Football heroes in all shapes and sizes. By Carlos Rivaherrera

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Santa’s Sack - AFR Voice Ep. 19

This week’s show sees us a man down - and before you ask, no we haven’t sacked Ben for overseeing a series of poor pod performances (he’ll be back next week), but we will be discussing the goings on of a weekend of boardroom-based carnage in the Premier League. Where did it all go wrong for Andre Villas-Boas and Steve Clarke? Will they be stuck on the managerial merry-go-round for long? And with the January transfer window fast approaching, who’s next to join them?

Then it’s off to Europe’s top table, where we’ll be taking a look at the Champions League draw – the tasty looking match against Man City that Barcelona didn’t want, the prospect of two home games for Didier Drogba, and an Arsenal team looking to make sure we don’t get a sixth straight final that includes either Pep Guardiola or Bayern Munich.

We’re also stopping off in La Liga, where Atletico Madrid are doing everything they can to disrupt the established balance of power, Barcelona have broken yet another record, and Cristiano Ronaldo has now got something that not many players in world football can boast – his own museum.

This week’s feature interview sees us chat to journalist, broadcaster and Spanish football expert Guillem Balague about his new book, simply titled “Messi”. We’ll be talking about how he went about writing a book on the world’s best player, how he managed to speak to Messi’s friends, family and coaches to build a true picture of the man, and what makes the Argentine arguably the greatest player of all time.

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Through Ryu’s Lens: Pep.

Ryu Voelkel hopped on a train for 8 hours. The destination: Freiburg. Why? Because it’s a beautiful little city known for exemplary sustainable urbanism, but more importantly Bayern Munich were in town. While Bayern are a force, Germany’s biggest and most stylish arrival has been Pep Guardiola. And Pep was the man (usually) in focus for Ryu throughout the match. It ended 1-1, but we’re obviously the real winners here. Warning: photos may inspire you to spend your savings on a 10,000 euro suit.

[You can interact with Ryu on twitter @Toksuede and find more on his FlickrPosted by Eric]

A new dawn in Deutschland
'Guardiola's move to the Bundesliga seems to confirm the league's new sexiness across Europe. The man himself casts a long shadow, one filled with hopes as well as doubts. Will he be able to apply his successful techniques at a club where himself and his ideals weren't incubated? Time will tell.' - We’re delighted to feature Dan Leydon’s work on AFR. Find him on: Twitter / Tumblr / Etsy.

A new dawn in Deutschland

'Guardiola's move to the Bundesliga seems to confirm the league's new sexiness across Europe. The man himself casts a long shadow, one filled with hopes as well as doubts. Will he be able to apply his successful techniques at a club where himself and his ideals weren't incubated? Time will tell.' - We’re delighted to feature Dan Leydon’s work on AFR. Find him on: Twitter / Tumblr / Etsy.

Pep goes to Germany

It’s official. At the end of the season, the man we’ve all been waiting to make a comeback will join Bayern Munich as their new manager in July. After being linked with every club with deep pockets and billionaire owners, Pep Guardiola surprises us all once again. We’re going to let this one process for a moment, but what are your thoughts on the Catalan maestro making his return to football in the Bundesliga? Is success on the horizon, or will he await a challenge much more difficult than the one presented to him when he began his tenure at the Camp Nou?

This is the Life of a Manager

By Jordan Brown

The chant rang around Tehrir Square over the weekend—the chant of the revolution, the chant that brought down deposed Mubarak, ‘The people want to bring down the regime!” They shouted it this time for a new leader, the democratically elected Mohammend Morsi—a man who is suddenly discovering the confines of power, the limits of his reach.

Somewhere in London a dour Frenchman was ending his day, and if he were to have seen the scenes in Cairo, heard the chant of the young revolutionaries, it would probably sound to him much like, “You don’t know what you’re doing.” A game as ubiquitous in global culture as football finds itself mirroring many other spheres of human society, none so often as politics, and no role in football is so neatly politicized as Manager.

Football is a republic built on popular momentum; it is the modern circus maximus played out in coliseums of steel and glass, and the mobs are still the masters. In every seat of the stands sits a revolutionary, a fan who holds their own individual ideal of their club’s perfection. They know the way their team should play, who they should sign, and exactly what great heights of achievement each season should hold. Their minds are filled with gleaming trophy cabinets and memorable performances, and to all of them the one standing in the way of the dream made life is the flesh and blood man in the puffy jacket pacing the byline in front of them. Everyone is the best fit for the job except for the one who currently holds the title.

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Gràcies Pep. Ha estat bonic. (Thanks Pep. It’s been beautiful.)

By Max Grieve

Pep Guardiola’s first league match, away at Numancia, was confusing in its lessons. Barcelona boasted 70 per cent of the possession, and had 26 shots – two of which smacked against the woodwork – but lost; Mario Martínez Rubio, simply Mario, scoring in Eric Abidal’s absence at the far post. 

