Two years ago, Pep Guardiola guided his Barcelona charges to the final major trophy that was missing from the Catalan giants’ trophy cabinet: the FIFA Club World Cup. Victors over Estudiantes de la Plata in a thrilling final, Barça required a late equaliser in normal time before sinking the Argentinian outfit in the added 30 minutes.
Fresh from Saturday’s morale-boosting La Liga win over Real Madrid, Los Azulgrana jetted across to Japan where they are now preparing to face Asian champions Al-Sadd in a semi-final clash. With this game and plenty more on his mind, Guardiola spoke exclusively to FIFA.com about his club’s aims for the competition and how he and his squad intend to fully savour their stay in the Far East.
FIFA.com: Señor Guardiola, Barcelona kick off their FIFA Club World Cup campaign on 15 December. What are your goals for the competition?
Pep Guardiola: Our objective is to win the competition, no doubt about that. We need to hit the ground running and my job is to make sure the players are aware of how important the tournament is. We need to learn about our opponents, of course, play well in the semi-final and use our tactical ability and determination to become world champions once again.
This tournament comes about shortly after the Real Madrid match. How hard is it to get your players to perform at their peak twice in such a short space of time?
To be honest, we don’t train the players to peak at certain points in the season. We don’t think 'we’re struggling now but we’ll be ok come November'. We try to be as good as we possibly can in every game. What is tough for a team like ours is that we don’t get to do a pre-season, so it’s harder for us to get into our stride. But I repeat, we try to be on peak form for every game.
Do you think the 13-hour journey to Japan and the significant time difference will be a handicap for your team? Do you have enough time to acclimate?
It’s tough. It’s something I experienced myself as a player and it was very difficult getting used to being in a different time zone, over and above the fatigue from a long flight. Two years ago we only had to go to Abu Dhabi, which is just two hours ahead (of Spain), whereas here the difference is much greater. Ideally we’d come here in plenty of time, a week or ten days ahead, but unfortunately our fixture list is very full and the gaps between competitions are very short – so we’ll just have to make the best of it. But don’t think that I’m complaining: it’s a privilege to be here, an honour to be representing Europe and we’re incredibly excited about the chance to try and win this tournament.
Barça go into their semi-final as strong favourites to defeat Al-Sadd. How do you prevent any overconfidence?
By working hard and, first and foremost, by knowing all about our opponents, thinking about them and watching their games to find out what we’ll need to do to win. It’s my duty to know as much as I possibly can about the team we’re going to face, so they can’t take us by surprise, and then pass that knowledge on to the players. And, of course, we have to adapt the way we approach the game depending on what we’re going to be up against, without ever straying from our footballing philosophy.
Have you ever been to Japan before? If so, can you give us your impressions on the country and its people?
I came here a few years ago when we came to play in the Toyota Cup against Sao Paulo [in a final the Brazil side won 2-1], though I wasn’t able to see very much of the country. It’s a country with an interesting culture and I’m keen to discover more about it. We’ll spend a week in Yokohama and we’ll try to sample some of the great restaurants and mix with the local people.
Will you have time to fit all that in? Players usually say that they rarely get the chance to see anything of a country when they play in relatively short tournaments like this.
I don’t want us to be stuck in the hotel all day. We’re not going to have many days free, because we’re tired after the long trip, but we intend to make the most of the time we do have to do other things except think about football. We’ve come here to enjoy ourselves without, of course, forgetting our determination to win.
Japan was obviously hit by a terrible earthquake and tsunami earlier this year. With the nation still slowly getting back on its feet after that natural disaster, do you have a message for the Japanese people?
Yes, I felt very sorry when I found out. Catastrophes like these are beyond our control and I hope that Japan, which is a strong country, continues to recover. We’re very excited about getting to know its people and traditions. I’m sure that with everyone pulling together, the situation will get back to normal. When nature decides to revolt, there’s nothing you can do about it. The only thing we can do is to try and anticipate adversity using technology and, afterwards, stay strong to try and come through ok.
Football can help with the healing process too, right?
Of course! Just like going to the theatre, the cinema or having a good meal. At the end of the day you need to find ways to distract yourself, to fill your life and to have a good time. Let’s hope the football we play can be a part of that. We hope the fans in Japan enjoy the show that Barcelona are going to put on. And then, of course, we want to come home with the trophy.