The Barcelona Legacy: Guardiola, Mourinho and the Fight For Football's Soulby Jonathan Wilson Published 09 Aug 2018
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Manchester, 2018: Pep Guardiola and José Mourinho lead their teams out to face each other in the 175th Manchester derby. They are first and second in the Premier League, but today only one man can come out on top. It is merely the latest instalment in a rivalry that has contested titles, traded insults and crossed a continent, but which can be traced back to a friendship that began almost 25 years ago.
Barcelona, late-nineties: Johan Cruyff's Dream Team is disintegrating and the revolutionary manager has departed, but what will come next will transform the future of football. Cruyff's style has changed the game, and given birth to a generation of thinkers: men like Ronald Koeman, Luis Enrique, Laurent Blanc, Frank de Boer, Louis van Gaal, and Cruyff's club captain Pep Guardiola and a young translator, José Mourinho.
The Barcelona Legacy is a book in part about tactics, about how the theories that underpin the modern game were forged by Cruyff and his successors, but also about the people and personalities who gathered at the Camp Nou for what was effectively the greatest coaching seminar in history, about their friendships and rivalries and, in one case, an apocalyptic falling out that continues to shape the game today.
"The Barcelona Legacy: Guardiola, Mourinho and the Fight For Football's Soul" Reviews
Over time, I've cooled in regards to Wilson, who has gone from writer with a different perspective to grating know-it-all. If you can ignore his personality, this is actually a very good book, but there were too many eye-rolls for it to be brilliant.
Although it's called the Barcelona Legacy, really this is a book about four personalities - Cruyff, Van Gaal, Mourinho and Guardiola. Other football names are included, but this is a mini-biography of them and their teams. As a concept, this is a bit iffy. As a book, it worked quite well. Wilson is both knowledgeable and balanced - impartial would be the wrong word as he is fairly unfavourable, but not unreasonable in his criticisms.
After a tortured family tree from Queen's Park to Barcelona, about as reliable as the lineage at the start of the Gospel, Wilson gives some background on Cruyff before discussing his time at Barcelona, and the remaining managers above who were all at the club in the late 90s. If there was a unifying theme, it would be the extent to which Cruyff's influence lived on in the managers' methods, as Wilson looked at how the managers acted and their relative success. I did think this worked well, as Mourinho and Guardiola's careers are hardly obscure, and this prevented it from becoming a pure rehashing. The discussions of training sessions were revealing but the parts about Van Gaal were newer to me and more interesting, and as Wilson had interviewed him his thoughts were personal, rather than inferred from press cuttings.
I can only assume Wilson didn't want to bore the reader with the club politics as sometimes this was quite vague - the machinations of power at Ajax went over my head as Cruyff manufactured a power base then lost it within a paragraph. Unfortunately, Wilson wasn't so restrained when it came to trivia and auditions for Pseud's corner. Did mentions of Milton and Dekker really add to the text? At one point Wilson seems to criticise Mourinho for pointing out he has won medals under three different UEFA presidents "to others this might be a curiosity", but later asserts that' the KNVB were sticking to their trusted model resolutely' because 3 out of 4 Dutch managers had played for Sparta Rotterdam in 1981. If it was that resolute, they'd have made sure all of them fit the bill. Clearly Wilson had loved this bit of trivia and had to invent a narrative in order to include it.
There were also some bizarre footnotes* quoting sources rather than simply putting 'as Xavi told Sid Lowe in a Guardian interview', say, and other witticisms such as Mourinho (whose great uncle was an aristorat) playing football with his neighbours 'or servants' (HA!), and altogether these were really annoying. Which is a shame, as he doesn't need to do it if the core book is good enough, as in this case.
*in the book The Barcelona Legacy.
In my early twenties I spent a two week holiday in Thailand with friends. Typically such holidays involve full moon parties, buckets with mystery booze, and magic mushrooms on ‘Mushie Mountain’. While I was there I spent more time reading Inverting the Pyramid, Jonathan Wilson’s seminal book on the history of football tactics than I did doing basically anything else. I say this to provide the context that I’m not an objective reviewer of Wilson’s work as I probably enjoy his broad stroke analysis of football’s evolution more than your average reader.
