Pep Guardiola is oft-lauded as a character of certainly revolutionary manner; with his deployed tactics of choice and on-field innovativity, one could be taken for a fool to presume otherwise. But beyond the surface of wizardry, Catalonia’s number one visionary succumbs to retromania and comes off as a champion of conservatism. By Benjamin Yazdan.

I’ve spent the vast majority of my pieces on Josep Guardiola lauding his genius, ranging from the restrained coolness of pre-match conferences to his near evolutionary tactics, preceding most of the continent’s anyway. Yet it’s merely this very month that I’ve come to realize, that the philosopher best known for racking up titles, now needs acknowledgment for being the footballing world’s equivalent to part conservative, part retro-maniac. All romantic.

Conservatism partly because teamwork is advocated above all else, the retro aspect stemming from an updated throwback to everything beautiful in football history. It may seem modern when it ventures to Wembley, trashes Great Britain’s arguably finest side with impeccable finesse, ventures back, but Barcelona today are all but tastemakers. It’s all rather quite enveloped in a mist of timelessness. In this blend of, say, vintage conservatism, Pep Guardiola emerges, and his style a reply to harsher tides of today.

When the financial crisis struck, predictions of its aftermath, unsurprisingly, followed. Tenfold. Consensus is, well, none, depending on political position solely, but there seemed to be an aura of personal unsureness in the air. Following events as such, society is known to resort to options bordering populism: Simple, steady measures in complex, shaky times. Enter Guardiola, in whose world traditionalism offers consolation.

This is not a new sporting phenomenon, and for an instance it mirrors much of today’s underground scene in music, where a revival of 1980’s pop filtered through lo-fi ambiance seem to appeal to youth not even born when Roxy Music released their last, lush offering.

Speaking of the 80’s, the recent appointment of Kenny Dalglish on Anfield is another prime example of how traditionalism consolidates those in shaky measures. Not only did he bring results, he brought a stoic face to reignite the spark presumably long gone in the northwest. That stoic appearance rested as much on his vintage appeal as it did on his on-pitch triumph and built-in authority, offering older fans a chance to revel in the presence of yesterday’s hero whilst the younger lads of Anfield were able to relive the stories of their fathers and uncles. Looking back doesn’t equal ignoring what’s coming anymore, and retromania as a manner of saving football becomes accepted.

In my native Norway, Rosenborg did something similar a year preceding King Kenny’s return when they reappointed aging cult hero Nils Arne Eggen as their head coach. Only for the remainder of the 2010-season; merely a reminder of his 11 league titles in a row - and boy, did he win the league, all in nostalgic fashion, true to his “Godfot”-theory (translates into something along the lines of “The theory of the good foot”, installing a mentality in the players where they always strive towards making each other better whilst never neglecting individual skill). Fans partly ignored his defensive carelessness when he applied nostalgia to Lerkendal. In the Bundesliga, Bayer Leverkusen take pride in their national cult hero Heynckes.

Guardiola applies a touch of Michels (aspects of total football, where roles on the chalkboard play subordinates to the team itself), a hint of Cruyff (tiqi-taca) and much of the newfound La Furia Roja success (famously, seven Barcelona players won Spain the greatest accolade of them all in Johannesburg). It’s all looking back with nostalgia, and celebratory of Catalan collective consciousness. It’s consolidating, comforting, and it’s quite conservative; no dialectic here although Pep the tactical mastermind often precedes his peers and the rest of La Liga’s coaches.

The appointment of Pep is, perhaps, Joan Laporta’s finest achievement in retrospect. For all his modern pomp and glamour, Catalan separatist Laporta knew that in Guardiola, one would find nostalgia purer, more explicit than in Frank Rijkaard, although that one also cherished his influences, and that following the financial crisis, no coach finer than Guardiola could come to offer a better consolidation of warm nostalgia.

The Catalan developed a love for poetry over the years, Catalan Marti i Pol his very favourite. On the field, he allows the poetry of his own to roam; and whether aware of it or not, we’re all comforted by his retro-conservatism. It quite mirrors football’s obsession down its own memory lane. From Lerkendal through Leverkusen to Camp Nou.

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AuthorBenjamin Yazdan