Do great coaches need outstanding talent for sustained success?

Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp have established reputations as the best two managers in the world due to the performances of Manchester City and Liverpool respectively.

The two men have repeatedly put their teams in positions to win the major crowns on offer, with Manchester City winning three out of five Premier League titles under Guardiola, while Klopp guided Liverpool to their first top-flight triumph in 30 years in 2020 along with the Champions League the season before.

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Both men have been fortunate in their roles as Guardiola has been able to hand-pick his talent due to City’s significant financial muscle. Klopp has benefited from an outstanding recruitment team that has nailed seemingly every transfer decision since his arrival in 2016.

Their reputations have lifted them to the forefront of the sport and earned comparisons with the leading coaches around the world, including the NFL’s Bill Belichick and the NBA’s Gregg Popovich.

However, Belichick and Popovich have had issues without premier talent, with both men enduring disappointments in recent years. Since Tom Brady’s exit from the New England Patriots, the franchise are no longer the leading outfit in the AFC Conference. In the odds for betting on NFL outright markets, New England are backed at 20/1 to win the AFC Conference in the 2022 season, well off the pace of the Buffalo Bills at the top of the odds. It has been a role reversal for the two teams with the Bills considered the leading contender for the Super Bowl in the betting tips on NFL. Impressive off-season business such as signing Von Miller has only contributed to this.

Belichick has learned the hard way about life in the NFL without Brady. Whereas the GOAT quarterback won his seventh Super Bowl in his first season away from Belichick and New England with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and made a surge in the post-season in his second term, the Patriots failed to reach the playoffs in 2020 and were crushed by the Bills in the Wildcard Round the season after.

With Brady in place, Belichick had few concerns regarding his offense in the 20 years that the quarterback led the team. Without Brady behind center, the Patriots have lacked the firepower to match the best in the NFL, while the deficiencies on defense have also called Belichick’s genius into question. The 70-year-old will still get the most out of his team, and the Patriots’ job will be his until he decides that his time the NFL is over, but his issues highlight the issues that talent trumps strategy.

It was evident in Guardiola’s first season in the Premier League in the 2016/17 season, he struggled to implement his methods due to the lack of talent at the full-back positions. The Spaniard still had Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Leroy Sane and John Stones in the ranks, but City were off the pace in the Premier League title race behind Chelsea and were knocked out in the round of 16 in the Champions League by Monaco.

After serious investment on Kyle Walker, Ederson and Bernardo Silva, City were able to click into gear and were able to storm their way to the top-flight crown. Now the system is in place, Guardiola can now hand-pick the players to fit into the side. Unless something drastic occurs off the field, City are going to continue to dominate due to the resources available. However, it leaves Guardiola’s coaching skill up for debate whether he could lift a truly average side above their station.

Klopp too has been fortunate to have had Mohamed Salah, who has been nothing short of sensational in the final third. Salah has not only been clinical in front of goal, but has brought drive and determination to ensure that Klopp’s philosophy is being played perfectly. Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino along with Diogo Jota and Luis Diaz have built on his success, but without Salah the Reds would not be effective.

It was the same story in the defensive third of the pitch when Virgil van Dijk was ruled out for the 2020/21 season. Liverpool could not keep teams out without the presence of the Dutchman and finished well off the pace of City in the race for the crown along with a premature exit from the Champions League.

Great coaches can drive their sides forward to success, but the greats also need outstanding talent on the field to sustain that success over a long period of time.

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