'It is with heavy heart that I confirm to you the rumours: Josep Guardiola is leaving FC Barcelona—'
I'm waiting. Just waiting.
'We would have liked nothing more than to have retained his services—'
Just waiting. Waiting here behind the board.
'—but we know that some people are marked out for a higher calling—'
Waiting here behind the board. The sponsors' board.
'—and we couldn't stand in Pep's way—'
The board they sold to the Qataris. The board they sold to fucking UNICEF.
'So he will shortly become manager of the Spanish national team—'
I can see them. They can't see me. Not through the board. Not through the shiny fucking board. They can't see me. But I can see them. See into their heads.
'—Archbishop of Barcelona—'
I can see them, and I'm waiting. Just waiting. Waiting for my entrance.
'—Crown Prince of several lucrative overseas markets—'
Waiting for my entrance. Waiting to walk onto my stage.
'—and President-for-Life-designate of Catalonia, which, as you know, will shortly be granted full sovereignty by King Juan Carlos personally, on account of Barça's magnificent performances in recent seasons—'
Waiting to walk onto the stage that I've been waiting for all my life. The stage that was built for me.
'In order to minimize disruption to our club, we have decided to move swiftly in appointing a replacement—'
Waiting for the audience that are waiting for me. But they don't know they're waiting for me. No fucking clue. No fucking clue at all.
'We have found someone with vast experience, who has had great success and knows Barça very—'
I step out from behind the board. I don't need to be cued up. I write my own fucking cues.
They all gasp. They all look like Jesus fucking Christ has walked out from behind that board. If they didn't have notepads in their hands, if they didn't have notepads and dictaphones in their hands, if they didn't have notepads and dictaphones and fucking cheese rolls in their hands, they wouldn't know whether to punch my lights out or stroke my beautiful face.
They hate me. They love me.
I sit down in the seat. His seat. I look at the journalists. His journalists.
'I am not saying I am a special one, but I am the special one...'
Pre-season. Fun and games. I walk out onto the training ground. His training ground. The players are already out, waiting for me. Waiting for guidance. Waiting to be programmed. The players are already out, and they're doing their rondo.
Pum pum pum pum pum.
Piggy in the middle. Just tipping the ball around.
Tiki taka tiki taka tiki taka tiki taka tiki taka.
'Alright, lads, never mind that crap. Let's do some real work, eh? Seven-a-side.'
The team turn to look at Lorenzo, stood at the back with his hands on his hips—
Lorenzo shrugs. Lorenzo spits. Lorenzo says, 'Hope no one gets hurt.'
'Thank you, Lorenzo. Now come on! Two teams.'
They take their hands off their hips but they still don't move.
'For fuck's sake,' I shout. 'Valdés over there, Pinto here. Cesc there, Villa here. Keita there, Busquets here. Iniesta there, Thiago here. Piqué there, Mascherano here. Messi there, Puyol here. Alves there, Xavi here. I'll ref. Now let's get fucking going—'
We start. It's like the rondo never stopped.
Pum pum pum pum pum.
They keep fucking passing. Their dirty, cheating faces. They keep passing and passing and passing and passing and passing.
Tiki taka tiki taka tiki taka tiki taka tiki taka.
They're not trying to score. Not trying to tackle. Just passing. Passing. Before I know it, they're in a circle. A circle with me in the middle.
Piggy. Piggy. Pum. Pum. Pum.
They're passing it around the circle. Passing it around me. I look at their faces. At Xavi. At Messi. At Iniesta. At Busquets. They're not smiling. Not frowning. Not doing anything with the faces. Their dirty, spiteful faces. Just looking. Not looking at each other. Just looking at me. Their spiteful, cheating faces.
Tiki taka. Tiki taka. Tiki taka. Tiki taka. Tiki taka.
They keep passing. Passing. Passing. And I start chasing. Chasing. Chasing.
Pum. Pum. Piggy. Piggy. Piggy.
I'm chasing. Faster and faster. I can't help myself. I go faster and faster. The ball goes faster and faster. I'm chasing. Chasing. Then Xavi kicks the ball to me. Kicks it straight fucking to me. I run to it. I run to the ball. I run to the ball and tread on the ball and trip up over the ball. The cheating, spiteful ball. I land flat on my arse. Flat on my arse on a giant fucking billiard table. Xavi looks down on me.
'Welcome to Barcelona,' says Xavi.
Under the stand. Through the doors. Round the corner. I'm walking down the corridor towards Xavi. He walks past me without a word, without a look. The he says behind my back. Under his breath. Behind his hand. Through gritted teeth. Xavi says something that sounds like: 'Could you translate this into Spanish for me, boss...?'
