“This Barcelona team is the greatest ever team in European football history.”- Graeme Souness.
Graeme is only one of the many pundits all over the world reiterating the same statement. But many others also point out that the architect of this Barcelona team also deserves a special mention and he certainly does so.
Pep Guardiola arrived at Barcelona in 2008 replacing another legendary manager in Barca’s history, Frank Riijkard. Since then, FC Barcelona have won an incredible 13 trophies which included a magnificent six trophy haul in the 2008-2009 season, producing some beautiful football at the same time.
With triple Ballon d’Or winner, Lionel Messi and the midfield duo of Xavi and Iniesta pulling the strings, Barcelona were unstoppable and most of the time looked unbeatable.
This led to many fans all over the world labelling him the greatest manager ever. A very ambitious claim indeed, but does he really deserve to be mentioned in the same bracket as Sir Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Helenio Herrera, Arrigo Sachi, Brian Clough or his more modern counterparts Marcello Lippi, Fabio Capello, Arsene Wenger or arguably the greatest manager of all time Sir Alex Ferguson?
Let’s analyze where exactly he stands.
WHAT HE’S ALREADY SHOWN US:
1) BRILLIANT TACTICIAN
This is a no brainer really. Barcelona’s “TOTAL FOOTBALL” system has worked miracles for them and is arguably one of the primary reasons for their success. Xavi, Iniesta and Messi who under Riijkard were good, suddenly transformed into world beating players. Lionel Messi, specifically excelled in the “FalseNo. 9″ role which was more central and gave him more freedom, rather than the wide placing he received under Riijkard.
Messi transformed into this goal scoring machine that propelled Barcelona to six trophies in the 2008-2009 season.
2) PROMOTES YOUTH TALENT
We haven’t seen so many youngsters explode their way into the Barca ranks in Pep’s short term in charge as compared to Sir Alex’s, but there were definitely signs that he believes in promoting youth right away. Sergio Busquets, Pedro Rodriguez and Jeffren Suarez were all promoted to the first team squad, two of whom cemented their place in the first team. Isaac Cuenca, Thiago Alcantara and Cristian Tello recently have been included in the line up by Guardiola and they definitely look the part.
3) FEARLESS CHANGES
When Pep arrived at the hot seat in 2008, he announced the departure of several of club’s leading starlets. Ronaldhino, Deco, Zambrotta, Dos Santos, Edmilson were all given the boot. Samuel Eto’o, Eidur Gudjohnsen, Sylvinho, Alexander Hleb were the ones to leave in 2009. At the end of his first season, Barcelona’s first team had a completely different look and this suited him ever so perfectly. He knew exactly what personnel he wanted to lead Barcelona to glory.
WHAT WE DON’T KNOW YET:
1) ABILITY TO REBUILD SIDES:
Well, when it comes to rebuilding a team, some might argue that Pep did rebuild Riijkard’s Barcelona. He didn’t actually. Messi, Xavi and Iniesta , Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto’o were already in the first team. So were Puyol, Victor Valdes and Eric Abidal. The crux of the side needed no change and chop what so ever. Although he deserves immense credit for raking in Pedro, Daniel Alves , Pique and Busquets; the presence of the players that took Barcelona to a legendary status had nothing to do with Pep Guardiola.
The current Barcelona side would need no change to its core for two years at the most, but with their Youth Academy producing world class talent and their spending prowess, would that really be a challenge?
Its out of the question anyways, since he’s left the Barcelona job to his assistant to spend time away from the game, “to recharge” as he put it.
Would he be able to build successful sides like Sir Alex Ferguson one after the other ? Would he be able to build new competitive sides with little or no money like Arsene Wenger or David Moyes ? Only time will tell.
2) ADAPTING TO A MORE COMPETITIVE LEAGUE:
The English Premier League and Italy’s Serie A are two of the toughest leagues in the world for any manager. The Premier League’s fierce competition and unpredictability and the tactical awareness of the Serie A do pose interesting challenges.
True, he’s won the Spanish League, but with a club that has been historically dominant and the build up to the league summit always culminates into a two-horse race. Currently, the Premier League is the toughest league to win for any manager. Would he accept an English job in the future and have a go at the title or would he prefer to be intellectually challenged in Italy?
Again, only time will tell.
3) ADAPTING TACTICALLY:
The “Tiki-Taka” tactics worked with Barcelona, worked like clockwork. But what seems like an easy job is actually one of the hardest to perfect as to play in this way, teams require highly skilled and technically brilliant players. Players can’t just be good enough, they will have to be the world’s best. This Barcelona team was a one off. It’s not every time that one generation of players are so ridiculously talented.
Be it the Serie A, the Premier League, the Bundesliga or even an International side, his tactics will have to change. “Total Football” will not work with any other team. Even at Barcelona, he has been criticized for the lack of a second dimension to their playing style. Teams that have “parked the bus” have prevailed against Barcelona and frustrated them.
Moreover, every club has its own individual style and it wouldn’t be appreciated, if a manager tried to change it.
4) DEALING WITH SUDDEN TRANSFERS:
Henry suddenly leaves Arsenal for Barcelona in 2007. Flamini and Hleb leave a year later. Jaap Stam is given the boot by Sir Alex for revealing a little too much in his autobiography. Eric Cantona unexpectedly retires from football in 1997, at his peak. Cristiano Ronaldo leaves United for Real in 2009. Wayne Rooney leaves Everton for Man United. Zinedine Zidane leaves Juventus for Real Madrid at his peak. Luis Figo unexpectedly quits Barcelona for Real Madrid.
Shocking transfers. None of them were expected. But the respective managers had to deal with it and hunted for replacements. Tactics had to change and the teams had to adapt.
In every Man United transfer case, Sir Alex managed it with ease. These players’ absence were definitely felt the next season, but United always bounced back and found another way.
Henry’s departure from the club only reinforced Arsenal and Adebayor stepped up to the plate. Arsenal reached the Champions League quarters in the 2008 and and the semi finals in 2009.
Cesc Fabregas, Arsenal’s talisman quits Arsenal for Barcelona in the summer of 2011. Nasri cites ambition and joins Man City.
Arsenal did struggle initially, but Arsene Wenger steadied the ship and carried Arsenal to Champions League qualification yet again!
Juventus took their time, but returned to the Champions League final by 2003.
Riijkard signed Ronaldhino and Barcelona were back on track.
What if Messi, Xavi or Iniesta handed in a transfer request and left Barcelona? Would he be able to cope without his star and still keep Barcelona churning ?
Ronaldo left United and two seasons later, United were back in the Champions League final in Rome. Van Nistelrooy was sold in 2006 and Roy Keane in 2005 and two years later, Man United won the Champions League.
Could Pep accomplish the same, now with a different club ? Again, only time will tell.
Pep Guardiola is a great manager,only a fool would disagree. His unique brand of football has enthralled the world and given us the best player of the generation, Lionel Messi. He has taught us again that football games are won in midfield. He has shown the world, and particularly the English, the importance of possession. But to call him the greatest ever, is too little too soon. Does he have to potential to become the greatest ever? Definitely.
But then again, only time will tell.