More than the Barcelona Legacy, Wilson tells the story of Johan Cruyff’s legacy and how the modern game has been shaped by coaches who were at Barcelona in some capacity in the early 90’s. The book traces the tactical evolution of Pep Guardiola, Louis van Gaal, José Mourinho Ronald Koeman, Luis Enrique, and Frank de Boer, and the impact those coaches have had on the game’s overall evolution. It’s a story of football philosophy and what it means to play football “the right way”.
The clash of Pep and José in Spain is the box office centrepiece of the story – Pep’s Cruyffian ideals versus vs Mourinho ‘s cynical counter attacking football. Wilson avoids taking sides and presents an unbiased assessment of how the game has developed across Europe. This is perhaps the best thing about the book as the most popular books to present on any of these figures are generally very biased either in favour of their subject (like Marti Peraneu’s books on Pep) or against (like Diego Torres trashy, brilliant and totally unreliable book on Jose). Given their current fortunes, it would have been very easy to fall into the trap of declaring Pep the victor in a battle of good vs evil.
Many of the individual details of the book will be familiar to the type of person who generally reads Wilson’s books (i.e. football nerds) who will likely have read many of the books Wilson cities throughout. However, the book is very well researched with Wilson adding the views of key players like Javier Zanetti or Ricardo Carvalho either from interviews or from biographies that aren’t available in English. It ensures some fresh and interesting material even for those of us who have devoured the many biographies of the key figures and clubs at the centre of the story.
I enjoyed particuarly the bits of the book that I hadn’t read about elsewhere – Mourinho’s origin story (well he is basically a super-villian), Van Gaal’s post Barca evolution and the turmoil at Ajax were all areas I was less familiar with that are covered well.
Like all of Wilson’s books he can’t resist showing off his literary knowledge with the occasional digression showing how well read he is. I quite like this about Wilson’s writing – and The Outsider shows this side of his work off the best – but I can imagine it will alienate some readers. Those interludes are brief and the book quickly gets back to more familiar territory.
What this book excels at is providing a clear joining of the dots by setting Pep, Jose and the others in the context of Cruyff. Above all it is a testament to Cruyff’s influence on the game and how his approach shaped 25 years of tactical evolution.
Like all Wilson’s work, its a very enjoyable, interesting and thought provoking read. It leads immediately to a YouTube binge as you try track down some of the more memorable matches and moments. I think you can tell if you’ll like this book by your response to someone using the phrase post-Cruyffian. If it makes you think of Guardiola’s possession based football this is the book for you. If it makes you think ‘tosser’ then it might not be the book for you!
One thing the book left me wondering about is Athletico Madrid’s rise which is noted but not quite explained. I’ve since ordered Hijacking Laliga by Evan McTear which promises to answer that very question!
The book is accompanied by a 6 part podcast which narrows in on 6 key games covered in the book. An interesting, and to my mind successful, way of promoting the book while also enhancing the experience for readers. Hopefully something that catches on.
You can read all of my sports book reviews at http://allsportsbooks.reviews/reviews...
This book is addressed to a very specific type of reader. The type that not only enjoys reading football-related literature but more specifically football tactics and the intertwined philosophies a manager can add to the sport.
I'll start by saying that I am a big fan of Wilson's. I already read Inverting The Pyramid (it has completely changed the way I watch football games so I'd say it's pretty good) and Angels With Dirty Faces (an ok book about the history of Argentine football, I wouldn't particularly recommend it but it's readable if you're interested in the country's football heritage).
