It took a season to get his message across, but, Shuaib Ahmed writes, it’s been smooth sailing for Guardiola at Manchester City this season
Both clubs believed in a short passing game. Both believed in entertaining. And both, above all, believed in winning trophies.
Barcelona and Bayern Munich were separated by tactics. Yet one man was able to instill a philosophy of football that both sides immediately adapted to. The ideology turned Pep Guardiola into the world’s most coveted coach.
He is now pulling off the same trick at Manchester City.
Following the 3-0 win over West Brom, Manchester City have regained their surely insurmountable 15-point gap at the top of the Premier League, and thoughts can turn to the Champions League round of 16 clash with Basel as well as the League Cup final showdown with Arsenal.
Yet half a season into his debut, it had become clear to Guardiola that England was different than Spain and Germany.
Unshakeable in his dedication to his methods, Guardiola ended up placing his credentials on the line, among anxious City supporters as well as the media. Fraud, claimed opposition fans.
One key criticism was the insistence that his defenders and goalkeeper play from the back regardless of the situation, a new way of playing that took time to instill.
His ability to keep calm under duress and stick to the plan is arguably what Manchester City needed, as the club had seen a number of managerial and tactical changes since its fortunes changed in 2008 after Abu Dhabi’s buyout. Despite winning two Premier league titles in three years, inconsistent performances were not uncommon.
In the Spaniard first season, while entertaining Guardiola-esque football was evident, the team was often punished for avoidable overindulgence at the back, particularly from John Stones. It was clear that Manchester City did not yet have a back line completely comfortable with the ball at their feet – something Guardiola did not have trouble with either in Barcelona or Munich.
Yet he persisted and continues to do so, insisting the need to play expansive, entertaining football is no less a priority than winning titles, as he stated in a May ‘17 interview with ESPN Brazil.
“…. the team played, like how we did at Barcelona and Bayern, how I always want my teams to play. It is more important to me than winning a trophy.”
Rejuvenation was in the making by bringing in quality players that are comfortable with the ball at their feet. Just as significant, new goalkeeper Ederson has proved his worth with his pinpoint passing accuracy. What we see today is a Premier League-experienced version of Guardiola intent on proving his methods right, and critics wrong.
Guardiola now has a squad truly his own and, more importantly, a strong defensive lineup he lacked last season. With City missing a leader like Vincent Kompany and the pace and wit of left back Benjamin Mendy, others have shown that they can more than hold their own. Despite the 4-3 loss to Liverpool, defensive mishaps have mostly been consigned to the past.
However, doubts linger that the Premier League can still throw up the odd curveball, and, after all, Guardiola has yet to win a trophy at Manchester City, though a league title is surely just a matter of time.
Will Guardiola, as seems inevitable at this point, end up being a trailblazer, relentlessly driving his team to honours as he did at Barcelona and Bayern? Or will his romanticism eventually prove his undoing in the long term as it did in his final season at Camp Nou?
What is beyond debate is that he has found his rhythm at Manchester City, yet anther club where that players have bought into his methods.
As the season progresses, it is clear that no one can outdo Guardiola except Guardiola himself.