The Stuff You Are Made Of

Josef Pep Guardiola has left Barcelona Football Club. If you aren’t American, you’ve likely heard of Barcelona football (read: soccer) club in the past 4 years. Even if you are American, you probably have.

Barcelona football club have taken the game to a whole new level in the past 4 years or so and have had an incredibly successful 4 year spell in which they’ve won the coveted European Champions League twice, the Spanish league thrice and a whole host of other smaller trophies. To put it in context, most clubs haven’t seen such glory in over a 100 years of existence.

They have been witness to arguably the greatest player of the generation in Lionel Messi supported by a cohort of the best players in the world and have played the kind of football most teams can only dream of playing. In the past 4 years, they have often schooled some of greatest clubs in Europe in the art of playing football. In short, they have been phenomenal.

And, the man behind this extraordinary spell of success was Josef ‘Pep’ Guardiola. While there is no doubt he took charge at the right time, he undoubtedly played a massive part in their extraordinary success. Four years on, he has decided to call it a day as Manager of Barcelona Football club.

The move makes absolute sense. The Spanish press is pretty fanatical when it comes to the two clubs at the forefront – Real Madrid and Barcelona and exerts an incredible amount of pressure on all involved. Lionel Messi has likely peaked and it’s unlikely that he will be able to continue in his current vein of form for too long. Club legends Xavi and Carlos Puyol are likely to retire sooner rather than later and the rest of the team isn’t growing younger either. It is not likely to get any better or easier for Guardiola.

And the pressure on him is only going to increase as every day passes by. There are few jobs on the planet that exert the kind of stress that a manager of a leading football club faces. And, the simplest way to illustrate this is to look at Guardiola in 2008 vs the Guardiola in 2012.

It’s amazing how big a difference 4 years can make.

Pep Guardiola leaves behind a legacy that’s unlikely to ever be equalled. Even if you forget about the trophies won for a few minutes, Barcelona’s mesmeric playing style will likely never be forgotten and this team will go down as amongst the greatest ever alongside the all conquering teams from AC Milan, Ajax, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Real Madrid, and probably will even be placed a notch above by some footballing purists.

All that said, Guardiola’s departure made me reflect for a few moment in awe at the endurance of a footballing man who has spent 25 years at the helm of the most valuable sports team in the world and who seems to never look like retiring.

Sir Alex Ferguson took the helm at Manchester United when Pep Guardiola was a 15 year old boy and has been at the helm since. In that time, he’s built a footballing dynasty that’s unlikely to ever be surpassed winning 12 premier league titles, 2 Champions League titles and many others. And, he’s built 5 different teams over these years and converted all of them into hungry trophy collection machines. A couple of them would go down in the annals of history as amongst the greatest teams but the remaining three have not been outstanding. Yet, Ferguson’s strength of personality and determination have practically willed them over the line.

And he continues to do it. There was a crazy statistic 3 years or so ago that 924 managers had come and gone in all the other clubs in English football during Ferguson’s tenure. That number must be well over a 1000.

The reason I got thinking about this was thanks to a phone call I had with Mom an hour or so ago. She was sad to hear the Guardiola news (she thought he was very good looking! ;-)) and wanted to understand why he’s taking time off and why he looked so burnt out

That’s when we began talking about Ferguson and she remarked ‘I wonder what stuff that man must be made of.’

Apt, I thought.

Ferguson characterizes one of those things about people who make great role models. In all probability, we would never ever have the opportunity to ‘do a Guardiola’ for many reasons – situation, luck and the like.

But, somehow, Ferguson-like endurance feels within reach thanks to his success being a combination of hunger, drive, never ending determination, incredible persistence and ‘balls of steel’.

Day to day living isn’t glamorous. It’s about endurance. And our success often comes down to the stuff we are made of.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Invictus by William Ernest Henley