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La Volpe emulating Barcelona path at Chivas

Degrees of soccer separation.

Aspiring coach Josep Guardiola gushed in his praise of Ricardo La Volpe’s Mexico defense in the 2006 World Cup group game against Iran. It wasn’t about “getting stuck in,” or “winning the first ball,” as you can probably imagine. Guardiola’s main point was the way the Mexican defensive trio -- Ricardo Osorio, Rafael Marquez and Carlos Salcido -- didn’t just “start plays,” but “moved out playing.” “The players and the ball advance together, at the same time,” wrote Guardiola in Spain’s El Pais on June 13, 2006. “If only one does it, there is no reward, they have to do it together like boyfriend and girlfriend when they go out together.”

- Marshall: El Tri Hot List - Signs of Chivas survival remain It is worth continuing: “They told me when I was in Mexico [Guardiola had just finished a season with Dorados de Sinaloa] that Ricardo La Volpe ... made his defenders move up the pitch together for 30 minutes in training sessions, them and the ball, time and time again. The smallest error in a pass, not widening the field, stretching like it was rubber ... and they’d start again. Stop, correct, shout and start again ... Hundreds of times until the three defenders became united for 30 minutes.”

The career paths La Volpe and the Spaniard have taken since couldn’t be more different. Guardiola -- who had just finished a season at Dorados de Sinaloa in Mexico -- took over Barcelona 'B' in 2007, moved on to the first team in 2008 and, the rest, as they say, is history.

The Catalan defined an era with Barcelona, not just in terms of trophies, but in establishing a possession-based, attacking playing style crafted on exploiting spaces to the maximum and not allowing the opposition a sight at goal. After a break, Guardiola moved on last summer to Bayern Munich, where the 43-year-old has been equally spell-binding in improving a team that was already European champion. Meanwhile, La Volpe -- whom Guardiola has praised on more than one occasion since 2006 and regards as an influence on his career -- has passed through Boca Juniors, Velez Sarsfield, Monterrey, Atlas, Costa Rica, Banfield, Atlante and now Chivas and achieved little with any of them. In that same El Pais piece, Guardiola also hinted at the possible problems behind La Volpe’s philosophy. “The Mexicans know the risk they run,” wrote Guardiola. “Losing the ball [in the area] they move [it in] could be terrible.”

He continued: “But not only they know it. Everyone knows it. That’s why everyone tries to avoid doing the same as the Mexicans do. The world chooses one way, the Mexicans another.”

Now in what could be his last big job if it doesn’t go well at Chivas, La Volpe hinted at flexibility Thursday, giving a nod to wanting his team to play like the Barcelona team Guardiola shaped, even if Gerardo Martino is currently in charge. “Against Pumas [on Sunday], we will play with a [defensive] line of five,” he stated in Thursday’s news conference. “When they demonstrate that we are solid, we will play with a back four and if we continue to do well, we will do it like Barcelona: 4-1-2-3 or 4-1-4-1 or however you want to call it.” Added La Volpe: “I adapt to the team, how we play depends on them.” But with time against “El Bigoton” and Chivas owner Jorge Vergara notorious for firing coaches on a whim, the former goalkeeper issued a warning that players have to step up and fall in line with his methods as quickly as possible.

“[The Chivas players] have innate qualities and demonstrating them will be up to them,” he said. “If they are late [in doing so] they won’t be here and new recruits will have to be brought in.” Guardiola’s first move in establishing how his Barcelona team would play was to announce, in his first news conference, that Samuel Eto’o, Ronaldinho and Deco had no place at the club. In Guadalajara, La Volpe’s cull is likely to happen this summer. What remains of Chivas’ season Sunday against Pumas and the weekend after against Monterrey is primarily about making the playoffs, but the undertone is which players can prove that they belong with La Volpe as Guadalajara is molded into the Argentine’s team. This is likely La Volpe’s last opportunity to move from cult influencer of the likes of Guardiola to a manager who could still move into the mainstream at 62 years old.