Arguably the best manager in the world, Pep has proven he’s a winner. With 28 trophies as a manager alone, Pep has dominated football in both Spain with Barcelona, and Germany with Bayern Munich. However, perhaps the Spaniard’s greatest feat is what he’s been able to do with Manchester City and English football.
Growing up in Barcelona and playing under Johan Cruyff, Pep Guardiola is Barcelona through and through. Of course Cruyff’s Total Football revolutionized the game itself by involving each player in both attack and defense and Guardiola’s Juego de Posición (or Positional Play) centers itself around a similar philosophy. However, Barcelona itself offers inspiration for this way of playing football. A city known for the opera and arts, Barcelona is no stranger to the manipulation of spaces- both on a stage as well as canvas. Additionally, the city is rooted in the Catalan independence movement from Spain. It’s possible a similar defiance in the face of existing structures is what drew Guardiola to Manchester City. To prove his way of playing could free itself from the oppression of stereotypical English football.
Juego de Posición is centered on the idea of superiorities. Spaces are purposefully occupied to cause an advantage in numbers over an opponent all over the pitch. The key is to play between the lines of the opponent. By breaking the lines, the opposition is pulled out of position and spaces and numbers up situations can be exploited. Perhaps perfected by Barcelona, this signature style of play finds itself in every Guardiola team. Specifically at Manchester City and the English Premier League, teams became known for “parking the bus” against Guardiola’s team. To combat this, Pep purposely inverts his fullbacks and uses them as an extra number in midfield creating a superiority. Doing so allows midfield players like De Bruyne and Silva to move in-between the opposition’s midfield and defending line, unsettling the defense and opening up spaces for further attacking players. But in order to do this, passes must go vertical at any opportunity. A common misconception of Guardiola’s team is that they pass just to pass. In fact the opposite is true. Each pass has meaning, constantly shifting the opponents until a clear vertical pass can be played and a line can be broken.
In order to implement this way of playing, Pep relies on players who are extremely comfortable on the ball, excellent at passing, but understand the game 2 or 3 passes ahead. Unfortunately for some players at Manchester City, they didn’t fit this profile the way the manager would’ve liked. The team that Guardiola inherited in 2016, is very different from the one you see today. Notably, Pep went after a goalkeeper more comfortable with his feet, athletic fullbacks that were comfortable coming into midfield, and center backs that consistently break lines out of the back. In all, this cost Pep close to €600m and is one of the biggest critique of the incredibly successful manager. It’s true trophies come along with Guardiola, but so does an outrageous check. This is something a club must keep in mind, and must be able to do if they wish to sign the manager.
The City Identity
It’s possible that Pep coming to England could have only been successful at Manchester City. The other big clubs of England have a rich history of trophies and playing a certain way. City is a relatively blank slate. Pair this with the fact that Sheikh Mansour, the owner of the club is worth $30 billion, and City becomes the obvious option for Pep. A club that would allow him to implement his style without the pressure of history demanding immediate wins, along with a seemingly unlimited bank account to go after the players he needs. After one season he was lifting the Premier League.
Of course no manager is safe if not loved by the club’s fans. Guardiola is extremely safe. As a club not accustomed to dominating England, what Pep has transformed Manchester City into makes the Spaniard loved in the blue side of the city. Fully aware of his influence, Guardiola has recently called upon City fans to fill the stadium for each match. Something the club has always been criticized for; being “plastic fans” who haven’t suffered the true ups and downs of football. Nonetheless, City fans happily sing their songs knowing they’re one of the best in England:
Say that you want me (x2),
All of the time (x2),
Say that you need me (x2),
Always be mine (x2),
Cos we’ve got Guardiola,
We’ve got Guardiola (x2)…