Pep Guardiola – The Evolution focuses on the three years Guardiola spent at Bayern Munich, and includes the summer of 2016 in which he completed his move to Manchester City. It is the sequel to Perarnau’s first book, Pep Confidential, which was about Pep’s time in charge of Barcelona.
Pep Guardiola – The Evolution has a distinct approach to Guardiola’s coaching career. Each part ends with a section looking at one particular Pep game from a tactical point of view, or considering Pep’s response to a specific game, setback or triumph. So the second chapter ends with an analysis of Munich’s successful 7-1 demolition of Roma on 21st October 2014. Perarnau makes some interesting points in these sections of the book, looking closely at Pep’s methods, and at specific tactical variations.
In a book 370 pages long, these separate sections take up 67 pages. They look at a cup game against Dortmund, managed by Klopp, a game against Koln, and analyse the developing role of Thomas Mueller during Pep’s time at Munich. Amongst other topics, Perarnau also considers Pep’s use of the pyramid, and dedicates one of these sections to a France Spain basketball match. They are the most interesting parts of the book.
In the contents list the remaining sections are neatly subdivided into chapter headings and subheadings : Why City?, How Germany Changed Pep, What Makes Him the Best, Pep’s Influence on German Football. When I tell you that the subheadings of just one chapter include phrases like Ideological Eclecticism, Doubt and Decision Making, and Barriers to Innovation you will get some sense of what the rest of the book is like. European cultures have the benefit of using Romance languages in common parlance, so that what in English is the excessive use of latinate or over educated vocabulary is for them more normal, but it’s clear that Perarnau goes a step beyond, using Greek terminology – Ideological Eclecticism – as well as the more common Latin roots – innovation. This language epitomises the style of the book which is highly intellectual and because of this extremely un-British.
It’s a moot point for me whether football merits such an intellectual approach. It is after all a game of passion, and essentially a game of improvisation, whilst tactical play can lead to boring approaches such as parking the bus. (Note the English approach to tactical vocabulary by the way – rather more down to earth than Perarnau’s approach. Hoofing it upfield is another phrase we use, though some English coaches have intellectualised this, calling it the long ball game.)
If you are going to write about football in intellectual terms though, I do think you need to show the barest of intellectual rigour when doing so, and in my view Perarnau did not achieve this. For example, the chapter subheadings aren’t really accurate descriptions of what is included; instead they are more often distinct starting points for what turn out to be quite rambling though very enthusiastic musings about Pep and football. So one particular line of argument goes like this:
Preparation and a Passion for Detail – subheading – an interesting section early on in the book which details Pep’s training methods approaching a match against Dortmund. It is about five pages long, and immediately followed by the section entitled Ideological Eclecticism, which begins Having explained how important it has been to Guardiola to incorporate new concepts into his football bible… But this sentence was a complete non-sequitur – there was nothing explicit about new concepts in that previous section. There were many other logical inconsistencies like this, which obscured the thread of the argument, and made it difficult for me to get an overall sense of what Perarnau was saying about Guardiola. It was very frustrating.
Examples of Perarnau’s over intellectualisation and adoration of Pep abound. I’m tempted to say his approach is hagiographic, but I’m trying to eliminate the Greek roots from my own writing – anything else would be sheer hypocrisy. But during the course of Pep Guardiola – the Evolution, Pep’s approach to football is regularly compared to that of a painter, sculptor or musician. These are fairly cliched ideas. His achievements are described in glowing terms throughout: Guardiola’s great achievement, his genius for tactical planning, his charisma. I happen to think he’s a brilliant manager, but in this book these terms were overused.
At other times Perarnau disappears into pure verbiage and even more over intellectualisation, for example when he takes time out to define the exact meaning of a game plan –what does it consist of, what are its constituent parts. Then there is the list of all the different possible permutations of 11 players on a football field, starting with 4-3-3. It takes up two full pages.
I found this book in The Works, a remaindered bookshop in Torquay – not a renowned centre for Manchester City or Bayern Munich fans. There must be a lot of unsold copies. I can see why. Pep has not read this book, or its predecessor. I think he would be surprised if he did. Pep is a perfectionist, and this is far from perfect! The impression I got was that it was rushed to print.