It’s rare that the wording of the title of a book could be potentially so misleading. When penning the book, author Marti Perarnau was in for a shock. Upon arrival for Bayern Munich’s pre-season training camp on the shores of Lake Garda, Perarnau hoped for access to a few training sessions and the occasional cup of coffee with the new manager. However Pep Guardiola gave him in-depth access to all the team’s work, the coach’s decision making and tactical methods; in other words, anything but “confidential”. The only requirement was complete discretion during the season. This creates a fascinating read, especially for coaches with a growth mindset, but ultimately for anyone with more than a passing interest in the game.
The story begins in New York in October 2012, a few months into Guardiola’s sabbatical having departed Barcelona the previous season. The former Spanish international is having dinner with the former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, and grilling him relentlessly on his reluctance to take on the emerging talent of Magnus Carlsen. Why is this important? It encompasses Guardiola’s search for perfection, for answers, in particular to why the experience of leading Barcelona to their most successful period ever left the Catalan so exhausted. Guardiola spent a year in the American city while deciding where his career would take him next, and the book continues to outline the reasons for his decision to replace Jupp Heynckes at Bayern Munich, a process which had started a long time back with admiring glances and overtures from both parties.
The book is split into five sections with each one containing multiple small but fast-paced chapters. The first section outlines the background to Pep Guardiola joining Munich, including his frustrations in the latter part of his time at Barcelona. Part two details his first trophy as the new coach, when having lost the German Super Cup to rivals Borussia Dortmund, Bayern gain some revenge for their Champions League final defeat by beating Chelsea in the European Super Cup, a side now managed by his old sparring partner Jose Mourinho. The third section describes the German side’s march towards the Bundesliga title in the autumn of 2013 and their victory over Raja Casablanca in the World Club Cup in December, and part four continues the theme, taking us up to March 2014 when Bayern became the first side to win the Bundesliga in March with victory in Berlin, their 25th in 27 league games, and still without defeat. The final part describes Munich’s inevitable tail off in their league form, a disappointing April in which they also exited the Champions League with a record defeat to Real Madrid, a result described by Guardiola as “a complete fuck-up”, and then moves on to their final trophy and a return to Berlin for an extra-time victory over Dortmund in the DFB-Pokal final. In addition, there is an Epilogue outlining the astonishing statistics from the season and a one-to-one analysis of Guardiola’s first year with the man himself.
As discussed earlier, this is far more than a story of the season. The amount of detail provided to, and then passed on by the author is incredible which makes this book such a great read. It delves into Guardiola’s methods, from his near obsessive attention to detail, his late nights analysing opponents until he spots a chink in their tactical plan, to the planning of training sessions with his trusted coaching team. There are descriptions of some of these training sessions including his methods for making his tactical points visual for the squad. The author also speaks to others involved at the German club, including leading players such as Franck Ribéry and Arjen Robben, well respected skipper Philipp Lahm, and youngster Pierre-Emile Højbjerg. Away from the playing staff, there is Bayern’s head fitness coach, Lorenzo Buenaventura, and senior officials at the club such as Kalle Rummenigge.
What is most fascinating is the insight into how Guardiola took on the challenge, with many expecting him to impose the same tactics he had used at Barcelona, imprint his DNA on an already successful Bayern Munich team. In reality, he never asked his new team to pretend to be anything other than themselves, memorably describing how he “hates tiquitaca” and how he only requires the team to be “more like Bayern than ever”. His job remit was one of evolution over revolution, giving Bayern a footballing identity and at the same time helping him to develop his own and learn more about the game in which he has been so successful. Guardiola teaches the players his philosophy then fine tunes the details, and the journey described in the book outlines the discoveries that he makes as the season progresses. The amount of intensity, preparation and detail that went into each game, indeed, how much he already had prepared in terms of the way to play in the Bundesliga. More than anything, how a man who created one of the greatest club sides ever was and is still hungry to work hard and learn even more. His Bayern Munich education continues and this insight provides something of an education for the rest of the footballing world.