Top 10 Managers of the Season #1: Pep Guardiola
In Sportskeeda’s exclusive “Top 10 European Managers of the Season”, let’s take a look at the best Manager across Europe.
Read #2 in the Managers’ Series here (Stay tuned on www.Sportskeeda.com, Each day a new manager)
#1. Josep Guardiola
Rewind back to the summer of 2008. FC Barcelona has had two consecutive disappointing seasons under Frank Rijkaard and the humiliation suffered at the hands of their bitter rivals, Real Madrid was making even the fiercest of Catalans, wince at the current state of their team.
It was in these dark times that the then President, Juan Laporta introduced the new Head Coach of Barcelona, Josep Guardiola. As much as the fans loved the ‘pivot’ of Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’, there were squeals of disapproval and discontent among the proud Catalans over the appointment of an inexperienced man, to lead them back to glory. Afterall, his managerial CV showed less promise and experience than a summer intern applying for a job. Being offered the helm of FC Barcelona after just one year as the head coach of Barcelona B team; that must be a punishable offence in Catalonia! When Laporta was asked about the shocking appointment, he revealed –
“When we took the decision to appoint Pep Guardiola, I can say that this was a joint decision between myself and the board of directors and that the majority of the board wanted Pep Guardiola as coach.
With regard to Jose Mourinho, maybe at that time it might have been an easier or safer appointment, to have appointed Mourinho. But if you believe in something and you have a plan, you should stick to it and in terms of the philosophy of FC Barcelona, the decision to choose Pep was an easy one for me. “
But the unassuming Guardiola, despite the no-confidence motion from all quarters, went about his job in his quintessential serene and dignified manner. His appointment was followed by a mass exodus of stars like Ronaldinho, Deco, dos Santos as he stamped his authority on the squad. The apprehensions were high but Guardiola was unperturbed, drawing faith from the teachings of his mentors, Cruyff and Lillo. Pep’s debut season-in-charge saw Barcelona sweeping every title they competed in, thus originating the term ‘sextuple’- a tribute to their medal collection that season. Pep’s second season in-charge bagged another double for the Blaugranas, but their European success was thwarted by the defensive masterclass produced by Mourinho’s Inter Milan, which brings us to the last season.
After Barcelona failed to breach Mou’s defensive wall the previous season, eyebrows were again raised at Guardiola’s capability. As many critics were quick to point out, Barcelona is a luxury liner that sails itself, Pep is just lucky to be on-board. But any such doubts would have been nipped in the bud after the last season. This has been Guardiola’s title. Maybe, as he often implied, the players were carrying him during the first two seasons but this time he has carried them. Let’s take a look at the plethora of problems he faced this year.
Pep has won the club’s 21st title with a squad suffering the hangover of making up a large part of Spain’s World Cup winning side last summer.
He shouldered the burden of new president, Sandro Rosell, who stumbled through his first year in office at times only ever opening his mouth to put his foot in it.
The gaffer watched the club engulf in Fabregas’ unsuccessful transfer negotiations last summer and sell central defender Dmytri Chygrynskiy without replacing him.
He was subjected to thinly veiled threats by the outgoing Ibrahimovic, who disparagingly called him ‘The Philosopher’ as he was shipped out to Milan to make way for David Villa.
Guardiola was hospitalized with a slipped disc, bullied into signing a contract extension despite stating his preference for renewing at the end of every season, and he was forced to field 24 different back four combinations because of a catalogue of defensive injuries.
As if that wasn’t enough, a new set of drama awaited him as he was charged with guiding his squad through four clasicos in three weeks, each one intensified by his new direct rival Jose Mourinho – the man who had turned up to knock him off his perch. And all this, as his players came to terms with news Eric Abidal needed surgery to remove a tumour on his liver.
And to put all that to one side, and win La Liga and the Champions League yet again, takes some doing. It takes a real man to focus on football, and it takes a real man-manager to get his team doing the same. And as we all know, Pep Guardiola is special!
Style of play…
So what’s the secret ingredient that chef Pep has in his armoury that produces the most sumptuous of treats on the field! As I often say, we call it Magic, Barcelona call it football! So, what does Pep do??
To be honest, Guardiola just lets his team play football, nothing else. He sticks to the basics of the game- pass, move and dazzle! But combine pure, attacking football with a catalogue of titles and we have a winner. That, my friends, is no mean feat and Arsene Wenger will agree, profusely. Here, the teachings of Cruyff come into play.
