Photo: Pep Guardiola (Getty Images)
August 13, 2008 goes down in history as the day that Barcelona club legend Josep ‘Pep’ Guardiola took charge of his first competitive fixture as manager of the Catalan giants. It was a third qualifying round Champions League tie against Polish outfits Wisla Krakow at the Camp Nou ending in a comfortable 4-0 victory for the home team. Fast forward seven years and six months later, the current Bayern Munich manager is one of the most decorated and highly rated managers around. The 45-year-old is even regarded as the best in the world by many experts and few would argue with that after two Champions League titles as well as Bundesliga and La Liga success after roughly seven years into his managerial career. With that being said, just how good is this ‘phenomenon’ Pep Guardiola?
As a manager, one must be able to make ‘big and unpopular decisions’ as well as show great strength in terms of character and belief in one’s approach. After taking over from Dutch manager Frank Rijkaard in the summer of 2008, Guardiola made a very brave and audacious move insisting that Brazilian superstar Ronaldinho was not a part of his plans. There was no room either for the likes of Deco, the most fouled player in La Liga at the time, as well as Edmilson and highly rated Italian defender Gianluca Zambrotta who had won the 2006 World Cup. French legend Lilian Thuram was also allowed to leave on a free transfer while hot youth prospect Giovanni dos Santos was sold to Tottenham Hotspur.
Samuel Eto’o was also cast in the shadows with no place in the former midfielder’s plans however due to changes in attitude and in training, the Cameroonian won over the trust of his new boss. To shape his squad the former Barcelona B manager signed Dani Alves and Seydou Keita from Sevilla, Martin Caceres from Recreativo Huelva, Gerard Pique from Manchester United as well as Arsenal’s Alexander Hleb. To complete his squad, Guardiola then promoted Sergio Busquets, Pedro Rodriguez and Jeffren Suarez from Barca B into the first team.
With his team complete, the former Roma midfielder set about building the squad around academy graduates Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi. With the ‘Holy Trinity’ at the forefront of his team, they developed into a killing machine starving the opposition of possession and pressing relentlessly as a team when the ball was give away. For the next four years, Barcelona and Spain used their ‘Tiki Taka’ style to conquer European and World Football. The ‘Tiki Taka’ way of playing was just a tweak of their famous Total Football philosophy where possession means everything. Due to the scintillating and entertaining nature on the ball, many ignore or fail to recognize the hard work they put in to regain possession as they proved that they also relished the dirty aspect of the game.
Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona became the benchmark for clubs all around the world. At that point in time until present day, owners are not satisfied with just winning. The owners are now demanding that the teams not only win, but win in style much like that of Guardiola’s Barcelona, the team that Sir Alex Ferguson referred to as the most difficult opposition he faced in his illustrious career. The 45-year-old dominated Spanish and European Football capturing 3 La Liga titles, 2 Champions League, 2 Copa del Rey, 3 Spanish Supercup, 2 FIFA Club World Cups as well as 2 UEFA Super Cup titles in just 4 seasons as manager of the Blaugrana.
In the summer of 2012, Guardiola departed Barcelona as their most successful manager in the history of the club after capturing 14 trophies. The former Barca #4 cited that tiredness was the major reason he was walking away but also revealed that he could no longer motivate his team and he could no longer see the same fire, hunger and desire in their eyes. Guardiola then decided that he would take a sabbatical to recover where he settled in New York. However in January 2013 it was reported that the former Barcelona boss would return to the dugout in the summer of that year at German powerhouse Bayern Munich.
At the Allianz Arena, the former Brescia midfielder inherited a squad that captured the treble – Champions League, Bundesliga and German Cup – under manager Jupp Heynckes. The Spaniard did not make any wholesale changes to the squad like he did at Barca however he brought in highly rated youngsters Thiago Alcantara from the Blaugrana as well as Borussia Dortmund poster-boy Mario Gotze. Guardiola did make a few changes to the squad most notably disrupting the Bastian Schweinsteiger/Javi Martinez midfield partnership and slotting skipper Philipp Lahm into midfield from right back.
Under Heynckes, the Schweini/Martinez partnership was said to be the rock and foundation to the Bavarians dominance that season. It seemed the perfect partnership with physical dominance, mobility, guile, craft as well as providing the ‘right balance’ for the way they played with Toni Kroos completing the puzzle as the chief playmaker. Bayern dominated the Bundesliga after losing their manager’s first competitive game to Dortmund in the German Supercup. However, their frailty in midfield was exposed by Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final in April 2014 losing 5-0 on aggregate to the Galacticos.
The Bavarians were outran and outstretched in midfield by Real as they fail to cope with the pace of Angel Di Maria, the wizardry of Luka Modric and the intelligence of Xabi Alonso. By the time Javi Martinez was subbed on into the midfield, the battle was already over and Real Madrid booked their place at the final in Lisbon. The German giants were clearly not as formidable as they were a year ago with many experts claiming that the Spaniard may have weakened the Bavarians rather than building on all they’ve achieved under their previous boss.
In Germany, Bayern Munich lifting the Bundesliga title in May every year is an accepted norm. With that then it must be concluded that Guardiola at the Allianz Arena would only be seen as a success after inherited such a gifted squad if he had lifted the Champions League. There are several debates and gossip around the world claiming that most managers would win the Bundesliga with this Bayern squad hence 5ft 11in manager has not achieved much lifting the German Cup and the Bundesliga. The Bavarians are one of the richest clubs in Europe capable of attracting the best players and with the players in their ranks, there is a strong case to suggest that Guardiola may have failed at Bayern Munich should he not taste Champions League glory at the Allianz.
A new chapter awaits the Barcelona legend as he will take over at Manchester City this summer. The Citizens will be looking to recruit whoever their new boss wants even though they boasts an already talented squad. The debate has already started claiming that the Premier League will provide a true test for Guardiola as a manager. The competitive, physical and unpredicted nature in England will certainly give the Bayern boss a thorough examination. Cold midweek nights away at Stoke City, West Brom and West Ham could provide a culture shock and the pressure to deliver exciting football and improved Champions League results should test his character and his tactical approach.
In his managerial career thus far, Pep Guardiola has had his own way at two of the best clubs possessing the best squads in Europe and world football. His squads have been head and shoulders above the others in their respective leagues however in England the talent pool is much closer. The Premier League is about physical strength as well as hard work and of course good fortune. On a given day anything is possible however the team that is most organized and work the hardest generally comes out on top.
Despite the doubts and debates, the 45-year-old is a top manager who has shown that he is not afraid to make big and difficult decisions. He has a reputation of being a disciplinarian who expects his players to respect his philosophy and plans. With England as his next destination, the English media is already buzzing with excitement as the best manager in the world is finally arriving there. The media will not miss a beat and will capture literally every movement of the Spaniard. Whatever he has achieved in the past will be respected, however the results he achieves in the UK could damage his reputation as a manager severely or cement his status as being the best manager in the sport today and one of the best of all time.