“It was a very good year, very hard,” Domenec Torrent, whose knowledge of the Spanish lower leagues was vital to Guardiola in that year at Barca B, tells Goal. “It was Pep’s first year as a coach,
he had to keep learning game by game.
“The Spanish Tercera Division is very, very hard,” he continued. “There are a lot of veteran players and we had very young lads, but they were like sponges, they learned everything so fast.
“In the second part of the league they started winning games more impressively, far better than the first, because they learned Pep’s concepts better. The only way to learn was to keep playing, it was like a Masters degree
Guardiola agrees: “Definitely. Definitely, it was so good for me. It was good because I had one game a week, I had time to analyse my process, and I did not have spotlights, I did not have media.
“I completely agree with Dome, it was the best school. First of all because I was a virgin! Dome helped me a lot because he was a manager in that division, the fourth division, for many, many years, he knew exactly the pitches, the
stadiums… not stadiums, because there are no stadiums. You can imagine in England in League Two or the Conference, it is quite similar.”
This is where Guardiola began his coaching career. Six years after leaving Camp Nou as a player under something of a cloud, he returned as coach of Barca B on the back of their relegation to the Tercera Division, the fourth tier of Spanish
“When Pep arrived I had already had two years in the youth teams and my plan was to leave, but I had a conversation with him and he convinced me to stay,” says Marc Valiente, the captain of the side.
“What I remember most was he said that because we had just been relegated, we had the obligation to get promoted again, because Barcelona do not belong in the fourth tier.”
Guardiola had told his players that they had to do better and he immediately set about raising standards; he brought in Torrent – who only recently left Pep to take charge of New York City FC – and Carles Planchart, who still works with
him to this day, to analyse the opposition.
This was “brand new” for the team and Victor Sanchez, the current Espanyol midfielder, adds: “We did not so much look at what the opposition did but what we could do to get the advantage over them. The videos were always
focused on what we had done badly, on why we could not find a breakthrough, either because of mistakes in attack or because we had not played out from the back well enough, but always focused on trying to get the better of the other
In the fourth tier, which is so vast it is split into 18 regional leagues, this was unheard of, but Guardiola’s preparations did not stop there; ahead of Barca B’s season opener he himself went on a scouting trip, casting
an eye over a pre-season friendly involving his side’s first opponents, Premia.
He kept a low profile for that trip but he was the centre of attention for the big game itself; between 400 and 500 people would usually turn up for Premia games but 2000 turned out for Guardiola’s managerial debut.
Among them were his father, Valenti, who drove to every game around Catalunya; his wife, Cristina; his two children, Maria and Marius; a number of friends, including Carles Busquets, the father of Sergio and a former Barca goalkeeper;
and several of his colleagues and employers, including Laporta and Txiki Begiristain. Alongside him on the bench was his assistant, Tito Vilanova.
The game itself, his very first as a coach, ended in a goalless draw, but his influence was already evident. The scouting trip had paid off.
“From the very first ball I saw that he already knew how we played,” Quim Ayats, coach of Premia at the time, told El Periodico journalist Marcos Lopez some years later. “I told our goalkeeper, ‘Change, change! Do it
Guardiola’s Barca B squad was made up of young players who had, as Valiente puts it, “Barca DNA”, but while they had already been well drilled in the possession football that has come to characterise the club, they were
not spared Guardiola’s painstaking attention to detail in his training sessions.
“It happened to all of us at some point,” Valiente says. “He would stop training to correct some things, mostly with the defenders and the pivote. He liked to do a lot of work on playing the ball out from the back, and he
always tried to find solutions when the opponent pressed us in different ways, and we practised it a lot in training.”
Dimas Delgado, one of the most senior players in the team at 25 years old, adds: “He did a lot of work in playing out from the back and being able to receive the ball in the right position, with the right body shape, and how to break
the lines. He wanted players to exploit the spaces. He always wanted us to play with one or two touches because it is much faster, everything is much faster.”
Barca B won seven of their 10 games after the goalless draw at Premia, scoring 21 goals in total, but Guardiola was not entirely happy.
“In the beginning I had problems,” he says, “I remember arriving Monday after a defeat on Sunday and saying, ‘Wow, it is not possible to play here’, arriving Tuesday and saying, ‘Wow, it is so difficult, let’s
start to try to find a different way to play.'”
Predictably, those doubts did not last long.
“I arrived Wednesday and said, ‘This is what I believe.’ The alternatives, the ways we looked at changing what I believe, they did not convince me. That is why I could not change.”