messi in the star-studded team and Guardiola admits he would have found a place for the Argentinian in his own version of the squad. He also admits that Cruyff himself was a huge fan of the five-time Ballon d'Or winner.
“If it was me I would pick Messi,” Guardiola says. “But I spoke to Johan many times about Messi. You cannot imagine how he admired him, how he liked him, how he loved him.”