A brilliant football chapter closed recently, when Barcelona defeated Athletic Bilbao in Spain’s Copa Del Rey. The victory was a shadow; the night belonged to coach Pep Guardiola.
The story is not about the current Barca squad, who will go in the history books as one of the greatest football teams of any generation, but one man’s soul, and his passion to inspire a truly special era at the club he loves – and the game as a whole.
Football in Australia is still young and at times we get ahead of ourselves. We have the appetite of a teenager, wanting everything now, and sometimes forgetting that our game is still developing.
We continue to make mistakes and often take one step forward and three back. I am part of a generation who just want the game to work in Australia; having been spoon-fed European football on a Sunday morning as a kid and, in more recent years, a late-night feed of Premier League.
And while early childhood memories of the NSL stay strong, the Hyundai A-League continues to fight on the ropes like Ali in Manila. We need to learn from our mistakes and inherit knowledge from the rich global history of our game.
So how can I seriously mention Pep Guardiola and Australian football in the same breath? (Craig Foster, you can exhale...)
Fozzie and I are of the same mindset; we are both inspired by Guardiola. I grew up watching him as a player, a footballer’s footballer.
One of the first lessons I learnt as a player was from my father - no player is faster than the ball. Guardiola proved this; he was a maestro.
Orchestrating Barcelona’s attack from a deep position, the ball was his baton and the players the pieces in his puzzle.
Speed and strength were not his greatest attributes, but his ability to read the game put him in positions to win the ball without even making a tackle. Guardiola was part of a new generation of football minds.
The Barcelona style became part of his DNA, and the same attention to the club's core values that had been instilled in him as a product of the famous La Masia Academy provided the blueprint for everything he did.
But within his ethos of continuing the Barca culture, Guardiola also had a modern mindset. A visionary thinker of the beautiful game, Barca’s “tiki-taka” style is football at its best, setting a new standard for other teams to emulate.
Are you still perplexed? What does La Masia have to do with the A-League?
The foundation of the new era of football that Guardiola has ushered into our game was good old-fashioned hard work where no individual was bigger than the team. This team played as one unit, all players moving and thinking to the sound of the same drum.
All this takes time and the building blocks of that culture already exist within Australian football; what we must learn to do it utilise them and take our game forward.
Everyone I talk to about our game just wants it work; for coaches, players and administrators to learn from our mistakes, respect our past and take our game to the heights it deserves.
Football in Australia needs to change, the culture of our game needs to change. Children should be growing up passionate about West Sydney and Brisbane Roar. Again, this takes time.
Thank you Pep (not just for the short-sleeve shirt and tie) but for the way you have shown our generation just how beautiful the beautiful game can be.
For being a purveyor of old school traditions with a modern mindset, for creating a culture and ethos our players and coaches can measure themselves against, for carrying yourself with grace and humility in taking the game of football to another level.
When I think of Pep Guardiola, I think of Barcelona; they are one and the same. And I think of what football in Australia could be.