Pep’s unique 4-2-1-3 formation and tiki-taka style, modelled on Johan Cryuff’s pedagogy, have been virtually unstoppable for the past three seasons.
Such ability to retain possession and execute perfect passing play, utilising to the absolute maximum the technical ability of the Barcelona players, is an unparalleled footballing philosophy in the sport at the moment.
And combined with the ruthless pressure applied by Barca when they lose the ball, putting the players’ match fitness to the best possible use, Pep Guardiola has created the perfect tactical setup.
What makes Guardiola so impressive is that he took the model handed to him by Cruyff and other Dutch influences, Louis van Gaal and Frank Rijkaard, which produced two European Cups in 14 years, and improved on it. As Koeman, an integral part of Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’, confessed –
‘Our game was full of risk. I was not even a real defender and had to move into midfield with the ball whenever possible. We also pushed right up in every game. It created fantastic games to watch but we were also punished. We left big spaces behind our defence, but Cruyff said we would win the majority of our games and he was right. We proved that in 1992 at Wembley and people called us The Dream Team.’
And the defensive weaknesses that Koeman refers to, and which were evident as recently as in Rijkaard’s team of 2007, have largely been eliminated by Guardiola’s obsession with his players closing down their opponents in organised packs.
The Season that was…
With his nemesis Jose Mourinho appointed as eternal rivals’ Real Madrid’s boss, the season was bound to get tougher for the high-flying Blaugranas and their Midas Manager, Guardiola.
With the acquisition of David Villa and exclusion of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the little genius Messi was brought into the centre, spearheading the Barca attack through his false-nine position. Xavi and Busquets held the ball while lynchpin Iniesta linked midfield to attack. With Pedro and Villa cutting in from the flanks, the football fans witnessed yet-another season of Barca domination. But boy, it was tough!
As fate would have it, Barcelona were destined to meet Real Madrid a record 4 times within 18 days. Ask any manager in the world, that’s a lot of Mourinho! And it was. After the 5-0 drubbing of his side in the initial El Clasico, Mou restored some pride by clinching the Copa Del Rey title from under Barca’s noses. But the mother of all El Clasicos was yet to surface, with one of the ugliest encounters seeing Barcelona come up trumps in the first leg of the UCL semi final. As expected, all hell broke loose as often happens with each Mourinho loss. Right from berating the referees to UEFA’s apparent support to Barca, from disgracing Guardiola to humiliating his own management, the ‘Special One’ lost it. But Pep Guardiola, as always, let football do the talking and refused to be drawn in a war of words with Jose and his team did the rest.
The season concluded with Barcelona crowned as deserving Spanish and European Champions, taking Pep’s tally to an impressive 10 major trophies in a mere 3 seasons. Well, that’s Guardiola for you, an unassuming winner!
In Barcelona, a century of (perceived and real) persecution created pathos of a football club that is the embodiment of a cultural demonstration. As such, form is as important as result. Living with this standard is extremely difficult, in every walk of life. At Barcelona winning is good, but winning with flair and style is better. And who else than Pep Guardiola to continue this legacy! Guardiola was born and has been brought up with Barca DNA.
The very best managers in the world are perfect in two areas: tactics and man-management. We all know Pep Guardiola is one of the best tacticians in the game. But everyone already knows and appreciates that. What they may not appreciate however, is the almost perfect man-management skills this man has.
Throughout Europe, and even the world, Guardiola and his Barcelona team have been hunted like no other, yet every time they’re under attack, his Barca side just seem to get closer, being more willing to work for the team, more willing to help out their teammates and more willing to win it for each other.
Pep Guardiola has instilled almost an unparalleled togetherness within this club, proved by the Champions League win on Saturday dedicated to Eric Abidal, the left-back with the fairytale story following life-saving surgery just three months earlier.
His man-management skills are glorified by his handling of world’s best footballer, Leo Messi. Messi gets hacked and lunged at as his counterparts desperately try to prevent him doing the inevitable, and every time he gets taken down, he keeps his cool, gets back up again and just lets the football do the talking. Not only does it take a real man to do that, but it takes a real man to tell Messi to keep going.
Guardiola is the epitome of modesty and positive attitude. When asked if the current Barcelona side are the best ever, Guardiola said:
“I don’t think so. When the people are watching this team if they enjoy we are happy, but we have to respect Brazil, Milan, Liverpool, Manchester or even Madrid for the best moments.”
