Abelardo Fernandez (r.) has enjoyed many a moment, on and off the pitch, with incoming FC Bayern coach Pep Guardiola (l.)
Abelardo Fernandez (r.) has enjoyed many a moment, on and off the pitch, with incoming FC Bayern coach Pep Guardiola (l.)

Abelardo on Pep: "A completely normal guy"

Munich - An Olympic gold medal winner with Spain, a two-time La Liga, Spanish Cup and Spanish Supercup champion and a good friend of Pep Guardiola, his teammate at FC Barcelona for seven years: there's not much Abelardo Fernandez doesn't know about FC Bayern's incoming head coach.

In an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com, the 54-time Spain international talks playing days, coaching styles and what FC Bayern, and the Bundesliga, can expect from Pep

bundesliga.com: First up, shall I call you Mr Fernandez or Abelardo? Not many people know you by your surname!

Abelardo Fernandez: Please call me what everyone else does: Abelardo. Fortunately I've got a pretty rare forename, it's Asturian. People tend not to forget my name when they hear it - it's fairly uncommon for a footballer.

bundesliga.com: You've been close friends with Pep Guardiola for over 20 years. When did you first cross paths?

Abelardo: I can tell you exactly. It was at a U-21 training camp in 1991. I was playing for Sporting Gijon and he was at FC Barcelona. We hit it off straight away and discovered we were really on the same wavelength. That friendship deepened when I moved to Barcelona in 1994 and we were seeing each other practically every day.

bundesliga.com: Is it true you were also neighbours in Barcelona?

Abelardo:(laughs) We weren't all that far apart – just a few hundred metres. I lived in Sarria, next to the old RCD Espanyol stadium. He was on the border of Pedralbes, which wasn’t all that far from Camp Nou.

bundesliga.com: These days, you're Sporting Gijon's reserve team coach. When did you last see him?

Abelardo: It's been quite a while unfortunately - in March last year, when I was assistant to Javier Clemente at Sporting Gijon. We lost 3-1 at Camp Nou, but it was lovely to see Pep all the same. When you've been through so much together, it's always great to meet up again. There's invariably a lot to catch up on.

bundesliga.com: Two months later, Guardiola stepped down. Did you know anything about that, or did it surprise you?

Abelardo: I think only he knew about that. He was always very ambitious. As a player, he moved on fairly late in his career. There’s nothing unusual about wanting to try something different as a coach, even if you do have very close ties to one particular club.

bundesliga.com: He's been on sabbatical for nearly a year in New York. Have you been in contact with him?

Abelardo: Yes, but not face to face. We text each other. I hope we can meet up again when he’s back in Europe. I don't know the Allianz Arena at all. I've got fond memories of playing at the old Olympic Stadium. But he's certainly going to be very busy over the next few months.

bundesliga.com: You played together for years. You were in defence and he was in front of you in a holding midfield role. It's often said now that he was a bit different from the average footballer. Was that really the case?

Abelardo: He was a natural leader, well, he was the captain. Off the pitch, he could happily talk about football for hours on end. To be honest, I didn't see him as a coach back then. It's not something you really think about but, as you see, I'm a coach myself now. I hadn't reckoned with that either.

bundesliga.com: What would you say is Pep Guardiola's greatest quality?

Abelardo: I'll tell you: he's a completely normal, simple guy who can also be really sociable. We always used to meet up, go to restaurants together or out on an evening. He's a family man, married with three kids. He's highly intelligent and always wants to squeeze the maximum out of everything. You only have to look at what he did at Barcelona.

bundesliga.com: So based on what you know about Pep, what do you think he can accomplish at FC Bayern?

Abelardo: Firstly, I think he'll take a very close look at all the players and draw his own conclusions. Obviously he's well aware how difficult it's going to be to top Jupp Heynckes's incredible season. But he knows as well that, just like at Barcelona, he's inheriting a top-notch squad and has a great working environment in which to try and achieve the club's targets. If he'd had any serious doubts, he simply wouldn't have taken the job.

bundesliga.com: Why do you think he chose FC Bayern? He'd been linked with other big clubs as well, such as Manchester City…

Abelardo: There are a lot of parallels between the two clubs (Bayern and Barcelona). Both have a big history and he knows that [Bayern] also have a great youth system in place. If I remember rightly, players like Lahm, Badstuber, Müller and Schweinsteiger all came up from the reserves. He likes that. Munich's a lovely city as well, and one that lives and breathes football. Once he knew Bayern were interested in him, I don't think he was seriously looking anywhere else.

bundesliga.com: Guardiola's first year at Barcelona was revolutionary. The first thing he did was offload 'holy cows' like Eto'o, Deco and Ronaldinho. Could you see him doing something similar with one or two big-name Bayern players who don't fit in with his concept?

Abelardo: I don't know, but he'll do what's best for FC Bayern. He'll look at the squad and then make decisions. What they are, we'll have to see wait and see, but that's football. Players come and players go, at Bayern the same as at any other club. That said, I think they have a great squad. It's not for nothing that they won the Champions League.

bundesliga.com: Pep Guardiola is the German top flight's first Spanish coach. Would you be tempted by a move to Germany yourself?

Abelardo: For sure, why not? At the moment I've got a contract with Sporting Gijon, but things can change quickly in life. It'd be nice to experience something like that at some point. The Bundesliga's a great league, it's really made up a lot of ground in recent years. I get goose bumps when I see the sold-out stadiums. In footballing terms, it's come on in leaps and bounds as well. And the overall package has impressed Pep, for sure.

Interviewer: Miguel Gutierrez