Bayern Munich’s Spanish coach Pep Guardiola on Friday paid tribute to Johan Cruyff, his mentor at Barcelona, who died on Thursday at the age of 68 after losing a battle with lung cancer.
“I knew nothing about football before knowing Cruyff,” Guardiola told Catalan radio Rac1. “He protected me in my early days as a footballer. He gave me a footballing lesson in how to conduct myself, to keep my distance from the media.”
The 45-year-old Guardiola, who will take over as manager of Manchester City next season, was a defensive midfielder in the Cruyff-led Barcelona ‘Dream Team’ that won the European Cup for the first time in 1992.
Cruyff inspired the Total Football offensive where every player had to be ready to take on every position.
And Guardiola said that the advice given by the Dutchman sometimes took his players by surprise.
“At half-time when you had played badly, you expected to get an earful and be told to push yourself and fight more,” said Guardiola.
“He told you that you were playing badly because you were running too much. You had to send the ball where you wanted it to go and not to run after it. He told you completely the opposite to what you had always learned.
“He left us many things. We have all followed him in one way or another. Some as coaches, others as sporting directors, others commentators ... and that’s only possible if someone gives you something.
“It’s not by chance that (Andoni) Zubizarreta and Txiki (Begiristain/Manchester City) are great sporting directors.”
Both Begiristain and Zubizarreta were on Cruyff’s Dream Team and went on to be sporting directors at Barcelona between 2003 and 2015.
“He helped us to understand football ... and he encouraged you to trust your instinct, your nose. To make decisions.”
Guardiola admitted that often when he was having a problem he tried to put himself in the shoes of his former mentor.
“Sometimes I ask myself what would Johan do? That’s what happened to me against Juventus, I already had the rope around my neck but we finished by winning.”
Bayern were trailing 2-0 to Juventus on March 16 in the Champions League last 16 second leg until the 73rd minute but Guardiola’s side went on to win 4-2 after extra time to qualify for the quarter-finals.
Guardiola, known as a perfectionist, started his coaching career in Barcelona in 2008, and has won more major trophies than virtually any other coach in Europe.
His four-year reign at Barcelona is known as the club’s golden age after he transformed a misfunctioning side into what is widely regarded as the best team ever, winning three consecutive La Liga titles and two Champions League crowns before signing a three-year deal to coach Bayern in 2013.
The Spaniard will leave Munich at the end of the season and is aiming to exit on a high note by helping Bayern become the first team to win four consecutive Bundesliga titles.
Meanwhile Germany coach Joachim Loew also paid tribute to Cruyff.
“I got to meet and talk to Johan Cruyff on one occasion and I am very sorry that he has passed away. I would like to express my sincere condolences.
“I remember him not only as a very good player, from the things he did during the 1974 World Cup, but also as a coach. He revolutionised football and, in particular, he embodied everything about Barcelona’s playing philosophy.”