It may sound strange to campaign for one of the world’s most highly regarded football managers to be given more credit, given how highly fêted he is, but there are still plenty of “Einstein’s,” to quote his great rival José Mourinho, that are looking to discredit the Catalan. Following a couple of poor results – a 3-3 draw at Celtic Park in the Champions League, and a 2-0 reverse at White Hart Lane – people were eager to stick the knife in and proclaim him a charlatan.
Despite proclaiming it the “best league in the world” where “there are no easy games,” people tried to downplay his achievement of winning six out of six at the start of the Premier League campaign. One of those games included an away fixture at Old Trafford, on paper perhaps City’s hardest game of the season, without star-striker Sergio Agüero. City have also started like a house-on-fire in the Champions League, despite arguably dropping two points lost in Scotland. He’ll be expected to win this trophy, or at least regularly compete in the latter stages as he did at Bayern, if his City experiment is to be deemed a success.
On an individual level Pep has improved several under performing players ten-fold. One of City’s brightest stars at the start of this campaign has been troubled forward Raheem Sterling, ridiculed due to his performances not necessarily matching his price tag, especially after a listless tournament for England in the summer. He looks to have a new lease of life and is apparently a firm favourite of Guardiola’s due to his adaptability and his willingness to listen to, and carry out, instructions. The highly talented John Stones is also expected to improve under the Catalan.
Rejuvenating teams and players has been the hallmark of Guardiola’s relatively short career to date. When he succeeded Frank Rijkaard at the Camp Nou in 2008 Barcelona were in a state of flux after two years without a trophy, and several disruptive big stars on the books. Guardiola bravely, considering he was a novice coach, dispatched of Ronaldinho and Deco, two of the key players from the previous regime. Samuel Eto’o begged to stay and was given a stay of execution, although he was shipped out a year later.
Sergio Busquets and Pedro were promoted from the academy, the former becoming one of, if not the, best in the world in his position. Pedro’s impact during Guardiola’s Barcelona reign is extremely underrated by the casual football fan, although the forward worked tirelessly for the team and always seemed to score important goals. He became the first player in the club’s history to score goals in six different competitions in 2009, a feat matched two years later by Lionel Messi.
One of Guardiola’s masterstrokes was to reignite the flame inside Xavi, a player who was stagnating under Rijkaard to the extent that he considered leaving the Camp Nou. Guardiola pushed him further forward, with Busquets’ positioning allowing him more freedom, and the effect was Xavi and Iniesta combining to terrorise defenders for both club and country, winning every conceivable gong on offer in the process.
At Bayern he transformed Neuer into arguably the best goalkeeper in the world and converted Philip Lahm into a midfielder. He was criticised for failing to win the Champions League but only one team can win it each year, and Barcelona and Real Madrid have also been particularly strong over the last few seasons. However, under his tutelage Bayern won their fourth consecutive Bundesliga title, the first time it has been done in the history of the competition.
I never fail to understand why managers are treated differently to players with regards to the clubs they choose. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, for example, has played for some of the biggest clubs on the continent, including Ajax, Internazionale, Barcelona, Paris Saint-Germain and now Manchester United. He’s regarded as a modern legend. When a manager does the same thing, it is claimed that he “doesn’t like a challenge”. People actually ludicrously expect someone like Guardiola to go and manage Wycombe Wanderers for £50,000 a year to “prove himself” because “anyone could win the Champions League with Messi in their team.” Utter nonsense indeed.
Guardiola has earned the right to go and work wherever he pleases. Who are we to say that he’s making a bad choice? The Manchester City “project” may not be to everyone’s taste but Guardiola obviously saw something in it that ignited his passion, or else he would’ve gone elsewhere. While he’ll be handsomely paid at the Etihad, I’m sure money isn’t the only factor as I’m sure he’d be the best paid manager in the world wherever he chose to lay his hat.
You may not like him, or the clubs he has chosen to manage, but you cannot downplay his achievements and impact on football. He has consistently won trophies, played great football, innovated and got more out of players than his predecessors. If that isn’t the measure of a great manager, then what is?