Pep Guardiola has announced today that he will leave Barcelona at the end of this season. Over the past four years, Guardiola has won as many as 13 trophies with the Catalan side. That is a phenomenal feat for any manager and given that this is Guardiola’s first real job, his achievements overshadow his predecessors. So all the claims of him being the greatest manager that Barcelona has ever had is totally valid.
But, I wouldn’t say that he is the greatest. True, the fact that he stood by the Barcelona’s style of passing football should be applauded but then again, why should we consider him as a great manager? Did he take a bunch of nobodies to the European final? Did he build and rebuild a team of champions for a period of over two decades or did he pull off a season without a single loss? The people who did those are considered as modern greats, but is Guardiola one amongst them or is he simply the luckiest manager of all time?
Now, Guardiola didn’t have to hand pick a Lionel Messi or Pedro from the academy. They were already playing for the senior team when he was appointed as manager and that credit should go to Frank Rijkaard. Rijkaard did leave the team in shambles but he was the one who laid the foundations for the world beaters that Barcelona are today.
Guardiola was lucky to get a team that had players like Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and others. Then again, he made some bold moves. He offloaded Deco and Ronaldinho who allegedly had a negative impact on star player Lionel Messi. The move worked wonders as Barcelona went on the win the Treble in his first season as manager. Then again, all you need to win trophies at Nou Camp is to do some squad rotations and a few training drills. Their squad is so talented and so mammoth that they can win almost anything. And above all that, they do it by playing beautiful passing football.
So, what is Guardiola’s part in what Barcelona have achieved over the past four years? Virtually nothing. Please don’t argue that Guardiola made Xavi or Messi play better. Lionel Messi was already a superstar even before Guardiola came, and he would have went on to achieve all these feats with or without Guardiola. So player development happened in auto-pilot mode at the Nou Camp and Guardiola had very little to do anything with it. But, as mentioned above, he did stick with the Tiki-Taka philosophy that made Barcelona look so good.
Guardiola also didn’t have to do much with the tactics. 99% of the time, Barcelona play a 4-3-3 with Messi on the left, Xavi-Busquets in the middle and Iniesta on the right. They have been playing that for the past four years consistently and that formation was tailor made for Barcelona. All Guardiola had to do was replace and substitute players into that formation. He also had the funds at disposal as he bought David Villa, Cesc Fabregas and other players, and so it is fair to say that Guardiola didn’t have to battle for funds with the Board.
I take nothing away from what Guardiola has achieved. But, if Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger or any other half decent manager had managed this Barcelona team, they too could have produced the same amount of success that Guardiola had. But, they were not given the greatest team in the 21st century football like Guardiola was. And he made it count.
Nobody could dismiss the talent that Guardiola has until he comes out of his exile and decides to manage some other team. What he does with a new team and a new set of players will determine his place in the history books. Until then, he will remain not as the greatest, but the most luckiest manager in the world of football.