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Back to the future as Pep Guardiola turns to Juanma Lillo

Pep Guardiola is reportedly bringing former mentor Juanma Lillo to Manchester City
Pep Guardiola is reportedly bringing former mentor Juanma Lillo to Manchester City
Mark Pitman
EXPERT COLUMNIST
Modified 06 Jun 2020
Feature

On the 20th November 2010, Pep Guardiola's dominant Barcelona side produced another magical performance to defeat UD Almería 8-0 in La Liga.

Despite being away from the Camp Nou, the humble surroundings of the Estadio de los Juegos Mediterráneos witnessed history being made. Lionel Messi scored his 100th goal for the club on his way to completing another hat-trick.

But while the attention turned to Barcelona as Guardiola's side moved above rivals Real Madrid at the top of the table, for UD Almería, that night marked the end of a managerial era. Juanma Lillo sat helplessly in the dugout that evening, watching a team that he had helped to shape take his own team apart. And with it bring to a close another chapter in his own nomadic coaching career.

Lillo was sacked in the aftermath of the 8-0 reverse and Guardiola would have felt sympathy for the fate that he had bestowed upon one of his pivotal mentors. Guardiola has listed Arsène Wenger, Johan Cruyff and Marcelo Bielsa amongst those who inspired him the most. But Lillo is also mentioned heavily when the Catalan is asked about the biggest influences on his career.

A Lionel Messi hat-trick for Guardiola
A Lionel Messi hat-trick for Guardiola's Barcelona resulted in Lillo getting sacked in 2010

Where the story began in Mexico

As Guardiola's own playing career began to wind down, he spent time in Italy with AS Roma and Brescia. This was before he headed to Qatar to boost his retirement fund with a period at Al-Ahli between 2003 and 2005. However, his career would surprisingly come to a close at Mexican outfit Dorados. But rather than see this chapter as the end, it was, in fact, the very beginning of a new story.

Representing Dorados as a player marked Guardiola's first formal step into management. The move was not about extending his own playing career, but about learning directly from a figure that had provided a sounding board for all his tactical theories over the last few years. Lillo had taken over Dorados that same year and it was an opportunity Guardiola was not going to let pass him by.

Lillo played a key role in shaping Guardiola
Lillo played a key role in shaping Guardiola's philosophy at Barcelona

This was the start of Guardiola becoming one of the all-time greatest managers in the history of the game, here in the unlikely surroundings of the city of Culiacán Rosales. Taking the methodology he had learnt at Barcelona, Guardiola began to develop his own philosophy by embracing other influences from outside of the Camp Nou, and Lillo's approach in particular.

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While their time together in Mexico was brief, it was extremely valuable. The duo had regularly discussed tactical developments over the previous couple of years. But now was their opportunity to turn their ideas into reality. It is unlikely that the Liga MX had any idea just what part it was playing in shaping the future of football during that 2005/06 season.

Guardiola must lead Manchester City to domestic and European success
Guardiola must lead Manchester City to domestic and European success

Both figures went their respective ways, with Guardiola leading a revolution at Barcelona before winning league titles in Germany and England. Meanwhile, Lillo continued with his own diverse path. He took various coaching roles in Colombia, Chile, Japan, China and his native Spain over the course of the next decade.

The mentor and the master

The 8-0 defeat suffered by Lillo's UD Almería to Guardiola's Barcelona in November 2010 would have been a privately poignant moment between the pair. No respect would have been lost and Lillo would have taken a small sense of pride over how his former student was changing the game at that time. All this despite the consequences to his own career.

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For Guardiola to now reportedly turn to Lillo again is intriguing. And it comes at a time when his Manchester City side has found itself comprehensively beaten by Liverpool both domestically and in Europe. Their immediate future in the UEFA Champions League remains in the balance and the decision suggests that Guardiola is going back to basics to put things right.

Guardiola did not want Mikel Arteta to leave Manchester City
Guardiola did not want Mikel Arteta to leave Manchester City

While Guardiola was frustrated to lose the services of Mikel Arteta to Arsenal, Lillo, if his reported appointment goes through, will provide a very different ear for the manager. He will challenge his decisions, and he will offer his own experience in reshaping the squad of riches that he inherits at Manchester City. On Friday, Lillo announced his departure from Qingdao Huanghai in the Chinese Super League.

Described by Guardiola as “the best coach I ever had”, it marks another significant moment in his managerial career in that he is taking a step backwards in order to move forward. Reuniting with Lillo will take him back to a time in his life that represented an exciting future, but only success will ensure that this particular story has a happy ending.

Published 06 Jun 2020, 16:46 IST
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