“We played badly,” admitted Guardiola. “We were undisciplined and people were not doing their jobs. You have to open the pitch when the opposition plays with 10 behind the ball and we did not do that. We did not attack well. It was our own fault, but we can correct the errors.”

A reaction to an unfortunate performance, not to take anything from Numanica, the Catalan media were up in arms – they usually are, such is their fanaticism. Johan Cruyff, in his column for El Periódico, was more patient. “I don’t know which game you saw, but I saw one of the best Barça performances in years. Football-wise, Barça were of the best. Positionally excellent, moving the ball with speed and precision, and pressing well. You draw your conclusions but, to me, this season looks very, and I mean very, good.” 

Superlatives fail. Barcelona won the league, the Copa del Rey, and the Champions League. The latter was breath-taking: deprived of Dani Alves due to the UEFA rules that threaten this year’s final, Puyol was indomitable at right-back, Xavi masterful in the midfield, and Messi supreme in attack. Alex Ferguson’s face was drained of its characteristic purple hue, and Pep Guardiola lifted the European Cup. At the beginning of the next season, Barcelona collected the UEFA Super Cup, the Club World Cup, and the Supercopa de España. In little over a year, Guardiola had won everything there was to be had in Spanish and European football. That he stayed for a further three seasons is testament to his will to succeed, and should serve as a lesson to those who feel wronged by his leaving.

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Conversations about the future with Pep Guardiola and Fernando Trueba.

Things move pretty fast in Spain. After losing to Real Madrid and getting knocked out of the Champions League in one week, today we found out that this will be Pep’s last season with Barça for the foreseeable future. I’m posting this conversation between Pep and legendary Spanish filmmaker Fernando Trueba from last September simply because the future seems to be terribly present in the present. Enjoy.

Selected words of wisdom from Pep and Fernando:

1) Trueba: “You reached the future you had imagined when you were 25. How do you imagine your future now?

Pep: “Not a day goes by in which I don’t think ‘I’m leaving tomorrow.’ I think whenever you’re in a position where you’re managing something, you have to think that if you want, the next day you can just walk away. I think I work best when I know I have the freedom to decide my own future.

2) Trueba: And for human beings in general: some age well, others less well. We all have our own rhythm: some people give their very best at 20, others at 80. There is no written rule.

3) Pep: It’s a game, nothing else. Know your opponent, and try to play better than him. The whole point is not to defeat your opponent and think ‘yeah, we beat them.’  I never think that, I focus instead, during the game, on thinking if what I imagined the day before is happening on the pitch or not. If it is, then I’m completely fulfilled as a coach. If it isn’t, it’s because I was wrong about something and I have to understand the reasons why things are not going as I planned.

Trueba: Yes, but there’s no such thing as “things went wrong.” Things just happen the way they happen, you have to accept it… Directors usually say ‘I’m going to direct a movie, let’s see if I can make the movie exactly as I imagine it in my mind.’ That movie is a dream, it doesn’t exist. What matters is not what you dream it will be, it’s the movie you actually MAKE… Try not to be to hung up on utopias. Utopias don’t exist… I’m not saying dreaming is wrong. But it’s also important to try to change reality for the better by bit by bit, realistically. 

[posted by EB]

What is Pedro’s role at Barcelona?

By Dominic Vieira, writing from Lisbon

Once a nobody, once irreplaceable and now an uncertainty. At the age of 24, the forward from Tenerife has played over 160 matches, kissed all the trophies and set a record which Messi didn’t, becoming the first player in history to score in 6 different competitions in one season.

After swiftly establishing himself during his first full season at Barcelona, it seemed evident that Pedro would remain up front for years to come. Last year he formed the lethal MVP trio which naturally and rapidly transformed into a menacing power scoring 98 goals. It was an effective combination with Messi moving to the centre enjoying a free role accompanied by two agile forwards, and they conquered everything. 

However, it’s been another season of transition as the manager began rotating his attacking force with frequency, except for the untouchable ‘King Leo’ of course. The arrivals of Fabregas and Sanchez, the only summer investments made, offered Barcelona more dynamic solutions. In addition, Guardiola did not hesitate to promote two Catalan youth products, Isaac Cuenca and Cristian Tello. The pair of 20 year old’s have been enjoying a productive run of games, boosted by David Villa’s major injury sustained in December alongside shorter absences from Pedro and Afellay’s eternal calf curse. 

Pedro no longer appears to be an “absolutely fundamental” element in the team. This past week has been defining for Barcelona where they frustratingly lost to Chelsea and were knocked out of the La Liga race by sacred rivals Real Madrid on home soil. Pedro appeared in both matches as a substitute, with limited time and opportunity to make a difference. Despite being fit, why was Tello selected ahead of the World Cup champion for the 'El Clasico'?

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