PEP GUARDIOLA saw the first real fruits of his Bayern revolution in Manchester on October 2 last year. During their 3-1 Champions League victory over Manchester City at the Etihad, his players finally executed the possession-based football he had been drilling them in since the summer.
The performance led Bayern president Uli Hoeness to comment. "For 80 minutes we played perfect football - the best football I've seen in my life."
In an exclusive extract from Pep Confidential: The Inside Story of Pep Guardiola's First Season at Bayern Munich, author Martí Perarnau describes an incredible passage of play in the second half which summed up the German side's dominance over Manuel Pellegrini's side.
"Then, in the 65th minute, Bayern lay on a gigantic rondo – a succession of passes which astonishes the world of football for its precision, speed and duration. During nearly three-and-a-half minutes, Bayern put together 94 passes involving all 10 outfield players. The team pass the ball for more than 200 seconds during which time the Etihad Stadium goes silent and the City players pretty much surrender.
"During this succession of passes the ball bounces off the English defenders twice, it is deflected by Clichy once and Jesús Navas wins it back once, but manages to keep it in City’s possession for only seven seconds before Lahm robs it back with a brilliant tackle.
"All in all it’s so spectacular that that very night various YouTube users put all 3 minutes 27 seconds up on the internet – sometimes with accelerated motion and accompanied by the theme tune from The Benny Hill Show.
"The giant rondo sums up what Pep has been asking his players to learn how to do. The stats tell the story: Toni Kroos passes the ball 18 times in this one action, then Robben (14), Schweinsteiger (13), Ribéry (12), Rafinha (11) and Lahm (10). The defenders and centre-forward have been involved slightly less – Boateng (7 passes), Alaba (6), Müller (2), Dante (1)."
* Pep Confidential: The Inside Story of Pep Guardiola's First Season at Bayern Munich is out on October 16. Pre-order here
THE 1977/78 season was not a happy time for Celtic or for Sean Fallon. The team was struggling badly and would go on to finish fifth, having sold off the last and most prominent of the stars signed by the Irishman over the previous decade.
The departure of Kenny Dalglish had added insult to the injury of Fallon's demotion to the role of chief scout, and he saw that the end was approaching for both him and Jock Stein.
However, before being sacked, Fallon was able to bequeath his beloved club a handsome parting gift. It came in the shape of a youngster by the name of Paul McStay.
Ahead of McStay's return to Celtic Park for Sunday's MAESTRIO charity match, this extract from Fallon's authorised biography recalls the circumstances of the legendary midfielder's arrival.
While Celtic were in the process of offloading another all-time great, Fallon was busy replenishing their stocks. Having overcome the unhappiness that followed his demotion, he pursued with typical diligence and enthusiasm the familiar responsibilities of scouting, and proved as successful as ever.
The job came with its disappointments. Fallon remembered, for example, recommending Ronnie Whelan - then with Dublin side Home Farm - only for the board to balk at the £35,000 Liverpool proved only too willing to pay.
Fortunately, there were successes, too. One of the most notable came when he was tipped off about a youngster playing for Holy Cross High School in Hamilton. This player’s brother was also said to be useful and, encouragingly, they descended from a long line of famous Celts. But the deal proved far from straightforward.
"Paul and Willie McStay were two of the last signings I made, and I was delighted to get them in. It looked for a while like we might lose Paul, though. There were loads of clubs in for him and I remember Leeds United were the favourites. It was like the Eddie Gray situation - they were offering money we couldn’t compete with. But what I did at that stage was to put everything into getting Willie to sign.
"Paul was a shy boy and I felt if he had his big brother around the place to make him feel more comfortable, it would make a difference in his decision. That’s the way it worked out, although we had some competition for Willie, too. Brian Clough was very keen on getting him down to Nottingham Forest I seem to remember. But he did a fine job for the club and Paul, as everyone knows, was a tremendous player - one of the best the club ever had."
At Fallon’s 80th birthday celebrations, a special recorded message from Paul was broadcast, thanking the Irishman “for all the help and guidance you gave me”. “If it wasn’t for you bringing me to Celtic Park, I don’t know what would have happened to me,” he added. His elder brother also had cause to remember with great fondness the man who changed the direction of his career and, ultimately, his life.
“I was all set to go to Forest,” Willie recalled. “I didn’t even know Celtic were interested. But I’ll never forget the sight of Sean, who to me was Mr Celtic, walking up to my house in Larkhall. I was just blown away that Sean Fallon was trying to sign me. I’d have signed before he got through the front door if he’d have let me.”
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We're involved in two events at the upcoming Manchester Football Writing Festival. On Wednesday, September 10, Graham Hunter and Sid Lowe will be talking about Spanish football and you can get tickets for that here.
Before that, we've got the first ever live event for FOOTBALL MANAGER STOLE MY LIFE, on Saturday, September 6.
