Plenty of people have been quick to slate the achievements of incoming Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola. Derek Bilton, in his weekly column, feels he’ll prove his immortality at the Etihad.
Whether Manchester City’s decision to go public about Pep Guardiola becoming their new boss next term has in actual fact de-stabilised their current campaign is open to conjecture. What isn’t up for debate is that Pep, the boy from Santpedor, will be in the home dugout at the Etihad from next season. And the world will be watching.
Guardiola has the hottest managerial CV in the game having burst onto the scene to become the most successful coach in Barcelona’s long and illustrious history. The story is a well worn one. Former product of the fabled La Masia youth academy becomes boss of Barcelona B and leads them to promotion. He is then given the keys to the Nou Camp and transforms the Catalan giants. He wins 14 trophies (including two Champions League titles) in a spellbinding four-year tenure then moves to Bayern Munich amid much fanfare.
In Bavaria he wins two league titles, a DBF-Pokal, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup. Six seasons. 19 trophies. Bang. Bang. Bang. Predictably peers and pundits are keen to anoint him as the man who reshaped the beautiful game. The stats suggest he is the best manager in the business. But as British statesman Benjamin Disraeli once crowed ‘There are lies, damned lies. And statistics’.
Critics of Guardiola would argue that the man is overrated and that he inherited two teams who were dominating their respective domestic leagues. Barcelona already had Leo Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta. They had won the Champions League two seasons before he got the gig too, beating Arsenal 2-1 in Paris. It’s not like he ‘did a Clough’ and took an unfashionable team from obscurity to the pinnacle of the European game. Indeed it was Frank Rijkaard who gave Messi his debut and you could argue that the achievements of his successors at Barca, particularly Luis Enrique, has taken some of the shine of what he himself did there.
In Munich he also inherited a well-drilled killing machine in Bayern. They have long since been the dominant force in Germany. He’s cruised to back-to-back Bundesliga titles (and two will become three soon enough) but his record in the Champions League doesn’t stand up to scrutiny given the squad he inherited. Indeed when he arrived Jupp Heynckes had just guided the club to an historic treble but at time of writing Pep himself has failed to reach a European final with the club.
For me though it is doing a disservice to the shaven-skulled Iberian to claim he is overrated because he’s only managed top teams. Those top teams still need guidance and it would be somewhat fictitious to claim he simply walked into Barca, made himself comfy in the dugout and watched the trophies pile up.
In Rijkaard’s last full season they finished some 18 points behind bitter rivals Real Madrid. Change was clearly required but to his eternal credit he went with evolution not revolution. He got rid of established stars such as Deco, Lilian Thuram and one Yaya Toure but evolved the established 4-3-3 playing style, a style that often morphed into 3-4-4, 3-1-4-2 and even 4-6-0 when the circumstances required it.
And the tiki-taka approach reached new levels of excellence under Guardiola. Short passing and heavy pressing to win the ball quickly was the manta as Barca swept all before them. For Guardiola, the team is always more important than the individual and this was never more apparent than in his handling of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, an outrageous talent who was nonetheless bombed out of Barcelona by Pep as he didn’t meet the requirements of the gaffer’s vision. Moreover, there aren’t many managers doing the rounds who can read a game like Guardiola and I have lost count of the times he has weighed up a match that wasn’t going his way, changed it up (invariably by playing an extra man in midfield) and influenced the result.
If he can claim the Champions League in his final season with Bayern Munich I don’t think it would really be up for debate whether he’s the best manager about. Interestingly Four Four Two magazine ran a feature of their top 50 managers in the world in the summer. Back then Pep was second in the world to one Jose Mourinho, a boss currently without a club but being heavily linked to Manchester United.
The thought of how lively things could be in Manchester next season with Guardiola at the Etihad and Mourinho at Old Trafford gives me goose bumps. And I’m a neutral. If this scenario does materialise it would be fascinating to see how the two of them breathe new life into huge but faltering British behemoths.
As is stands Guardiola’s CV is a cracker, but doubts persist in some quarters about his ‘greatness’. If he can put his own stamp on the blue half of Manchester and deliver them a Champions League title, he will surely write his name into managerial immortality.