For the past two years, Pep Guardiola has been refusing an Audi that is given to the team’s players and the head coach at the beginning of each season. Guardiola’s reasoning: he believes that his technical staff also deserve to get one.
Another characteristic of Guardiola that shines is his respect for his seniors as well as his peers.
“I dedicate this victory [El Clasico in November] to Rexach and Cruyff because they are the ones who taught us to play this way. This victory has been 15 years in the making, as they have believed in the way we played football.”
“We cannot find a team in the world that entertains the people like we do.”
But his standout feature is the way he handles psychological warfares and emerges victorious, almost everytime. Unlike Fergie and Mou’s distraction technique, Guardiola employs reverse psychology, if you may. He was full of praise for Manchester United gaffer, Fergie before the Champions League Final 2011 and rebuked the suggestion that his team were the ‘favorites’ in the final.
“I think Manchester United in the last 10, 15, 20 years is always at the top, always compete very well in the Premier League and they have three times out of the last four years in the final of the Champions League.
“When I saw the Manchester United team two years ago my view, my impression, was it was a strong, strong team.
“From two years ago and the last four or five games, and the many games I have seen they are strong, they are competitive, each player knows what they have to do. It is an honour to play in the Champions League against Manchester United.”
”From Matt Busby to Sir Alex Ferguson, they’ve gone through everything, through plane accidents in Munich,” he said. ”When you’re lucky enough to play against rivals like Manchester, the only thing you can feel is satisfied and very fortunate.
”To be sitting near Sir Alex Ferguson is an honour. So we’ll try to enjoy it, enjoy the show and compete, play as well as we can.”
What Barcelona did to Manchester United in the finals is a different matter, altogether! Pep employed similar tactics against Mourinho when Jose was heaping praise on him in the build-up to the Champions League encounter labelling him as “a great manager” and “master tactician.” Pep has used his psychological warfare philosophy shrewdly and has proved to the world that he is a tough nut to crack.
Finally, as we all know, Pep Guardiola is an honourable man and he shall have his success.
What the World Thinks…
“Pep Guardiola has always been my biggest idol on the pitch.”
- Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal Skipper)
“For me it (world’s best Manager) is Guardiola, I think he has shown it. It does not just depend on winning titles, but also on how he makes a team play.”
- Lionel Messi (Barcelona and Argentina Forward)
“Pep Guardiola is the best coach in the world”.
- Xavi (Barcelona and Spain Midfielder)
“Pep Guardiola has made a big step forward for Spanish coaches since taking charge of Barcelona.”
- Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United Manager)
“When Pep was a Barca player and I was an assistant coach, you could already see that he’d end up coaching. He was already the coach’s right-hand man out on the pitch; he liked to take charge and he’d think about the other players’ roles, (not just his own). I knew that when he was ready he’d become an excellent coach.”
“If I were Barça president Sandro Rosell I’d give him a contract for the next 50 years.”
- Jose Mourinho (Real Madrid Manager)
What does the future hold…
Pep Guardiola is one of the very few people in football who does not find his Barcelona side irresistible. Despite having one of the great teams in history and savouring their triumph in the Champions League, the manager is still determined to leave when his contract expires next summer.
“I think my time is ending here in Barcelona. I’m fine here, but when you’re at a club like this you cannot stay for too long. Next year will be the fourth consecutive season as coach of Barcelona. Such a club must have a lot of courage to take a coach for so long, because the players get tired of coaches and vice-versa.”
The reason for his desire to coach elsewhere is his burning desire to demonstrate that he can succeed even when he no longer manages star-studded Barcelona.
For him, the idea of working with inferior footballers is almost whimsical, rather than alarming. “I will ask, ‘Where are the players?’ and have problems finding them. Maybe that will be the challenge for me. In that moment all I can do is try to play as well as possible.”
Ferguson, for his part, can hardly comprehend why Guardiola plans to stand down so soon: “If he’s really considering that,” said the Scot, “he’ll never have this experience again. That’s for sure.”
The Catalans and the players alike, though, would love to have him as their manager for eternity, if that’s possible. Well, one thing is sure; Pep Guardiola will be there next season to guide Barcelona to greener pastures and tingle us with his exquisite style of football. Here’s to another season of Barca and Guardiola domination. Cheers!
Having unassailably the best tactics in football, combined with the best man-management in the sport; makes the man who back in March was hospitalised with a herniated disc, our #1 of the season.