Pep Guardiola is right to spend on full-backs
The football fan hears many clichés, one of them being, “attack wins you games, defence wins you championships.” And it is true. Just look at the World Cup winners of this millennium; Germany and Brazil conceded only four times in eight games and Spain and Italy only twice.
The simplest of formulas in football is that if you don’t concede, you don’t lose. You might not win, but at least you get something. Apropos, people don’t just make up things, unless it is the internet and you are looking for attention, and defence really plays the most significant role in helping a team to glory.
Pep Guardiola knows this. Of course, he does. He is not your average muck-of-the-moment manager that goes on with his day reading paper clippings he finds on the street. The point is, he is very well-informed – which is, again, stating the obvious.
The love for extravagance
At Barcelona, he oversaw a revolution that made the Catalans the best club side in the modern era. They won everything that was laid out in front of them. While everyone lauds the midfielders and the attackers of that team, it is easy to forget that the partnership of Dani Alves, Eric Abidal, Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique formed the heart of the team.
It is, indeed, easy to forget those crunching tackles and telepathic interceptions. After all, why would the mind want to remember these instead of some brilliant goals from Lionel Messi or some defence-piercing through balls from Andres Iniesta?
The mind likes flashiness, it is what it tends to remember the most. Ask anyone about the highlight of Lilian Thuram’s career and they will instantly recall his brace against Croatia in the semi-final of the 1998 World Cup and not the innumerable occasions where his defensive brilliance saved his team.
But flashiness can only get you so far. This is not freestyle football where flamboyance gets the victory. In this game played between the white lines surrounded by vibrant green, it is always team effort – what you do off the ball – that paves the way towards glory.
And a team begins from the back, obviously.
So, Pep Guardiola started rebuilding the back-line. Last summer, he bought some highly talented attacking players to the Etihad. However, it was far from enough as Manchester City only just beat Liverpool to the third spot.
The former Barcelona manager does not make the same mistake twice. As a result, he has spent around £160 million on a goalkeeper and three full-backs. Pep’s idea is clear: he is looking to build the team from the back and now has a fantastic core of players to do so.
And it already seems to be working. In the pre-season friendlies, Manchester City were perhaps the best team in Europe. They absolutely outclassed European champions, Real Madrid, and desecrated Tottenham in the very next game.
The importance of full-backs in modern day football
Times they are a-changing. Back in the day, the worst players were picked to play at full-back. Their job was, putting it bluntly, to not suck. Today, though, full-backs are perhaps the most important players.
The idea of traditional wingers has almost ceased to exist, and the onus of providing width is now on the full-backs. They are the extra playmakers from the wings and the only true wingers in the team. They play the role of three players simultaneously: a defender, a winger and a playmaker.
It isn’t a coincidence that the two finalists of last season’s Champions League had the two best full-back pairings in the world. Real Madrid are currently dominating club football – and they have the best left-back and, arguably, the best right-back in the world.
With the departure of Dani Alves from Juventus, the Old Lady no longer boast a world-beating full-back pair. Right now, it could be stated with much assurance that City have one of the best full-back pairings in Europe with Benjamin Mendy, Kyle Walker and Danilo in the fray.
The Brazilian might not have lived up to his potential at the Bernabeu, but it would be absurd to write him off as a has-been since he still has time to fulfil the vast potential that he displayed at Porto.
Meanwhile, Walker may not have the best of deliveries, but he is pretty damn quick and has the tendency to beat his opponents with pace. And Mendy was a gem last season. The Frenchman played a major role in Monaco’s brilliant run last year and will only get better with age – and City will reap the rewards from it.
It has been well and truly established that Guardiola is a cheque-book manager – who isn’t? – and he has wielded it for the right purpose this season. Dani Alves’ role in Barcelona’s glory was surely present in the back of the Spaniard's mind and he hasn’t shied away from signing the full-backs that are seemingly necessary to achieve glory.
With the Champions League and Premier League to play for this season, it is absolutely essential for the Spaniard to form a devastating full-back pairing – and his summer outlay helps him with that.