On Barcelona, Gorillas and other intelligent animals

Barcelona's coach has a great advantage over any other opposing coach because everything is set up for him by years of good training


Guus Hiddink, one of football’s most innovative managers, compared the dynamics of a football team to a gorilla band.

“I remember the day I walked into Chelsea’s training facility”, Hiddink said in an interview with the Daily Mail newspaper earlier this year. “I had just been to Africa to study gorillas before I arrived at Chelsea as interim manager. I looked at the training sessions in the first week. Who are the big boys here? Who is the leader?”

“Just like in Africa, I was looking for the big Silverback. I could see three of them. John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba. I expected them to fight for the No. 1 position, but that did not happen and that really surprised me.”

Hiddink explained that Terry was the undisputed number one gorilla based on the fact that he was a home-grown product on top of his natural charisma and leadership skills. When John Terry speaks, the others will listen, Hiddink said. “He is Chelsea through and through. I thought there would be more trouble there. But there was not. Mainly because once Terry stood up and spoke, it went quiet. There is always a hierarchy in a team.”

It’s just a metaphor, but it shows something of the dynamics in Chelsea, a club whose biggest gorilla is the owner, Roman Abramovich  - not because he has the biggest pectoral muscles, but because he took the best advantage of Russia’s resources.

The hierarchy needs to be clear,” Hiddink said. “At some point you have to show who is in charge of the club and who the real boss is.

What Hiddink tried to say was that each club has its own dynamics. Chelsea, for example, is a gorilla group owned by a circus manager. Arsenal is a laboratory managed by a stubborn professor, and Manchester United is a tribe led by the know-it-all wise chief Sir Alex Ferguson.

Usually, it’s one man who dictates the dynamics  for better or worse. Jose Mourinho‘s greatness has to do with the fact that he can change the dynamics of any club he coaches.

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Barcelona is different

This is exactly what separates Barcelona from any other football club in the world. In Barcelona, the dynamics in the club are being dictated by a force  not a man. The force is the philosophy that was brought to the club by the ‘Messiah”, Johan Cruyff, almost four decades ago.

Now, this philosophy has become stronger than the Messiah himself.

According to this philosophy, the first team of the club should be nurtured and developed from an early age, so the players have an almost organic understanding of where they should move and where their teammates are moving to.

This force also dictates that only players who understand the philosophy of Barcelona should join the team. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a much superior player than David Villa, but Villa understands the club’s philosophy and that’s why he prospers where the Swedish international superstar failed.

Since this force, the philosophy, has dominated the Barcelona spirit for a few decades now (if not in the first team, then definitely within the club’s youth academies), it has gone through an evolution process that other clubs didn’t enjoy.

Barcelona is playing now like an aircraft formed by connected vessels, its fuel is the philosophy that runs through its veins, a philosophy bigger than any individual – while the opponent still trying to find out how this fire thing works.

It also means that Barcelona’s coach has a great advantage over any other opposing coach because everything is set up for him by years of good training. Pep Guardiola - who actually said that Barca’s big advantage is that “the team have been playing that same way since 20 years ago” - embodies the Barcelona philosophy and he knows exactly how to use this aircraft.

It’s not simple, he needs to know what buttons to push (let the players more time with their wives, for instance) and how to stir this high flying aircraft through cliffs of dangers.

But his leadership qualities and the fact that he is, as a former player, a hero for most of the home grown players in his team, made it ‘easy’ for him it makes every Barcelona game look like a battle between an F16 and a group of gorillas.

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