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'The guy who works with the guy': The life of an assistant manager

In October 2012, a few months after he had left Barcelona, Pep Guardiola was on FaceTime with his friend and assistant Manel Estiarte. "Prepare yourself, Manel. I've chosen Bayern!" he said. It's not clear how much further the conversation, recounted in Marti Perarnau's book "Pep Confidential," went, but it certainly doesn't appear to have been much of a discussion. This was Guardiola informing Estiarte, the former water polo player who had been his assistant since his days with Barcelona B, where they would be working next.

Estiarte is one of a few coaches who have been with Guardiola from the beginning, along with Lorenzo Buenaventura, Domenec Torrent and Carles Planchart, but he is the man upon whom the manager leans on the most. "Managers are very, very alone," Guardiola said, when asked about his assistant. "It's very good for me to have him there ... he helps me see things from a different perspective."

Many managers have similar relationships, assistants with whom they are comfortable and who go with them to each club they are at. It's easy to see why that is valuable, essential in some cases, but what of these assistants so closely associated with a No.1? What of their lives? What is it like to have one's career entwined with another's?

Mark Bowen has known Mark Hughes since they were schoolboys, playing against each other in youth representative matches, then together through the ranks of the Welsh national team. When Hughes became Wales manager in 1999, Bowen became his assistant, a role he then took up at Blackburn. The pair, along with coach Eddie Niedzwiecki, have worked together ever since, at Manchester City, Fulham, Queens Park Rangers and now Stoke City.

"We haven't spent all those years doing exactly the same thing, but I don't think anything significant has changed [in how we work]," Bowen tells ESPN FC. "You see things coming quicker, maybe more the bad things than the good. There are very rarely things that have happened now that we haven't been through before, so we know how to deal with it now."

It's striking that, even in the context of a conversation about working with Hughes, Bowen always refers to "we". While it's clear that Hughes is the boss, and will make the final call, they seem to very much be a partnership. "Mark doesn't believe in autocratic management," Bowen says. "His first port of call, even before he gives his opinion will be 'right, what do you think?' He'll take on board what you say, and he'll often change his mind ... but I'm very much aware that the buck stops with Mark."

In football and outside the game, it's not necessarily vital for colleagues to be friends, but with two people working so closely together, things might get awkward if you don't get on. More than that, personal relationships can help and inform the working one.

"It's a good starting point," says David Weir, who has been Mark Warburton's assistant at Brentford, Rangers and now Nottingham Forest. "You can be honest with your friends, you can still tell them what you think while knowing your friendship will remain. There's a certain trust there, that you've got respect for the person, and that helps when you're working -- you know you're telling them things for the right reasons. We're trying to help each other."

Professional relationships that live on and succeed are delicate balances; enough similarity is required to gel, but there must be enough difference so as to not be essentially two faces on the same body. "I'm the shop window, but he's the goods in the back," once said Brian Clough of Peter Taylor, his long-time assistant. Sometimes assistants can be the good cop to the manager's bad, offering an encouraging word after the boss has told some required home truths. Bowen says his own slightly more exuberant personality dovetails nicely with the more laid-back Hughes.

"We've got similar ideas on the game, similar ideas on how we like to play, and the sort of players we like, which I think is important," says Weir. "We don't always agree, but the fundamentals are the same, and I think we both have got similar ideas on how we treat people and how we like to be treated.

"But Mark's background (Warburton spent time as a city trader before becoming a coach, Weir went straight from a 20-year playing career into the dugout) is very different to mine, so his experience and areas of expertise are different. I've played, so I can see it from that standpoint, whereas Mark sees it from a management point of view from when he's worked in businesses. My experience is more in regard to what a player might be thinking, what the group might be thinking. Hopefully that can be a strength for us."

One big question to occur about long-term assistants is whether they ever want to strike out on their own. Many do, but in some respects they have the better end of the deal: broadly speaking, when things go right assistants don't get much praise, but when things go wrong they escape most of the blame. Aside from those at the very top, there's more of the latter than the former.

"I don't consider myself to have the same job as 9/10 of the other assistants in the Premier League," Bowen says. "I can say my piece and a lot of times we'll have discussions, bordering on arguments about team selection, recruitment and so on. It's not as if I've been kicking my heels wanting more responsibility, because I've had that input right the way along."

Similarly, Jose Mourinho once said of Rui Faria, the assistant most commonly referred to as his "attack dog" and who has been with him since the very start of his career: "If he wants to become a manager tomorrow he is more than ready to do it at the highest level, but [he] is enjoying so much to be where he is that doesn't have that feeling."

Nevertheless, even if these working relationships are partnerships, when it comes to choosing jobs there tends to be more weight on one half than the other. In the same way that people vote for the president rather than their running mate, clubs will almost always want the manager rather than the assistant. Bowen and Hughes discuss any potential opportunities, but there often might not be a great deal of choice to be made. "When you're out of work and a Premier League job comes up, there's not a lot of discussion about 'are we going to do this?' You're just glad to be back in the Premier League and into football."

Another thing to consider is money. The downside of assistants avoiding the most fierce heat of scrutiny is that they will be paid much less than their boss. After leaving a job your average Premier League manager can afford to take a year or two out, to loaf around for a little while and experience the world. An assistant might not.

"When I'm in a job, I've never been concerned with who else is earning what," says Bowen. "I'm happy with what I'm getting and that's all that's important. But, while it hasn't happened yet, the worry for myself is if we come out of football, Mark might decide 'I want to take a two-year sabbatical,' that wouldn't work for me. I need to pay the bills."

It's a precarious life, knowing that your job could hinge on someone else having a disagreement with the chairman, or becoming bored, or being offered another opportunity that might not include you. Having one's personal success put in the shadow by another, to be almost defined not as "the guy" but "the guy who works with the guy". But having any involvement in the game is the most important thing for some, and if the best way to do that is as the slightly lesser half of a partnership, then whatever works, works.

"You get these managers coming out and saying they need to take a rest," says Bowen. "When you get the sack, you think you can take six months, a year out, chill, spend some time with the family: believe me, within three weeks, a month, once you've had that little holiday, every Saturday you're kicking your heels. I hope that will continue."