For many years, Pep Guardiola has been widely regarded as the one of the best managers in the world, and one of the most successful in the modern history of football. Of course, with adulation comes much criticism, and Guardiola has had to deal with a fair amount of criticism during his managerial career. I know, it must be hard for a man who has won everything with some of the best players of this generation to have any doubters, but Pep has them, and I will tell you why. Strap yourself in, you may need to think a lot for this one.
Cast your minds back to 1992, when Barcelona triumphed in the Champions League against Sampdoria, thanks to a Ronald Koeman strike. The manager of the team affectionately known as “The Dream Team” was none other than the Dutch legend Johan Cryuff, who adapted a version of Total Football for this Barcelona side, and inspired a young central midfielder. That young central midfielder by the name of Josep Guardiola would study how teams worked, how different tactics changed players, amongst other things. To cut a long story short, Cryuff and his style inspired Pep Guardiola to become a manager.
A few years after Guardiola’s playing career ended, he set his sights on becoming a football manager, starting out at the Barcelona B team. Guardiola got the B side promoted via the play-offs, and was rewarded hugely by replacing the outgoing Frank Rijkaard in 2008. This eventually became the start of something beautiful with Barcelona, but it was also the first line of criticism for Guardiola. Apart from selling Ronaldinho and Deco, the Spaniard inherited a great team, lead up front by Thierry Henry, Samuel Eto’o, and of course Lionel Messi. This was a side who was laden with stars who just needed guidance.
After his success at Barcelona, and his sabbatical, Pep took over at Bayern Munich, who wanted a better footballing style and came to the man who changed Barcelona, and essentially re-energised Tika Taka football.
“I’d like to see him go to Bournemouth and do that”. Well, no it wouldn’t happen. What Pep did at Barcelona, and eventually Bayern Munich, can only be done at the bigger clubs. He is not a builder like Sir Alex Ferguson, he’s a “fixer-upper” and someone who is brought in to make the club look better to the neutral on the field. At Barcelona, he took over from Rijkaard who had lost his way at the club and changed it for the better, winning literally everything possible. At Bayern, he replaced the outgoing Jupp Heynckes, and whilst on the pitch he changed the style, he could never live up to the expectations set by the previous boss.
What was expected of Pep wasn’t met (at the time of writing, it’s the Quarter-Finals stage of this season’s Champions League, so he may have won it in the future), so many will view him as a failure, and when you look at his track record at the German giants, it’s nearly a fair assessment. Yes, he may have won the Bundesliga every season, but that Bayern team was set to dominate German football anyway. What they crave in Bavaria is a Champions League trophy, and that is their measuring stick in terms of success. If he does not deliver that by the time he leaves, Bayern Munich’s fans will see him as a failure because he couldn’t deliver when it truly mattered.
So when it was made official that Pep was on his way to Manchester City, many repeated what they said when he went to Bayern Munich, “Well, it’s hardly a challenge, is it?’. Of course, taking over the richest club in England, who has the best academy set up and has ex-Barcelona board members as their Directors, may not be taking over Tranmere Rovers in the Conference, but it’s up to Guardiola to make it a success.
Personally, I do not think he will be as big as a success as many imagine him, as his love of tactics will be gone, as the Premier League seems void of adding intelligent tactical development to their teams. Guardiola’s passing and pressing will be undone by teams who sit deep and hit them on the counter-attack. Besides, he may walk into a club who may not even have Champions League football.
Basically, what I’ve spent this whole column trying to say that Pep Guardiola is one of the greatest tactical minds of our generation, but until he goes to a club who hasn’t already established them as one of the giants of European football, who aren’t the reigning Champions League holders, and one who aren’t already one of the richest in the world. As cliche as it may sound, I feel that Guardiola will not be fully recognised as one of the greats until he builds a dynasty at a club who aren’t one of the biggest, and really makes his mark at a club, much like how Wenger did at Arsenal.
That is the only way he will be able to truly be recognised as a managerial great in the beautiful game, despite being one of the biggest reasons as to why Lionel Messi has been one of the all-time greats.