I stop. I turn around. 'Pardon?'
'Your phone is ringing.'
'Just now. As I was walking past the office. Still might be ringing, though. If you hurry, you might just catch it.'
Round the corner, down the corridor, I walk towards the office. I can hear the phone still ringing. Ringing and ringing and ringing. I get out my keys. I unlock the door. I get to the desk—
I pick up the phone—
'Could you translate this into Spanish for me, boss?'
And they laugh. They laugh and they laugh and they laugh.
'Gentlemen, before I start working with you lot, I have something to tell you. You can take your medals and your cups and your Golden Balls and your World Cups and your Prince of Asturias Medals and your angel wings and you can chuck them into the biggest fucking dustbin you can find—'
'We'll need a skip,' says Xavi. 'You gonna pay for that or can we claim it on expenses?,' says Xavi.
'—because you've never won any of them fairly. You've done it all by cheating. Cheating, cheating, cheating. You throw yourselves on the floor, you bully referees, you bat your eyelashes, you point at the UNICEF symbol on your arses and you say, "Oh, think of the children!" All of you: Busquets, Alves, Iniesta, Messi—'
'Me?' says Messi.
La Pulga. The Flea. The flea in my hair.
'Especially you, son. You're at it all the time. Don't think I don't remember. Don't think I don't bloody remember. Stamford Bridge, Champions League last sixteen first leg, twenty-second of February 2006. Del Horno barely touches you, and you're rolling around like he's taken a chainsaw to you.'
The flea. The flea in my hair. Laying his fucking nits on my scalp.
'Save your energy, son. Save your energy for the football, eh?'
On my scalp. My itchy scalp. My itchy, red raw scalp.
'And there's one other thing,' I tell them all, tell every last fucking one of them. 'I don't ever want to hear you call me the fucking Translator again.'
I walk out the door. I stop. I turn back. I go back through the door. I tell them all, tell every last fucking one of them.
'Because I am not a translator. I am a football coach.'
I walk out the door. And I smile. I smile and I smile and I bloody well smile.
I walk into the office. His office. I walk over to the wall. His wall. I look at the pictures on the wall. His pictures. There's him meeting Mandela, him meeting the Pope, him meeting Bielsa—
Mandela meeting him. The Pope meeting him. Bielsa meeting him.
I walk to the desk. His desk. I open my bag. I reach in. I pull out a display case. In it is a chip. A chip of bone. A chip of patella. A chip of Leo Messi's patella. That fucking flea's kneecap. The case is inscribed with a message. It's from Asier del Horno—
Para tí, gaffer
I sit next to Puyol on the plane.
He looks at me. He says nothing.
'Did you get my text yesterday?'
'The one I sent inviting you to dinner with me and my family. The one in which I said how proud I was to be the new manager of Barcelona.'
'I did get one yesterday, though.'
'A text. It just said: ur shit puyol.'
'Crikey. Who was it from?'
'Dunno. Number came up private.'
'Yeah, it would do.'
'Alright, lads, I know it's a bit late in the day to be springing this on you, just before the first game of the season and all. But we have a new signing. Come in, lad.'
In he walks. My new signing. My masterstroke.
Not your fucking Pep.
My boy Pepe.
Not your fucking papa Pep.
They all gasp. They all look like Jesus fucking Christ has walked into the dressing room.
'Pepe will be taking your place, Iniesta.'
'But ... but why, boss?' Lad looks like he's going to cry.
'Because you're injured.'
'Injured? I'm not injured! You saw me yesterday, at training. I was fine! I was fine, wasn't I lads?'
'Please, please, you did not let me finish. Pepe will be taking your place because you are injured ... in the head.'
Iniesta frowns. Iniesta's lip quivers. Iniesta runs out of the dressing room. I try not to laugh, but sometimes it's difficult, no?
'I can't understand. Why does the referee send Pepe off? I just can't understand. Did I sleep with the referee's sister? I did not. I would not do such a thing. I have seen the referee's sister, and I can assure you, I would not sleep with her. Maybe the ref looks at me and thinks that I am too handsome for his sister to resist, and he gets upset. All refs must think this at some point, no? That's the only explanation I can think of for Pepe's red card. The only explanation in the world.'
The hacks look up at me. They hate me. They love me. They hate me because they love me.
I smile. I bloody well smile.
Off he comes. Messi. The Messiah. The bleeding Messiah in flea form. Itching my scalp. Making my red raw scalp bleed.
