© FC Barcelona
As former captain and current Head Coach of FC Barcelona, it would be difficult to find a more treasured contemporary figure in Catalan football than Josep Guardiola Sala. Young, successful, handsome, and a sharp dresser, ‘Pep’s’ popularity transcends even the boundaries of sport (just ask your girlfriend). But it was his industrious and inspirational performances on the field during Johan Cruyff’s tenure in the Nineties that truly captured the imagination of culers* everywhere, most of whom were overjoyed to witness Pep’s promotion from Barça B team coach to first team nanager in the summer of 2008.
Born and bred in Santpedor, a provincial town of Barcelona, Guardiola came through the ranks of FCB’s renowned youth academy. As a local boy, he knew what it meant to wear the blue and maroon shirt, and it wasn’t long before his talents were sought by the first 11—he was handed his debut by Cruyff at just 20 years old. He never looked back. Guardiola became an instant favourite, the rock of Cruyff’s triumphant 'Dream Team', and led the side to four La Liga titles (1991-1994) and one European Cup (1992) under the Dutchman. It was a golden age for the club, and a defining period in the career of Guardiola, his name etched in history as part of the first Barcelona team to win the coveted Champions League.
More success was to follow. Guardiola captained the blaugranes** to consecutive league titles in 1998 and 1999 before finally leaving his boyhood heroes in 2001 with more than 400 appearances to his name. His heroic status was secure in Catalan. Following short spells in Italy and Qatar, Guardiola retired from playing in 2006, aged 35.
Although his tenure as manager at FC Barcelona got off to a shaky start in September 2008, the season ended with Barça's greatest ever year, with the Spanish league title, the King's Cup (like the FA Cup) and victory in the final of the UEFA Champions League against Manchester. More success was to follow - by May 2011, Guardiola's team had won 10 of 13 possible finals and trophies, including another Champions League against Manchester United, two more league titles and the World Club Cup in 2009.
* culers is one of various nicknames to describe Barça fans. It originated from the times of the team's former football stadium, which had open-backed benches for spectators and so one of the typical images associated with FC Barcelona on match day was row upon row of backsides (in Catalan, culers).
** blaugranes: a nickname for the FC Barcelona team which refers to the Catalan words for the colours of their strip - blau (blue) and grana (dark red).