Producing excellence in team performance.

Gladiator Josep Guardiola inspires epic win in Rome

HIDDEN in the “home” dressing-room at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico as of last Tuesday afternoon was a giant television set. It was the one on which Barcelona’s footballers usually watch DVDs of previous games and future opponents. Their head coach, Josep “Pep” Guardiola, was insistent when he took his first senior job as a coach, in charge of Barcelona, that he could call on state-of-the-art hardware for the supplementary aspects of his job. He had the set flown to Rome in case the facilities there were not up to standard.

Guardiola got together with a friend who works in television to script and produce a seven-minute film with which he would surprise, and, he hoped, motivate his players immediately before kick-off. It was a carefully paced combination of sequences from the Oscar-winning movie Gladiator, starring Russell Crowe, and images from Barcelona’s season: the craggy features of Crowe, the defiant Roman warrior, would cut to the delicate Andres Iniesta, volleying the late goal that hauled Barça from imminent defeat against Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final to a place in the final.

Hollywood interpretations of ancient Rome would merge into pictures of Samuel Eto’o scoring one of his 35 goals this season or Victor Valdes making spectacular saves. There was schmaltz, too. The film featured images of absent teammates such as Gabriel Milito, the centre-half who has been injured all season: the message was that those who could play had a responsibility to others who could not.

The players, expecting nothing like this when they were told by their fitness coach to return to the dressing-room from their warm-ups, sat in the dark to watch the film. Each one had a few frames devoted to him personally. Naturally, a prominent spot was given over to last month’s 6-2 win over Real Madrid. Then came footage taken from a promotional video made by Barcelona’s kit sponsor, Nike, over which the voice of Guardiola spoke of “strikers who defend, defenders who attack, we are speed, we are strength, we are effort, we are precision, we are as one”. The climax featured Puccini’s rousing Nessun Dorma, sung by Luciano Pavarotti.

As the lights came on in the dressing-room, some players were said to have wiped away tears. Soon they were shouting, motivating one another. Guardiola, apparently, said nothing but motioned his players to the door and to the tunnel, ready to step out into the arena.

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