Monday, November 29, 2021
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Pep Guardiola is a Manager With a Point to Prove

Frustrated Pep GuardiolaYes you read the title correctly, Pep Guardiola remains unproven as a football manager! It's a point of view that I've had for a while, but only now is the evidence beginning to mount in my favour thanks to how the Spaniard is finding life with Manchester City and the Premier League. It seems that even the man himself is having a crisis of confidence, judging by his own recent shocking admission

Now don't get crazy, there are a few caveats before we get started:

(1) Pep Guardiola is a very good manager.
(2) So far in his managerial career, he has guided his teams (Barcelona and Bayern Munich) to 21 trophies over 7 seasons!
(3) His win percentage at Barcelona was 72.47%, and with Bayern Munich it was 75.16%. Figures that are nearly stupidly good.

But, despite his many notable achievements, I don't agree with the notion that Guardiola is a proven, all-time great football manager. Not yet anyway. The major reason for this is that he's never had a truly challenging managerial role. Manchester City is his most difficult task, and even then it's not as if The Citizens aren't established as perennial title challengers. 

For some football fans, what Guardiola has succeeded in doing so far in his managerial career is enough. But this ignores the glaring fact that Barcelona and Bayern Munich were, and remain, among the best 4 teams in Europe (Real and Atlético Madrid being the others). I'm by no means belittling the impact that Guardiola had on both teams, particularly Barça, and I can't ignore analysis of their success before and after Pep. So here are the periods that reflect his length of time in charge, although obviously we cannot yet assess Bayern post Guardiola.

Barcelona FC:

Before Pep, 2004-08
Champions League x1
La Liga x2
Supercopa de España x2

With Pep, 2008-12
Champions League x2
La Liga x3
Copa del Rey x2
UEFA Super Cup x2
FIFA Club World Cup x2
Supercopa de España x3

After Pep, 2012-16
Champions League x1
La Liga x3
Copa del Rey x2
UEFA Super Cup x1
FIFA Club World Cup x1
Supercopa de España x2

Bayern Munich:

Before Pep, 2010-13
Champions League x1
Bundesliga x1
DFB-Pokal x1
DFL-Supercup x1

With Pep, 2013-16
Bundesliga x3
DFB-Pokal x2
DFL-Supercup x1
UEFA Super Cup x1

Looking at the bare statistics, Guardiola won more trophies when in charge of Barcelona and Bayern Munich than his predecessors. And since he left the Nou Camp, Barca have been marginally less successful. However, we have to look at the context around all of this.

Guardiola at Barcelona

Frank Rijkaard managed Barcelona from 2003/4 to 2007/8, and when he took over the club had not won a trophy since La Liga in 1999 (under Louis van Gaal). This was clearly a transitional time, but under Rijkaard the squad was overhauled and many future club legends were brought in, such as Ronaldhino, Deco, Samuel Eto'o and Rafael Márquez. On top of this Rijkaard promoted and established some of the youth players, you may have heard of them, their names are Andrés Iniesta and Lionel Messi(!)

The 2004/05 and 2005/6 seasons delivered all of the Rijkaard era trophies and re-established Barcelona as a competitive force, however 2 seasons followed without silverware and this is when Guardiola came in. He gradually moved on some of the star players, whilst buying Dani Alves and Gerard Piqué amongst others. There is no question that he moved the club onto the next level, one that witnessed an often crazy period of dominance, but in the same breath we have to acknowledge that the building blocks were put in place by Rijkaard.

It's possible to argue that Guardiola was a lot less comfortable at Barcelona once José Mourinho took charge of Real Madrid. In his debut season (2010/11) Real beat Barcelona to secure their 1st Copa del Rey for 18 years, and then in the following campaign they claimed what remains their only La Liga title since 2008. 

If we also consider that current Barcelona boss, Luis Enrique, has a win percentage of 76.5% and 8 trophies won after 2 seasons, compared with 7 for Guardiola, is it unfair to suggest that his legacy is in danger of being surpassed?

Guardiola at Bayern Munich

What is certain is that his time at Bayern Munich, whilst trophy-laden, wasn't quite the evolution that was hoped for. Jupp Heynckes was Guardiola's predecessor, and in his final season he won the treble of league, cup and the Champions League. His win percentage in that 2012/13 campaign was a ludicrous 84.9%. In their 3 seasons with Pep in charge Bayern dominated the Bundesliga, but when it came to the Champions League there were semi-final disappointments in each campaign (much like Mourinho at Real Madrid). 

We can argue that Guardiola took up an impossible job compared to when he started with Barca. At the former there was room for growth and improvement, whereas with Bayern there was only a huge level of expectation. Yes it may be harsh to criticise on this basis but the margins are so incredibly fine at the top end of club football, that if you want to be the best then you have to achieve extraordinary feats.

What defines a great manager?

Well the point is that it depends upon the circumstances. For example, I would personally place Mourinho, Brian Clough and Sir Alex Ferguson (among others) beyond Guardiola at this stage. Partly due to what they all achieved and what they needed to overcome, but also down to the weight of history. 

Mourinho announced himself to the football world with Porto, and by winning the Champions League with the Portuguese club he propelled himself into a certain bracket. To then mastermind the first Chelsea title win in 50 years, and a first Champions League win for Inter Milan in 45 years (not to mention their first ever treble), Mourinho has already achieved several unique feats. I'm not his biggest fan, but I cannot deny that he is a great football manager. 

Brian Clough remains the greatest manager England never had, and one of only 4 to have secured the English league title with 2 different clubs. It's often overlooked that when Clough took over at Derby County and Nottingham Forrest, both clubs were in the 2nd division, which makes his eventual triumphs all the more impressive. Of course most famously he won 2 successive European Cups with Nottingham Forrest, not to forget 4 League Cups. 

When Sir Alex Ferguson took the reigns at Manchester United, they had famously gone without being the league champions for 19 years. The first few seasons were hard going, but once they finally won the FA Cup in 1990 they never really looked back, and the much coveted title win finally came in the 1992/93 season. You don't need me to explain how Ferguson subsequently earned his place among the managerial elites.

Guardiola may also need a couple of seasons grace to embed his philosophy and preferred players into the Manchester City team, and then he might begin to prove some of us doubters wrong. As far as I'm concerned, a Champions League win with the club would go some way towards that. Only Bob Paisley and Carlo Ancelotti have won the trophy 3 times (Guardiola has 2), and only 5 managers have won the trophy with 2 different clubs (Ancelotti, Ernst Happel, Ottmar Hitzfeld, Mourinho and Jupp Heynckes).

Likewise, by winning the Premier League, Guardiola would put himself amongst a fairly unique group of football managers to win league titles in 3 or more separate countries. This is certainly the expectation that has been placed upon him at Manchester City, and whilst it is a fair one, there can be no doubt that this job is his most challenging to date, a current win percentage of 57.5% testifies to that. 

As it stands, Guardiola still has a point to prove if he's to be held up alongside the greatest football managers at the end of his career. The worry for Manchester City fans is that his recent manner suggests that he might rather be doing without all the stress and scrutiny that this entails.

From here his managerial path will go one of 2 ways. Either he'll be the roaring success that Manchester City always envisaged and begin to cement his legacy, or the aura around Guardiola will be shattered by failure and disappointment. It's an all or nothing scenario and one that guarantees to keep the football world enthralled...

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