In Legacy, Wilson goes back to being the tactical nerd that he is but also does it by telling us the very simple story of Barcelona managers, its staff and its staff's evolution. It's an easy enough story to tell but you had to figure it out to tell it and my guess is Wilson got there first. It's simple: there was a Dutch player who was pretty good named Cruyff who came to Barca, did very well, managed them and instilled his beliefs on how the club should play football (if anything, the book should be called the Cruyff legacy but I suppose this had a narrower pull to publishers).
Just after that, you have Bobby Robson becoming manager who is an Englishman with a not-so-good spanish (let alone Catalan) level so he hires one José Mourinho to be his translator and the pair of them manage, wait for it, Pep Guardiola, a above-average midfielder (but not quite world-class) who has a nose for tactics. It really is all glaringly obvious once Wilson puts the facts in your face but there you have the scenario for a pretty good book.
And so, the study of football games under the Guardiola/Mourinho era begins. The styles are very different, the results differ but both stay giants of football management to this day. Add to that Ronald Koeman and Louis van Gaal who played/managed Barca and their philosophies, you have some wonderful insight on how each manager wanted football to be played. It really is quite remarkable.
Why not 5 stars then? I thought the book could have used a bit of editing (he scored in the second half of the second half) and, just like Angels, there is a rather annoying insistance of preceding a month with "the" (City beat Sunderland in the January). Just. Why?
So if you're a fan of football tactics, read this. If you're a football fan but not that keen on tactics, yeah read it but you may find the whole thing underwhelming. Or it could expand your footballing brain to tactical bliss just like it did me when I read Inverting. Your choice.
Jonathan Wilson is one of my favourite journalists, his attention to detail and style of writing has always appealed since the days of "Inverting the Pyramid" ten years ago.
The subject matter of this book was not new to me, having read the works of Sid Lowe for one in the past, but JW pulls together some very familiar stories in an engaging and interesting manner making links across the heritage of the Dutch approach to football and how that is informing the game right upto today.
The manner in which the current crop of managers have been influenced by the developments at Ajax in the 1970s and Barcelona during both the 1970's playing period of Cruyff and later during his managerial stints at both clubs is fascinating to reflect upon.
This is not only in the direct manner of influence seen in the work of Guardiola at Barca, Bayern and Manchester City but also in the other extreme, the anti-Cruyff approach taken by Mourinho in the years since 2008 when , as the author proposes, the Portuguese has been on a campaign to prove that the pressing possession based style of the modern adapted Cruyff can be beaten by a more destructive defensive style that scorns possession.
The incentive for this campaign being driven by the rejection that Mourinho experienced when applying for the manager's job at Camp Nou, a rejection made more painful by the Catalan club appointing Guardiola to the post.
Drawing in the parts played also by Van Gaal and Koeman in the successes and history of Barcelona over the last twenty years as well as the driven nature of Guardiola and his obsessiveness that has driven such success over the last decade but which proved to be too intense for him to continue at Barca this is a very informative and enjoyable book
If you love football (soccer) and love analysis of modern tactics then read this phenomenal book. Jonathan Wilson is a great story teller, as I found out in reading Inverting the Pyramid, and he does a lot of that to make his point in this book. I would say Wilson is at the forefront of proper good football tactics analysis. My only minor complaint is that there's a slight bias to attacking post-Cruyffian tactics as opposed to counter-attacking post-Cruyffian tactics (or really any counter-attacking football in general), but anyone is going to have a bias one way or another. *spoiler* for the first 9/10s of the book Wilson is a gloating adoring fan of Guardiola and his style of play, with the exception of a jab here or there about "But he didn't win the Champion's League" (at Bayern), but he so incredibly and concisely points out the weaknesses to Guardiola's interpretation/implementation of Cruyff's philosophy in the last 10 pages. Lastly, I've never seen a description of Mourinho's faults that I've more agreed with.
One of the better Wilson's books, and that's not an easy feat. It could have been called "Post-Cryffism in European Football" as the likes on Van Gaal feature just as prominently as Guardiola or Mourinho. I wish there is a revised edition after Mourinho's sacking from Man Utd - though the pattern is very firmly established, I am not sure there is much new evidence there.