Domènec Torrent: what it is really like to be Pep Guardiola’s right-hand man

Domènec Torrent has been talking for 90 minutes plus added time, explaining processes and planning, the mechanics that go into every match, the tiny details that decide destinies and the wider shifts in footballing culture, when he picks up the computer screen and twists it. “That?” he says. “That’s the net.” Hanging on the wall behind him at his home near Girona, fully visible now, is a piece cut from the goal at the 2009 Champions League final between Barcelona and Manchester United in Rome. “It’s my daughter’s,” he adds, smiling.

That night ended better than it started. One of Torrent’s roles as Pep Guardiola’s analyst was to help his colleague Carles Planchart prepare a motivational video. Gladiator-themed, scenes from the film cut with footage of every member of the squad, the video was secretly shown to coaching staff the evening before and got a good reaction. But when it came to the players just moments before kick-off, the reaction was a bit too good.

Torrent laughs. “It was a surprise, very emotional, and it motivated them. But they were hyper-motivated and extremes aren’t good,” he says. “We’d done it before for the play-off final with Barcelona B when we got promotion: they went out and won the game in 30 minutes. But in Rome United dominated the first 15 minutes. We haven’t done it again.”

It might not have been the video – “that was a very, very, very good United side,” he rightly says – and by the end Barcelona were European champions with a young improvised team, the start of the club’s best era. Two years later, they did it again at Wembley. “Because of the ash cloud, we went early meaning Pep could work exactly as he wanted, right down to the throws-in. We were ultra-prepared.”

The destruction of United proved the pinnacle of a period that redefined the game and yet it was the last time Guardiola reached a European Cup final. Now, a decade on, he returns. Torrent, who worked with him at Barcelona B, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City before taking over at New York City, where he broke a franchise points record, and Brazilian giants Flamengo, and who is preparing to return to coaching in England or Germany, will be watching.

Twice, in fact.

“First as a Manchester City fan and someone who has friends there, hoping they win,” he says. “But I’ll record it too because I’d like to watch it back tactically as there are bound to be things I miss first time. Who knows, it might be a castaña, a stinker. That can happen. But it will certainly be one to watch for coaches, in terms of how they move the pieces and I think there will be surprises in the lineups. It’ll be fascinating.

“I remember that the games against Tuchel’s sides, Mainz and then Dortmund, were always a lot of fun and very difficult: he’s a very good strategist. Both coaches are very, very good tactically. They would meet and have lunch together, talk about football. The games were hard, very tactical: both teams changed systems two or three times. It was like playing chess: one would change a piece, so the other would change his. They’re two coaches who interact. If you’re alert to it, you’ll see tactical changes.

“Tuchel has a lot of Pep’s ideas. They met a lot. That’s normal for coaches who are intelligent, open. It’s not that Pep has come to teach but if you’re interested in different ideas, he’ll explain, talk. He learns from everyone too: he can go to an under-12s game and learn from it. He’s a sponge soaking up information, a humble guy who doesn’t believe he’s better. People come and ask, discuss things. Lots of coaches used to watch sessions. I remember [Zinedine] Zidane coming.”

Guardiola’s approach can be unconventional. “Lorenzo Buenaventura [the fitness coach] does everything with the ball,” Torrent says. “At first people think that means we’re not working physically but that’s not true. Lorenzo always says: ‘I’ve never seen a player run up a mountain in a game,’ but it can seem strange to begin with.”

So did the decision to move Lionel Messi to false nine on the eve of the clásico with Real Madrid in 2009, a decision backed by the report Torrent prepared on Madrid’s defence – although, put like that, he’s swift to interrupt. “No, no,” he says. “There is only one architect of that: Pep Guardiola. I turn up with my laptop and they take it in with them and afterwards Pep tells me Leo loves the idea. And Pep’s very convinced. But I was thinking: ‘Bloody hell, in this game?’”

Barcelona won 6-2. “I still think we don’t really appreciate how good Leo is … Also, he loves football. He would mention a winger at Palmeiras, Botafogo, or wherever.”

Messi is one of many men Torrent has improved and admired close up. “When we did set pieces, we used numbers for each zone. I could say to Kun [Agüero]: ‘You go to number six and block there’ and he’d do it perfectly first time. When it came to the pressing, if Pep changed from closing inside to outside, he didn’t need telling twice. Maybe his body language gives the wrong idea but he defends, works, is great to coach, and on top of all his other qualities is so intelligent.

“David Silva is another one; he has a supernatural intelligence. A maestro and very competitive. Another dimension. He defends too. He plays in the second line in zonal marking and has to block – this happened with [Philipp] Lahm at Bayern too – and although he’s small it doesn’t matter if a player comes who’s two metres tall: if David’s there, he’s not getting to the ball. He never backed down.”

Ready to replace them is Phil Foden. “Seven or eight kids came to train with us, all very good footballers,” Torrent recalls. “Pep, who has a special intuition, said on the second day: ‘That skinny little kid’s the best.’ In two days, eh. ‘He’ll make it for sure.’ He’s super-talented: at 16 he was daring, bold, like he had no pressure. Pep showed him things and in two seconds he grasped them: when to break lines, when to wait, how to move. Mentally, he’s special. And he’s City until he dies. That’s important.”

Now, just turned 20, Foden is heading into a Champions League final. It is a final Torrent says Guardiola will have been preparing for weeks; it has also been too long, some even accusing him of failing in Europe. “At first, I got more annoyed about that than Pep,” Torrent says. “He didn’t [bother]. People either love him or … there are no shades of grey. People don’t understand him. It’s true it’s been some time, but we don’t analyse why.”

Which is what Torrent does – in great detail, game by game, moment by moment, turning by turning point. He discusses defeats against Atlético Madrid and Monaco with Bayern and City – the nights that hurt most – and knockouts v Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool and Spurs, rejecting the common criticism that Guardiola overthinks the biggest matches. “In every game he turns things over in his head many times,” Torrent says.

“The biggest misunderstanding with Pep is that phrase which gets used badly: tiki-taka. Meaningless passes. Positional play is something else. People think Pep demands 40 passes before scoring. No. If Pep can attack in two seconds, he does. People say: ‘Pep Guardiola? You won’t see the ball.’ Well, that bit is true. But they think he wants possession for the sake of it. No. They don’t know he has the best defensive record, don’t see how he adapts, how he’s a better, more varied manager all the time. When he goes, we’ll finally say how good he was, what a genius.”

“That’s human nature. Pep is not perfect, no one is, but he’s close in his work. So, people find this reason or that reason to put him down. In Spain some are waiting for him. ‘He’s a failure, he won’t win.’ Ha! Now what? And those people are incapable of saying sorry. It’s not the opinion; it’s the lack of respect, the insults. Where are those people now? Nowhere. They’re waiting, I suppose. But they won’t convince me, even if he doesn’t win the Champions League, which he will.”