I am often asked about how an elite football team can be led to success. I’m sure there are many possible answers to this question, which are all valid. However, in my case, in order to answer it, I put myself in the shoes of the player which I used to be and know that what is expected of me is to anticipate what will happen in the next game, dream about how it will occur and make decisions based on that vision.

It’s not an easy job, and what’s more, it’s often lonely and misunderstood. In this anticipation, you must combine the intense work of understanding your opponent with a deep knowledge of your team’s capabilities. Finally, when making the decision, all of this baggage is synthesised in an intuition, the result in equal parts of your personal history and of the analysis of the specific circumstances in front of you. Experience and inspiration go hand in hand to formulate unique decisions adapted to the particular situation each game presents.

Once the decision has been made, it is essential to know how to communicate it, that it is understood and, as far as possible, that it is shared. Adapting the message to each player is key. We all deserve the same respect but not everyone wants or can be treated in the same way. Often, you have to use different strategies to connect with different people. In short, this is an essential skill to be a leader: understanding the individuality of each person and keeping it well in mind to get the best out of it for the benefit of the whole team.

In fact, a lot of communication has to do with your vision of what should happen during the match. When transmitting it, you must know how to provide certainty where there is disorientation, provide security where there is anxiety, to be able to generate the necessary conditions for what you have dreamed and want to happen, to actually happen. Every action, every pass, must have a meaning, a function within the game, it’s not simply about passing the ball with no clear objective. I’ve said this on many occasions, I don’t like the “tiki-taka” method, I prefer playing with intelligence.

And finally, you have to trust the talent you have in the dressing room. Encourage players to take risks, give them permission to make mistakes. I am one of those people who is convinced that everyone goes out on the pitch to do their best. Therefore, when the outcome goes wrong, you need to analyse what has happened and learn from it. When you lose, it’s about accepting defeat and the fact that your opponent has made better decisions. You just need to move on and work hard to do better in the next game. And the same when you win: understand what has happened and make the most of that learning. It is the way to train the sixth sense that comes into play when making decisions adapted to each specific situation.

At the end of the day, trust must begin with oneself. It is essential to be faithful to one’s intuition, based on work and experience and focused on objectives. And the fact is, managing a team means managing those who play but also those who sit on the bench or in the stands. Or those who stay at home. There is nothing like having generous players who are able to think about collective goals rather than individual roles.

To finish, one last thought: I’m more about winning leagues than cups. Above all, I believe in the consistency of teamwork, which rewards perseverance and gives value to success. We can all have a lucky day, leadership, on the other hand, creates luck purposefully, decision by decision.

Pep Guardiola Sala,
director of the Leadership in Values Chair