The coming of Pep Guardiola to Manchester City last season was heralded with great fanfare by the management of the club, their teeming fans and many football watchers , who believed that his coming to the Premiership would enrich the quality of the league with his aesthetically pleasing and result-oriented brand of football.
Many admirers of the the Spanish tactician believed he would win the league at his first attempt, just as he had done at his two previous clubs – Barcelona and Bayern Munich.Even his future employers could not hide their excitement : they were so overjoyed with their newly signed manager that they unwisely and prematurely announced his appointment as the coach for the next season while Manuel Pelligrini was still in their employ.
Guardiola as at that time was the most sought-after coach in the world.Chelsea’s owner Roman Abramovich was reported to be a lover of the brand of football Barcelona played under him.Sir Alex Ferguson was even said to have personally met Guardiola in the United State where he discussed the idea of him taking over the about-to-be vacant or vacant managerial seat at Old Trafford.
It is even believed in certain circles that the appointment of Guardiola was what stampeded Manchester United into signing Jose Mourinho, whom they reckoned was a coach with a similar pedigree that could challenge Guardiola for the league title.
However, in spite of the numerous trophies Guardiola won at Barcelona, a school of analysts,critics,cynics and even detractors argued that his success at the club was majorly due to the array of stars at his disposal. “A team that had a Lionel Messi – a footballer with staggering genius – was bound to be exceptional”, a lot of people argued.Others even took the argument to a ridiculous extent by stating that the Barcelona team Guardiola managed could have functioned without a coach for a full season and still win trophies.
A similar criticism came in the wake of Guardiola’s successful stint at Bayern Munich, where he won every domestic trophy in the Bundesliga.Bayern Munich – his critics argued, and with a degree of truthfulness – is the only dominant football club in Germany; having the financial might that enables them to cherry pick the emerging stars from their immediate rivals.
So when Guardiola took over the managerial reins at Manchester City, those who believed that his success as a coach was due to the exceptional talents he has had to work with in his short managerial career, predicted that his weaknesses or rather his limitations as a manager would be exposed in the highly competitive Barclays Premier league.
Guardiola has since completed a full season at Manchester City, and his lone achievement was a third place finish on the league table, which qualified City for the group stage of next year Champions League.
So what does the outcome of last football season speak of Guardiola’s tactical ability?Have his critics been vindicated? To answer these two contentious questions, we must turn to the most dispassionate person in this very debate – which, as it happens to be, is – Pep Guardiola, himself.
Guardiola, by his own frank admission, agreed that his last season performance at Manchester City would have earned him the sack in the other two clubs he had previously coached.
With that unbaised verdict coming from Guardiola,let us now look at the factors that counted against him replicating the success he achieved in both Barcelona and Bayern Munich in his first season at Manchester City.
- There were up to six teams in the Premier league last season with sufficient quality, world-class coaches and financial might that prevented City from running away with the league title.
- Manchester City players did not fully imbibe the principles of the passing game that Guardiola recently introduced to them.
- Guardiola’s predeliction for constantly rotating his players and changing his tactical formation did not foster understanding among his players.In a word, he did not know his starting eleven.
- There were many weaknesses inherent in the high intensity game that Manchester City played last season, and opposing coaches exploited them.
- Guardiola’s scant attention to the defensive aspect of the game made his team vulnerable to the counter-attacking play of his opponents
- The passing game City play under Guardiola did not always easily allow for transition to another form of play when things were not going as planned in the pitch of play.In other words, Manchester City’s lack of the so-called plan B cost them vital league points last season.
- Guardiola’s lack of a good back -up striker for Aguero, for a large part of the season, created goal-scoring problems when the Argentine was off-form,suspended or injured.
- Some managers had other tactical formations that turned out to better suited to the Premier league than the one Guardiola employed.
The fact that Guardiola did not win any trophy last season does not detract from his merits as a world-class coach.Manchester City it must be admitted, in most of their games last season,played a breathtaking and a very delightful style of football. However, an aspect of what Guardiola’s critics have always said about him turned out to be essentially true: that the two leagues where he has worked as a coach before are not as competitive as the Premier league.
It is very difficult to say when Guardiola would win the league title, or the Champions league that his employers desperately desire.But what is certain is that should another one or two seasons go bye with him not improving on the achievements of his predecessors – he would follow the familiar route they all traversed under similar circumstances – which is, it is sad to admit, the exit door of the Etihad.