If you liked the book, or just love the game, you don't want to miss our expert panel:
Miles is the big brain behind Sports Interactive, the producers of first Championship Manager and then Football Manager. Miles will give us the insider stories from 20 years of FM.
Iain is The King of Twitter and will look back on his adventures in producing FM STOLE MY LIFE. The trip to the psychiatrist, the Champ Man 01/02 save and the disastrous managerial spell with Hoffenheim.
Kenny tracked down the legends of the game, and developed a frightening man crush on Tonton Zola Moukoko. He'll tell you where Andri Sigporsson is now, and why he will never forgive Maxim Tsigalko.
We'd love to see you at Waterstones Deansgate, Manchester, for this unique event, and please let the FM addicts in your life know about this and the other great events at the Manchester Football Writing Festival.
We need Mario Balotelli. I’m not sure he really appreciates it yet, but he’s a special kind of medicine, an antidote to the potentially lethal poison of the racists you find in Italian grounds.
They’re a truly horrendous bunch, a herd of frustrated individuals who’ve taken the worst of history and made it their own. And they’re more than just a minority, despite what certain mealy-mouthed spin doctors would have you believe. Those guys would use a fire extinguisher to put out a match.
Whenever I see Mario at an Italy training camp, I’ll give him a big smile. It’s my way of letting him know that I’m right behind him and that he mustn’t give up. A gesture that means ‘thank you’.
He’s often targeted and insulted by opposition fans. Let’s say that the way he goes about his business perhaps doesn’t help him get much love, but I’m still convinced that if he was white, people would leave him in peace.
‘Jump up high so Balotelli dies’ is an unspeakable chant that, sadly, I’ve heard at the Juventus Stadium amongst other places. Even worse are the monkey noises that I’ve listened to pretty much everywhere.
But instead of depressing Mario, moronic behaviour of that kind actually seems to fire him up. He won’t let this human trash get their way, and it’s the most intelligent response because if you listen to what a stupid person says, you elevate them to the position of interlocutor. If you simply ignore them (still acknowledging that, unfortunately, they exist) you’re leaving them to stew in their own polluted sea: one where there are no friends and no shore. The good news is that even sharks can die of loneliness after a while.
Cesare Prandelli gave us national team players some firm direction on the matter. “If you hear people in the stands disrespecting Mario, run over to him and hug him.” In that way, hate can be cancelled out by an equivalent dose of love.
Not a fashionable choice, but a pretty forceful idea.
I’m happy that Mario is the way he is. He’ll react (wrongly) to provocation on the pitch, but doesn’t let what’s going on in the crowd affect him. If he scores, he might put his finger to his lips to mock the opposition fans, something that really infuriates them, but if they tell him he’s got the wrong colour of skin he’ll simply laugh in their faces. He makes complete fools of them and emerges a convincing winner. The way I see it, he’s capable of becoming a symbol of the fight against racism, both in Italy and throughout the world.
In terms of footballing ability, Mario’s class is unquestionable. I’d have happily seen him end up in a Juventus shirt. Top players are in a position of real strength, in that they can basically pick their club.
Today would have been the 92nd birthday of Sean Fallon, the Celtic legend who passed away last January.
In the year before he died, Jock Stein's former assistant - one of the finest talent-spotters in the history of the game - finally committed to paper the story of his incredible life and career.
And besides the Iron Man's memories, his authorised biography also included insights from many of the men he influenced, including some of the biggest names in British football.
“Sean was a bit more forthcoming with me than Jock Stein in the early days. Jock’s personality meant he was a bit more secretive and sort of kept you down there a little bit, even as a young man. Sean was a brilliant help to me as an aspiring manager, and we were close ever since.”
Sir Alex Ferguson
“I think every footballer looks back on people who were important to their development, and Sean was certainly very important to me. Really, he was the man who started it all off for me.”
“Big Jock needed Sean. The truth was that he supplied everything the big man wasn’t particularly good at. He was the best assistant manager we could have wished for.”
“What Sean and Jock Stein did was take good players and turn them into great players. And more than that, they set the standards, the values, for the entire club.”
“I loved Sean Fallon. In fact, I didn't understand how anyone couldn’t love the guy. He was just a great man.”
“Sean Fallon embodied all that is good about Celtic: its values, its roots in Ireland, in Sligo, its pride in Scotland, its competitiveness, its sense of fair play, its decency, its leadership... you could go on and on.”
“He ... seems to slip under the radar at times when you talk about Celtic’s history, and that shouldn’t be the case at all. There are a lot of people who owe him a great debt of gratitude for giving them their start in the game, and Celtic owe him even more.”
“If you asked me to name Celtic’s best-ever assistant, it would be Sean Fallon. I've never came across anyone who played the role better.”
“People remember Sean as this devoted, wholehearted Celtic, but he was an awful lot more than that. His ability spot players, and his abilities of perception and analysis, weren’t picked up and appreciated the way they should have been."