I applaud. I applaud but—here's the clever thing—I do it sarcastically. Really fucking sarcastically.
Clap clap clap. Clap clap.
'Well done, Leo. Well fucking done, son.'
'There's only half an hour gone, boss, and I've scored four already. Why are you taking me off?'
'We don't want you getting into any trouble, do we?'
'I saw the way you fell under that challenge.'
He says nothing.
'You can't fool me, Messiah. Can't fool me. I see everything. I remember everything.'
He says nothing.
Down the corridor. Round the corner. Down the corridor. Round the corner. Past the green door. Round the corner. Through the double doors. Down the corridor. Past their trophies. Past their photographs. Past their ghosts. Take a left. Down the corridor. Take a left. No, right. Down the corridor. Round the—shit, no, should've taken a left back then. Turn around. Go back. Take a right. Down the corridor. Round the corner and down the corridor. Round the—ah bollocks, I'm at the trophies and photographs and ghosts again. Take a right this time. Round the corner. Down the corridor. Down the corridor. Down the corridor—
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want—
I see him. I see him but he can't see me.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters—
He can't see me. He's the bloody Messiah and he can't see me. But I can see him—
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake—
I can see him. I am an occult presence. A hidden presence. Crouched behind this car—
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil—
I wait till he passes. Wait till he walks past— For thou art with me—
I stand up. I sneak behind him. He hasn't a clue. No fucking clue. The flea has no clue—
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me—
I sneak behind him. I reach around with my hand. My finger. His eye. Squelch—
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over—
I run back behind the car before he sees me. A hidden power. An occult power—
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Half-time. Good game. Things are going well. The four-man defensive screen is doing a nice job protecting the back five. All going well. But they're not happy. Miserable sods. Miserable bastards.
'What gives?' says Xavi. 'What's the story, boss?' says Xavi.
'What do you mean?' I am innocent. Innocent of all.
'Why are we playing like this?' says Xavi.
'Like what? You're playing well enough. 0-0. Can't complain. Keep it up lads,' I say to them all.
'But this ... this isn't the Barcelona way! There's no movement, no fluidity. You have us standing there like dummies, waiting for the other lot to run into to us. Pep never had us playing like this. Pep didn't have us firing long balls from our own area to Crouchie on his own up front. And by the way, where's Leo? And what the hell is Peter Cr—'
'Oh Pep, Pep, Pep, Pep, Pep, fucking Pep. Listen here. And this applies to all of you. Pep's gone. Okay? Pep's fucking gone. Daddy's left home and he doesn't give a shit about you anymore, so you'd better get fucking used to it. Pep. Fucking Pep. I don't want to hear that name again, you understand? Unless you're trying to say "Pepe", I don't ever want to hear that name again. I'm here now. Whether you like it or not, I'm the fucking boss around here. I'm your stepfather and I decide what you do or don't do. This isn't Camp Nou anymore—this is Camp Mou. There's no use pining for the old days, the old ways. No use pining for your fucking daddy who's left you behind. That right, Lamps?'
'Madrid are a good side. A very good side. So we need to try something different. Something that they will never expect. And I'll tell you what it is. But don't tell them, okay?'
I smile. They love me. They love me.
'What are you going to do?' says one of them. 'Play Messi at left-back?'
They giggle. They titter.
'No. Messi will play in the "false three" role.'
They stop giggling. They stop tittering. They shut the fuck up. 'He will not play at left-back, but in a kind of floating role between the left-back area and the bit just in front.'
They hate me. They love me. The hate me because they love me. They love me because they—
'Is this a joke?'
'No joke! I see him every day, and I know he can be the greatest false three in the world. We need to take him away from a forward role. He is a liability, an accident waiting to happen. He keeps diving, he keeps rolling around, his teammates complain to the referee. No team of mine can play like that.'
They're in there. In the Camp Nou chapel. In the chapel, like they're in hospital. Like angels with broken wings. Broken and bruised wings. Broken and bruised and dirty wings. Dirty, cheating wings. I can hear bits and pieces. I can hear them but they can't hear me. I can hear fragments of prayers. Prayers to the god that left them in the desert.
