A classic Pep talk: Don't mistake Guardiola's passion for anger
This isn’t the reaction we expected to see from Pep Guardiola, but knowing his character, it’s not too surprising.
As the final whistle blows on a scoreless draw between his Bayern Munich and Bundesliga title rivals Borussia Dortmund, Guardiola marches onto the field with a purpose. He strides by late-game substitute Mehdi Benatia, briefly making a point with both his words and his hands, in the classic Guardiola manner.
His destination, though, is the center circle, where he walks straight up to Joshua Kimmich after the 21-year-old’s exquisite 90-minute performance and begins to lecture him. Guardiola’s fiery passion and Latin lineage are on full display as he gets very close to Kimmich, at times hugging him, literally going head-to-head with him at one point before releasing him so he can gesture wildly as he makes his points.
Kimmich nods his understanding, briefly speaks at the appropriate moments and, assuredly, leaves the center circle a more educated footballer. It might be difficult to understand what Guardiola had to say to a player who took 123 total touches, completed 106 of 112 passes (a 94.6% success rate) and intercepted two balls in a rock-solid defensive performance.
“It's the trademark of a good coach that he's never satisfied, and that he always tries to improve you,” Kimmich said afterward. “He always wants to get the maximum out of you. After the match, he told me a few things I should have done better.”
It's not often the outside world gets a true sense of the way a coach does his job behind closed doors in world football. Training grounds are walled off from onlookers, and open sessions are rarely more than glorified kick-arounds reserved for recovery days.
Guardiola had a privacy screen installed on the main pitch at Bayern’s Säbener Straße training ground soon after he arrived in 2013, despite Bayern's unusually transparent club philosophy. Besides Martí Perarnau's excellent book Pep Confidential, behind-the-scenes looks at Guardiola's methods are exceedingly rare.
That's why his on-field lecture to Kimmich was so exceptional. It’s just another fleeting image of Guardiola’s methods that we’ve been treated to, most of which have come clipped on YouTube from training camps in Qatar during the Bundesliga winter break.
With close scrutiny, some of Guardiola’s philosophies become slightly clearer.
It’s no secret that his philosophy, and that of his long-time club Barcelona, is based on the rondo exercises in tight spaces that allow the ball to zip around at pace among players with Bayern’s impeccable technical ability, the sound of leather on leather establishing rhythm like a metronome.
The entertainment factor grows when Guardiola screams, “Yes, Badstuber, I love you!” during his trademark four-on-four-plus-three exercise. The players don’t stop to laugh or even miss a beat, as the seriousness underscoring the manager’s passionate outbursts is undeniable.
In another famous clip, Guardiola lectures his team at length on building possession, making his points in a loud voice punctuated by swearing.
“This happens every f---ing game!” he screams at one point. Somehow, it’s hard to doubt him.
To the untrained eye, these outbursts might make it look like the coach is angry with his players, but through the right lens, it becomes obvious that Guardiola’s passion isn’t the same as anger. These are no tantrums. Rather, they’re tangible evidence of the perfectionism that Guardiola’s game model requires.
They’re also signs of a deep belief in his players. Coaches at the highest levels don’t have time to babysit—not when the business demands results—so lost causes get shunned, not scolded. Guardiola believes that Kimmich, like many others he has undoubtedly admonished or those Sir Alex Ferguson gave his famous “hairdryer treatment,” has immense potential.
“I love this kid,” Guardiola said. “He has absolutely everything and can achieve whatever he wants. He wants to learn and has passion.”
Perarnau writes in Pep Confidential: “If I had to define Pep Guardiola, I would describe him as a man who questions everything, not through insecurity or fear of the unknown, but in the search for perfection. Although he recognizes it as an impossible goal, it is nonetheless the force that drives him. As a result, he is often left with a pervading sense of unfinished work. Guardiola can be obsessional in this respect and believes that the ideal solution can be found only after examining all the available options, rather like a master chess player who analyses all the possibilities before moving his next piece.”
It’s this sense of obsessional perfectionism that has driven Guardiola his entire career. It’s why he left the comforts of a club in Barcelona that he has known since joining La Masia at age 13. It’s why he knew that he wouldn’t spend one day longer than three years with Bayern when he signed his first contract.
It’s why Guardiola has chosen the Premier League as his next conquest, signing for Manchester City in a country that will be his biggest challenge yet. City, more than most clubs, can spend as much as necessary to give Guardiola the proper tools to implement his system, but the environment in which the club exists will dictate his next revolution as much as the atmosphere he creates every day in training.
“Football is evolution,” Guardiola says in Pep Confidential. “Real satisfaction comes when you start to feel that the team is really yours and is playing the kind of football you want.”
Understandably, that requires a passionate personal lecture every now and then, akin to what Kimmich received.