Like anyone who has sat to write a CV in the last six months, I know what it is to be despondent.
The enthusiasm of opening the laptop, of punching in those bold, visionary two letters at the head of the page, of seeing the unbroken vista of the paper spread out before you, ready for the imprint of your life’s achievements – it soon fades. For I have very few, and I’m left realising just why the unwelcome ritualistic reminder of drafting a resume is so hated.
I doubt Pep Guardiola has to write a CV; given the litany of English clubs said to be touting for his signature, the former Barcelona manager has to do very little, it seems, other than throw the occasional crumb to the adoring masses, as he did this week when stating his intention to manage in England.
The sound of salivation from the blue half of Manchester was positively palpable.
Yet if we imagine for one moment that he did, it would be a rather impressive read. After a stellar playing career spanning spells in Spain, Italy and Qatar, Johan Cruyff’s most attentive apprentice is done, it seems, plying his trade anywhere other than at the best clubs.
In Barcelona and Bayern Munich, the Spaniard has been blessed with some of Europe’s biggest titans in recent memory.
With the Manchester Evenings News reporting that Manchester United are resigned to missing out on Guardiola, who apparently has already, according to Spanish sources, listed his transfer targets upon arrival at the Etihad, it seems that England is firmly in the grip of Pep fever.
Having taken readily to Quique Sánchez Flores, the Premier League has not yet had its fill of eclectic, brooding Spaniards with an unhealthy love for turtlenecks.
Yet for all the hype surrounding Guardiola, the Spaniard still has a lot to prove.
Few intelligent observers argue that Guardiola is even close to being the best manager in the world. As Zinedine Zidane’s appointment at Real Madrid shows, there is a tendency to wish ex-players better managers than they in fact are.
Yet even amongst this elite group, in Carlo Ancelotti, his successor at Bayern, we see another former midfielder who has thrice won the Champions League and won trophies in four countries.
Even further ahead is Jose Mourinho, whose European achievement with Porto in 2004 alone dwarfs either of Guardiola’s European trophies with Barcelona, without even considering his 2010 success at an Inter Milan side who bypassed Guardiola’s Barcelona on the road to glory.
English audiences who saw little more than Barcelona’s European dominance may well get carried away by Guardiola’s supposed brilliance. Yet the reality is far more prosaic, of a so far underwhelming would-be genius beset by delusions of grandeur.
Guardiola’s success is more public relations than sporting. With his constant talk of ‘philosophy’, Guardiola over intellectualises the deceptively simple and gives the impression of constant brooding thought to hide moments of stagnation and inactivity.
For all that Guardiola achieved admirable success with Barcelona, he inherited a team who had seriously underperformed under Frank Rijkaard but who, in Xavi, Iniesta and Messi, had a cadre of products capable of taking the world by storm. Two years after his appointment as Barcelona coach, at the 2010 World Cup, they would.
Guardiola’s remarkable success at Barcelona is offset by the manner in which the Spaniard has never succeeded with anything other than a ready-made team used to European power. Guardiola has never over-achieved in the manner of Mourinho with Porto.
Whilst credit is due to the Spaniard for winning the Champions League twice with Barcelona, this is mitigated by the quality of the team at his disposal. Yet Guardiola did not build the best Barcelona team ever; arguably, today’s incarnation of the Blaugrana under another former player, Luis Enrique, is better still, with many commentators wondering if the Catalans’ attacking trio is the best in footballing history.
Moreover, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Guardiola has taken Bayern Munich, at best, sideways. Despite last season winning the Bundesliga in record time, this is more indicative of the capitulation of Borussia Dortmund than the supremacy of Bayern.
In Europe Bayern were serially found wanting, with Guardiola’s style drawing criticism from club legend Franz Beckenbauer. The appointment of Carlo Ancelotti suggests that the German club’s hierarchy agrees with Der Kaiser’s analysis.
The Italian’s direct attacking style represents an attempt to rollback much of the Guardiola philosophy, marking a return to a style far more similar to that of Guardiola’s predecessor Jupp Heynckes.
As shown by his tenure at Bayern, attempts to export his vaunted ‘tiki taka’ model have proven unsuccessful. According to rumours, Guardiola’s exit from Munich was precipitated by the board’s failure to sign Matteo Darmian, who instead opted for a summer move to Old Trafford.
