Where Guardiola coached for the first time
Some people are convinced that the day Guardiola retired as a footballer is the day he started to think about his future as a coach – some even say before -. For instance, it is why he decided to stay in Italy in spite of Juventus’ turned him down after Zidane left for Madrid which changed the plans at the club. He learned from a different approach in the game in spite of the modesty of the team he was: Brescia. Then, he went to Fabio Capello’s Roma, Brescia again and two years later left for Qatar. Pep only began in 2005 his new role. Some offers came from England to extend his career as a player but he rejected each of them. He didn’t want to be a footballer anymore; he was going to become a coach. Midway through his journey, there was an opportunity. Juan Manuel Lillo called him from Mexico.
Six months before, the coach from Tolosa signed for Dorados de Sinaloa, a club with only two years of history which entered the first division of the Mexican League, and made Pep an offer to be part of the project. Josep Guardiola, from now on JosephGuardiola, didn’t hesitate; his last stop as a football player was going to be in a Mexican club fighting to avoid the relegation, in one of the most dangerous cities of the world. Lillo was the coach and Joseph had a lot to learn. His career as a footballer ended in Mexico, but he could have done it before. In 2000, he could have been Barça’s sports director if Lluís Bassat had been elected President. Pep, in campaign, didn’t want to unveil names, he preferred highlighting projects, but he always said that his coach, waiting for Koeman to end his last year of contract in Amsterdam, was going to be Juanma Lillo. Their passes crossed again in Culiacan, the capital of Sinaloa.
Pep arrived at Dorados with the promise of being very close to the coach. Lillo considered him as his extension on the pitch and gave him responsibilities so that sometimes one could say he was performing both roles as a footballer and coach. His leadership, his experience and the low level of the league justified the fact that he had to be something more than the other players of the team. During the training sessions, he had an influence by acting, correcting and even talking with players in order to help them improve on a technical and tactical level. If needed, the master and the student would stay after the training sessions. He studied the opponents, anticipated the possible game scenarios and dealt with the youngsters. On the pitch, he still managed as he always did, and off the pitch, when an injuries took him away from it, one could see what are currently very familiar scenes, with Guardiola on the sidelines. Casually dressed, he wasn’t in the stands but right beside Lillo, and the indications he gave during trainings were even more enthusiastic when the game was on. Lillo, who was more a quiet teacher, let him the technical area attending the transition from the player who coached to the coach who played.
In Culiacan, Josep was not only getting closer to Lillo’s methodology. When he landed in the Aztec territory, the Argentine Ricardo La Volpe was coaching the national team, after a long career coaching several Mexican clubs. It was enough for him and his philosophy to influence the league, giving birth to the famous Lavolpista School among Mexican coaches. For instance, Daniel Guzmán coached Atlas of Guadalajara, Rubén Omar Romano at Cruz Azul, José Guadalupe at Club León and Miguel Herrera at Monterrey. Even if he never met Lavolpe in Mexico, Guardiola tried to get closer to his philosophy. The build ups from the back was what interested him the most. In June of 2006, Pep wrote this in El Pais:
“Ricardo Lavolpe, Argentinean and Mexican manager, chose that his defense has to take charge of the construction of plays, not only beginning it. According to Ricardo Lavolpe, beginning the play is passing the ball among defenders without purpose before resorting to long balls, most of the time. But Lavolpe also forced them to do something else; he wanted them to advance with the ball. If only one does it, it is not worth it, they have to do it all together.”
That is what Guardiola was writing about the Mexican selection in the 2006 World Cup, when the Lavolpian “building from the back” featured in a big tournament. It’s about advancing with the ball from the back simultaneously with three players as the full backs move to the wings to widen the pitch, the central defenders split leaving space where the defensive midfielder will play. In this combination, the three protagonists of La Volpe were Ricardo Osorio, Carlos Salcido and Rafael Marquez.
Curiously, and in spite of the admiration Guardiola had for this system, when he and Rafa Marquéz were at Barcelona, he didn’t apply it. The main player in the Lavolpian release is the defensive midfielder and if Marquez had this role with La Volpe, it wasn’t the case with Guardiola who placed him as centre back. He tried it in his second season as a first team coach, not with Marquez who was firstly injured and didn’t recover his best form, but with Yaya Touré. The Ivorian began to have troubles to understand the change of positions which was needed to find Xavi, and Guardiola, remembering what he learnt in Mexico, was putting Touré between the two centre backs in order to let him use the space needed to have the ball. Busquets revealed himself as a world class player and the perfect partner for Xavi, and because the Lavolpian release didn’t give the expected results, Guardiola gave up on this plan.
Pep’s experience at Dorados de Sinaloa didn’t finish well. Even if they ended the season reasonably far from the relegation zone, the percentage system in the league lead them to relegation. Guardiola came back to Spain as his learning as a coach was finished. He was finally one of them, a coach, and that will last for a long, maybe forever. Barcelona called him to return and coach Barça B.
The rest is history.
Translator: Jérémy Veron