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18th Feb 2014

Txiki Taka: Can Txiki Begiristain create a homage to Catalonia in Manchester?

Barcelona and Manchester City come face to face in the Champions League, and one man who is familiar with both sides is Txiki Begiristain


Barcelona and Manchester City come face to face in the Champions League, and one man who is familiar with both sides is Txiki Begiristain

When Manchester City released their statement upon relieving Roberto Mancini of his managerial duties at the club, they said that they wanted to take a more ‘holistic’ approach to how they ran the team, right down to the youth academy. While at the time it might have sounded strange coming from a club that had been throwing money at their squad in the hope that something stuck, it was almost certainly something that could have been taken word for word from the doctrine of Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano.

Both men had joined the club in their roles as director of football and chief executive officer respectively, and they had been lured in after a period of unprecedented success at Barcelona which not only brought titles to the club and saw them playing the most attractive and free-flowing football for generations, but also bore fruit for the national team, bringing them the World Cup and two European championships with the bones of a side born in Barca’s famous La Masia academy.

Football. UEFA Cup Winners Cup Final. Rotterdam, Holland. 15th May 1991. Manchester United 2 v Barcelona 1. Manchester United's Brian McClair hurdles a challenge from Barcelona's Aitor Beguiristain.

As a former Spanish international and having made hundreds of appearances for Barcelona, Begiristain’s qualifications to be a director of football are not in question, but in the past perhaps his judgement has been. Much has been made of Guardiola’s appointment being largely down to him, however, when Frank Rijkaard left the club, there was a serious and diligent process of recruitment. While from the outside it might have seemed like Pep slotted straight in, the club did look to established names like Jose Mourinho, while Joan Laporta himself took some convincing not to pursue Johan Cruyff for the job. In the end, Begiristain’s gut instinct was to go for Guardiola; someone who understood the club, and what their values were.

Values is perhaps the key part of that last sentence, in both senses of the word. As Soriano told Sid Lowe of The Guardian, Barcelona were in danger of becoming a ‘medium’ sized club, a sort of sleeping giant if they didn’t improve after a long period of a relative lack of success. They realised, as Manchester City have (perhaps when it was more glaringly obvious in City’s case) that the revenue streams and fans who watch outside of their national audience need to be tapped in to, and star players can do that. Barcelona’s signing of Ronaldinho meant great things, both on and off the pitch, but City have had the funds to perhaps do even more on that front. Star after star came in the door under Mancini, and still he complained, asking for more.

Begiristain’s role as director of football has seen him head up a much more reserved (by comparison) campaign that focuses on bringing players through the youth team. Barcelona’s academy costs apparently around €6 million a year to run, and while that might seem a lot, it’s well worth it if it can produce players like Messi or Iniesta.


Manchester City’s academy, renovated and reincarnated in 1998, has produced a huge amount of players for the Premier League, the most of any other club according to The BBC. Few have made the grade at the club long-term, but it is a long term project and with Manuel Pellegrini in charge (a hiring that Begiristain lobbied for from the start), he sees it as a natural progression that will allow players to come through eventually. He took up his position as director with Barcelona in 2003, and success was not instant then, as it hasn’t been now.

Neither did he ‘discover’ players like Messi or Iniesta, players who were already in the system and already being talked about. In all truth, that’s not his job. What is his job is to identify a style, to bring a footballing identity to the club and make the decisions about players that will fit into a system, no matter who is sitting in the dugout.

While they all sound subjective and difficult to measure, City’s goals tally and results this year have shown that he has the numbers to back up his decisions, whether that be the signings made in the summer (all done within the first weeks of the transfer window opening in an efficient manner) or the manager he wanted put in charge. Trophies will be another metric by which Begiristain comes to be judged, as both he and Soriano have admitted that without success, Barcelona’s beautiful football means nothing.


Continuity will be City’s watchword from here on out, and while they are unlikely to stop buying stars (this summer saw them bring in Fernandinho, Alvaro Negredo, Jesus Navas, Stefan Jovetic, hardly youth players with no reputation) they will look to make the club a more financially viable and self sustaining model, with Begiristain heading up the drive to do so. Both he and Soriano are beginning to leave their mark on the team, and as the January transfer window showed, unless there are signings that they see as improvements, they won’t move heaven and earth to get them.

Barcelona made much of their ‘més que un club’ identity, both on and off the pitch. Begiristain can bring that philosophy and idea to the club in their style and altering how they play, which brings its own rewards off the pitch, making them a much better business than simply being a football team. For them, it is no longer about simply winning and getting in a pile of stars, for Begiristain and for Soriano, it is now about image and about substance.

Tonight they will be tested by Txiki’s former club Barcelona, but with cracks beginning to show and trouble off the field at the Camp Nou, it’s starting to look like Begiristain’s City is better prepared for what’s coming down the road than his former employer, even if they are not victorious this evening.