What if Pep Guardiola managed Manchester United?
Marti Perarnau, the author of Pep Confidential, wrote in his book that Pep once traveled to Old Trafford to watch Manchester United play Schalke. United was Barcelona's opponent in the Champions League final and he wanted to observe the team in action.
"It was May 4, 2011, and the pair sat together in the stands of Old Trafford watching Sir Alex Ferguson's team beat Schalke 4-1. Pep had turned to his friend and said: ‘I like this atmosphere. I could see myself coaching here one day.' "
When Pep decided to end his stint at Barcelona, the world was on watch to see which team he was going to manage next. At the same time, Sir Alex Ferguson was going to announce his retirement. For the United fans, it seemed fate had intervened on their behalf.
He eventually decided to choose Bayern Munich and then later Manchester City because of his relations with sporting director Txiki Begiristain and CEO Ferran Soriano, men he had worked with t Barcelona.
Things couldn't have gone differently for both teams as City, who already het up a solid foundation with a squad that won league titles and a youth academy that was up there with the best in England, got the perfect manager to take their team to the next level and compete among the best in Europe.
Meanwhile, in the other half of Manchester, United was struggling post-Ferguson as David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal couldn't deliver what the owners and fans wanted for the team.
After three barren years, Jose Mourinho was chosen and the Portuguese immediately forged a winning mentality in the team, winning three trophies in his first season in charge.
The recent derby between the teams, however, showed the gulf in quality as City convincingly beat United at Old Trafford. This left United fans wondering what could have been if Guardiola had taken up managerial duties at Old Trafford after Ferguson retired.
Here we look at how United team could have been shaped up by Pep since 2016 if he decided to choose them.
The easiest pick of all, De Gea was already a stalwart for United when Mourinho took over and it is safe to say that he will keep his place even under Pep as he is a great distributor of the ball and pressure often brings out the best in him.
As we know by now, Pep loves to build up attacks from the defense as was clearly seen in both Barcelona and Bayern. He had players like Gerard Pique and Jerome Boateng who were extremely comfortable on the ball and could start attacks from the back and take it forward by eliminating the need for midfielders to drop back.
At United, it is fair to say that there is no centre-back right now who fits his philosophy.
Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, and Marcos Rojo are traditional no-nonsense centre-backs whose first job is to sniff out attacks with their physicality and positioning. It is safe to say that he would have bought one ball-playing centre-back into the team.
John Stones would probably have ended up at United as a natural replacement for Rio Ferdinand for both club and country. Luke Shaw's career could have gone in a different direction after motivation from Pep and we would probably have seen a back four of Antonio Valencia, John Stones, Smalling/Jones & Luke Shaw.
With the combination of power, pace and intelligence, this defence may very well have been the best in the league.
From his time at Barcelona and Bayern, it is clear that Pep likes to use a three-man midfield. Though he couldn't recreate the midfield of Sergio Busquets-Xavi-Andres Iniesta at Bayern, he adapted his tactics to create a multi-functional midfield with players like Phillip Lahm, Arturo Vidal, Xabi Alonso and, Thiago Alcantara.
United, after having the likes of Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes for years, have struggled to replace them after Ferguson left. After spending a lot of money to bring back Paul Pogba, a player whom they previously let leave, they finally have a player that can now take games by the scruff of the neck and looks to become a nailed on starter for a long time.
Though not as versatile as his creative counterpart at City - Kevin De Bruyne, Pogba definitely has the physical and technical attributes to match the Belgian on his best day.
And, as good as he has been under Mourinho, you can't help but wonder that under the tutelage of Guardiola his output might have been better.
Coming to the centre of the middle three, the transfer of Nemanja Matic would probably not have happened with Pep in charge. He would go for someone more comfortable on the ball under pressure. Carrick would have been a good shout for a season until he found an able replacement.
Pep and City seem to be interested a lot in Borussia Dortmund's deep-lying playmaker Julian Weigl. He is a prototype Pep midfielder who is in the mold of Busquets and Alonso. Someone who is adept at both going forward and tracking back to sniff out attacks. And to imagine him partnering Pogba would be a scary thought.
The third spot would be filled by Ander Herrera until Pep replaces him with someone like Toni Kroos. He always admired him even though things did not work out at Bayern.
After leaving Bayern, Kroos has gone on to become a mainstay in Real Madrid's midfield. Even Kroos would have loved to work for longer with Pep and if he gets a chance now, he would definitely think about it after winning two Champions League titles with Madrid.
A midfield of Pogba, Weigl, and Kroos is a scary prospect as it can press, win the ball back, efficiently take the ball forward with a few passes, pass it to the attackers or even have a crack at goal. Imagine these players doing it under Pep week in and week out.
This is the area which would be the most interesting because of the presence of one player- Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
By now, everyone knows that there is some bad blood between Pep and Zlatan from their time at Barcelona.
Zlatan was sacrificed to accommodate Lionel Messi as the false 9, a masterstroke which yielded several trophies for that famous Barcelona team. Ibrahimovic often says that the manner in which Pep did it was the actual problem as there was a lack of communication between them during that period.
Both have gone on to have great careers and it would have been interesting to see how both of them would have managed their relationship if Pep had taken over at United. That being said, Guardiola loves to have a mobile attack and Zlatan, though a world-class player, isn't as mobile anymore as he was.
And from what we saw of him in his first season at United, he would not be a starter in Pep's team.
Gabriel Jesus was a Pep signing at City. So the best guess would be that Jesus would have been brought in and made a starting striker. Ibrahimovic would be a substitute for him as both have different playing styles and would provide different options for different teams.
Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, on the other hand, would have become Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane are currently.
Both United lads are bright, attacking prospects and after observing how Pep has made Sterling and Sane to become more efficient, Martial and Rashford would have benefited a lot from the same coaching.
So finally the trio of Martial-Jesus-Rashford would complete the top of the 4-3-3 formation that Guardiola loves.