Pep Guardiola boasts one of the most impressive CVs in European football.
Six-time La Liga winner with Barcelona as a player, a member of the team of the tournament at Euro 2000 for his performances for Spain, and an even more successful manager with the likes of Barca, Bayern Munich and Manchester City.
If there is one chapter of Guardiola’s career that was not quite as fruitful or famous, though, it was the half-a-season he spent as a Roma player.
Guardiola joined Roma from fellow Serie A side Brescia on June 18th, 2002. Even though he was a free agent, he was a fairly high-profile acquisition for an already strong Giallorossi side. Over the following few months, though, he was unable to show his worth.
His signing had been overseen by club president Franco Sensi. Coach Fabio Capello was not that eager to sign him – although he praised the professionalism of the new recruit.
Guardiola had spent the majority of his career in La Liga, but despite being in new surroundings, his Roma debut came against a familiar foe.
Wearing the number 28 shirt – having previously joked that he wanted Francesco Totti’s number 10 – the midfielder was a half-time substitute as Roma lost 3-0 to Real Madrid on matchday one of the Champions League group stage, on September 17th. It turned out to be his last ever appearance in the competition as a player.Embed from Getty Images
Guardiola first made it onto the bench for a Serie A game for Roma in the second league match of the season, against Modena five days later. However, he did not make it onto the pitch.
His league bow came a week later, as he came on to replace Damiano Tommasi in the 53rd minute against his former side Brescia. Roma went on to win the game 3-2 thanks to a Totti hat-trick, but Guardiola received a yellow card.
For the next four league games, Guardiola was an unused substitute, as he struggled to break into the side. However, he then got his chance to get back in action.
Guardiola made his third appearance – and first start – for Roma against Como on November 6th. He only lasted for 57 minutes of the 2-1 win, though.
A couple of weeks later, Guardiola completed his first 90 minutes in a Roma shirt. Unfortunately, the game against Parma on November 24th ended as a 3-0 defeat.
The next few weeks would be testing times for Guardiola’s patience. He was benched for big games against Juventus and Milan, and was an unused substitute again for the smaller challenge of Reggina.
Capello was preferring to put a young academy player named Daniele De Rossi on the bench instead of Guardiola at times. The future Roma captain later commented that his former teammate – with whom he only ever shared a training pitch – was “disoriented” at the club.
However, some relief came for Guardiola in the Coppa Italia, when he started the first leg of a Round of 16 tie with Triestina. Guardiola lasted the full 90 minutes as Roma drew 1-1.
Ultimately, though, it was his last full game for the club, and he didn’t even make the bench for the second leg two weeks later.
Likewise, he was not in the squad for Roma’s last league game of 2002, against Torino. That match gave the club their sixth win of the Serie A season at the 15th attempt.
Things had not been going to plan on the pitch for Roma, and their summer signing had been unable to stamp his authority and change that. It seemed like his time in the capital was already coming to an end.
There was time for one last appearance for the club, on January 12th, 2003. Guardiola came on as a substitute in the 72nd minute, but Roma went on to lose 1-0 to Chievo.
After failing to make it onto the pitch in Roma’s next four games, Guardiola ended his stay in the capital on January 30th. He returned to Brescia on a free transfer.
Even his return to Brescia was bittersweet, as although he played more, he left Italy for good by the end of the season. His career unwinded with spells in Qatar and Mexico, before he embarked on his quest to become the world-class coach he is today.
The idea of coaching had been in Guardiola’s mind ever since his days with Roma. Aged 31 when he joined the club, he already had an eye on what the future would hold after his retirement.
Coaching was the obvious choice, and one connection he made at Roma helped kickstart his journey.
Gabriel Batistuta also left Roma in the same transfer window as Guardiola did, with his form having suffered significantly in the 18 months since his goals fired the club to the Scudetto.
For the brief time their paths crossed, though, Guardiola received a life-changing recommendation from Batistuta. Knowing his teammate wanted to go into coaching, the Argentine striker told him of a coach he had learnt his trade under in the Newell’s Old Boys youth ranks: “Pep, if you want to be a manager, you have to meet this guy.”
He was talking about Marcelo Bielsa.Embed from Getty Images
Five years later, Guardiola finally got the chance to meet the future Leeds manager, who at the time was out of work. It was the beginning of his journey as a coach.
Guardiola would one day return to Rome in that capacity, winning the Champions League there with Barcelona in 2009. Before that game, he wittingly remarked: “I know the bench of the Stadio Olimpico better than the pitch.”
Five years later he was back at the Olimpico again – as an opponent to Roma. The less said about that (his Bayern Munich side thrashed Roma 7-1 in the Champions League), the better.
Pep Guardiola and success for Roma just didn’t go hand in hand.
Ultimately, his legacy as a Roma player was similar to that of the likes of Ashley Cole and Adriano. Fantastic players elsewhere, but just the wrong fit in Rome.
The 198 days Guardiola spent at Roma were virtually the only blot on an otherwise outstanding career in football.