'—no, the cable goes in there—'
'—no, wait, you're meant to double-click—'
'—sure you installed Skype properly?—'
'—ha, that's his username alright—'
'—so glad to hear your voice again—'
'—give us one ear of those earphones—'
'—let us even mention your name—'
'—swear he got the groundsman to take a plough to—'
'—I mean, Peter Crouch, man?—'
'—horrible. I mean, really bloody, bloody awful—'
'—we all are. All of us. 'cept Pepe—'
'—into Spanish for me, boss?—'
'—seriously, there's no way the pitch could've got like that on its—'
'—out of the ref's changing room. I looked at him, right—'
'—aye, exactly, as sea defences against a tide of—'
'—left him crying, like, openly weeping—'
'—love it when you say that! Say it again, boss!—'
'—if only, boss. If only—'
'—"Vorsprung durch bollocks, more like." His exact words—'
'—brilliant! That is so—'
'—only when we cough, you know what I mean?—'
'—not joking, an actual spud. I think he put it there—'
'—HAHAHAHA! That's it! You've got the accent down and everything—'
'—for Cruyff's sake, keep it down—'
I leave them there. Blessed angels. Praying for salvation.
The Clásico. Camp Nou. 0-0. Nil all and five minutes to go. The crowd have been booing. Booing and whistling. Booing and whistling and chanting for eighty-five minutes.
Pep! Pep! Pep!
Booing and whistling and crying for daddy.
Pep! Pep! Pep! Pep!
They don't know though. Don't know what's good for them.
I can see them but they can't see me.
It's all going well. All going according to plan, my masterplan, my campaign strategy—
Then the flea gets the ball in his own penalty area, to the left-hand side. The false three. The flea runs with the ball. Past one. Past two. Past four. Past eight. Past sixteen. Suddenly he's one-on-one with Iker Casillas. He beats Iker Casillas ...
Now they're all cheering and screaming and fucking well crying. The nits have hatched. 95,000 fleas. In my hair. On my scalp. Making me itch, itch, itch, itch—
Madrid kick off. Benzema tries a pass out wide. There's no one there, though. No one there. No one there except me, stood on the touchline—
A hidden presence. An occult presence.
The ball rolls towards me. I try to stop it with my foot. It rolls away. I pick it up. And I start running. I start running and running. I'm chasing the Barcelona goal. Chasing. Chasing.
An occult power. A hidden power.
I'm chasing. Faster and faster. I can't help myself. I go faster and faster. I get to the goal. Valdés is standing there. He doesn't have a clue what's going on. No fucking clue. And he stands and watches as I take the ball and ...
GOOOOOOOOL. GOOOOOOOOOL DE MOURIIIIIIINHOOOOOOO. FUCKING GOL DE FUCKING JOSÉ MOUFUCKINGRINHOOOOOOOO ...
I take a taxi to the TV studios. For their special, End of a Very Short Era, with José Mourinho and tonight's very special guest, as brilliant as the gleam off his bald head, His Excellency, Josep Guardiola—
'—but why did you come from Madrid to Barcelona to take it over when you had criticized them and said we we were conning refs and saying this and that about UNICEF and the Illuminati or whatever? Why? Why did you take the job?'
'Well, because I thought it was the best job in the country.'
'Of course it was the best job in the country.'
'When you have the massed ranks of the United Nations on you side, you cant go—'
'Now hold on a—'
'I wanted to do something you hadn't done.'
'Look, you keep saying this, that you wanted to win trophies better or differently. What on earth are you on about?'
'Well, for example, you had the lads playing all that tiki-taka stuff, all that possession rubbish—'
'What do you mean, rubbish? It worked against you lot, didn't it? Worked against Madrid?'
'It's not rubbish. We beat you with style and poise and control. There's no way you could win it better.'
'No, no, no ...'
'But that's the only hope I've got ...'
'But we had 80% of the possession!'
'Exactly! That's my point exactly. It's so bloody wasteful! You win with 80, I win with 20, it's like I win four games for every one of yours!'
'Come off it, Mourinho ...'
'The trouble with Barcelona, Pep, the trouble with you and Barcelona is that everyone loves you.'
'Everyone loves you, Pep. They all love you. The media. The fans. The world. The refs.'
'Of course. And?'
'You have it easy. Everyone loves you. You want to be great? You want to be great, you have to earn it, Pep. I wanted Barcelona to really earn it.'
'How were you planning on achieving that, then?'
'I wanted to make everyone hate us. Then we would have to really earn it. Then we'd have to really fight for it. You can understand that, can't you?'
'Well, you were partially successful, anyway. About 20%, I'd say—'
'Thank you gentlemen,' says the host.
'Thank you José, we're all out of time, I'm afraid ...'
Outside the studio. Outside in the cool evening air. John Terry is waiting for me. Waiting to drive me to the airport.
'How'd it go, boss?'
'How do you think it went, John?'
I take out my mobile phone. I open a new text message. I type:
ur shit pep
And I smile. I bloody well smile.