Guardiola’s beguiling insistence on using Philipp Lahm, one of the world’s finest full backs, as a midfielder smacks of desperation; if you can’t be smart, look smart. Bayern’s board, it seems, agree – the Germans opted instead to sign Arturo Vidal.
In this light, Guardiola’s exit seems little more than a childish temper tantrum thrown in response to not being given the attention he feels entitled to.
Football audiences must feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz; for the curtain has been drawn, and the Wizard, the great philosopher, has been found wanting and deficient, with few in Munich tearful at his departure.
And so, Guardiola has a point to prove.
In Manchester City, he can perhaps find his redemption. For a club with huge plans for the future under the aegis of City Football Group, and which has serially under-performed on the European stage, Guardiola has the opportunity to prove himself at a club that offers vast scope for improvement.
If the Spaniard can bring consistent success, he might truly begin to earn the plaudits he has in the past received.
The stakes are high though.
Manchester City’s problem has never been too little passing; if anything, the Citizens have been undone this season by a ponderous style that witnesses too much passing around the box with too little penetration.
For a team that can at times appear listless and without direction, ‘tiki taka’ is no panacea.
Yet above all, Guardiola’s biggest flaw is in an area integral to the management of a Premier League club. For all that the Spaniard succeeded in managing the biddable products of Barcelona’s La Masia youth system, he has been shown inept at managing the egos of some of his biggest stars.
Infamously, he proved incapable of integrating into a Barcelona side Zlatan Ibrahimović, on whom the Blaugrana had spent an enormous amount of capital. Worse still, Guardiola managed instead to marginalise the mercurial Swede, forcing him out of the club for a fraction of the price; when confronted by anyone unwilling to bow before his supposed intellectual genius, the Spaniard struggles to perform.
Whilst at Bayern, Guardiola has been almost fortunate that the potentially destructive egos of stars such as Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry have not required especially deft management; both have suffered significant periods lain-off with injury, avoiding the possibility of a potential clash with new imports like Douglas Costa over playing time.
At Manchester City, or elsewhere, this kind of personnel management would prove unavoidable even as it became more necessary.
In Manchester City above all, Guardiola has a shot at achieving all that he has left to prove. In Wenger, Klopp, Guardiola and, for now, van Gaal, the stage is set for a mammoth struggle for the Premier League.
These are strange days, when Juan Iturbe and even Stephan El Shaarawy are realistic targets for Bournemouth.
Yet the Spaniard should beware; by the time Guardiola departs England’s green and pleasant land it may well be with his tail between his legs, in stark contrast to the fanfare he anticipates upon his arrival.
4 thoughts on “Pep Guardiola has a lot to prove in England”
Mourinho above Pep I think not. Look at the squad Mourinho had at CFC played boring defensive football and couldn’t win the UCL. At Real had the 2nd best player in the World again couldn’t win the UCL.
I would agree with you if players he managed or pros around the game did not believe he was great. However, he’s known to be an obsessive talent by elite people who know the sport inside out.
Mark Wright: You can criticise Mourinho’s style, but hardly his record – returning to win the Premier League with a Chelsea side not at the top level for some time was no mean achievement! Nor were Mourinho’s Real best placed to win the Champions League; it took the additions of Bale and James Rodriguez, fundamental in the La Decima campaign, to complete that Madrid side, whilst Guardiola failed to win the Champions League with a team proven to be capable of that same feat under Heynckes. Remember that Mourinho took Real to the semi-finals, where they lost on the unfortunate lottery of a penalty shoot out. Had Ramos kept a level head, things could be very different! Ultimately, the cold, hard facts show that Guardiola’s yet to achieve half of what Mourinho has.
herschy: Valid point, but there’s few players who openly criticise successful managers, and both Mourinho and Ancelotti have come in for similar praise. There’s a lot of noise about Guardiola’s ‘style’, but particularly at Bayern tangible success above what could be expected has been lacking. Guardiola needs a change to be able to prove himself worthy of the exact same praise you’re mentioning.
Chelsea hadn’t ever been at top oh sorry once. But Romans billions had just come in along with an influx of players and they were already in the champions league.At Real I’d hardly call Ronaldo, Benezma,Ramos, Alonso and Di Maria poor players. The fans wanted rid of him because of his awful defensive style. I agree Pep has a lot to prove as the question will his passing style suit our British weather and playing rugby teams like West Brom.