There are few managers in the world as divisive as Pep Guardiola. Of course Jose Mourinho is divisive but it’s in a different way. Everyone knows he’s a top manager it’s more of a question over whether you like him as a man. But Guardiola is different. Some think he’s a genius, that he has revolutionised the modern game and taken it to heights previously unscaled. But there is also the camp that claim he’s overrated, that anybody can win the league as manager of Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
It should thus come as no surprise that Man City’s struggles this season are one of the game’s biggest talking points. I feel like a large percentage of the English media are celebrating his struggles, that they wanted him to fail before the season started. Let’s face it Guardiola and his style is very un- English and it was always going to be difficult to win over an English media who more often than not have an agenda which they stick to. It’s just my opinion but I feel like anything but domestic domination would have led to criticism from the anti- Pep camp.
Conversely the over the top praise from his fans during the first 10 games was nauseating. City were playing well yes, but not extraordinarily well. You’d think they were Brazil 1970 and the Harlem Globetrotters combined. Narrow wins over the likes of Sunderland and Swansea shows they were hardly sweeping teams aside. Which brings me to the point of this article in that is it actually possible to fairly judge Pep Guardiola?
Pep’s supporters will claim that he’s been unfairly treated, that people had hugely unrealistic expectations of him. The team he inherited was hardly exceptional, after all they only scraped into the top 4. What’s more it’s a team in need of a rebuild. The core of the team is only getting older. Yaya, Kompany, Silva, Zabaleta and Aguero are all approaching or in their 30’s. If Manuel Pellegrini remained the manager, they would probably be doing worse.
It didn’t help Pep’s situation that the major investments in the team in the past couple of years have mostly underperformed. With the exception of Kevin De Bruyne, the likes of Sterling, Bony, Otamendi, Mangala and Fernando have really underwhelmed so Guardiola didn’t inherit a hugely impressive squad.
Throw in the fact that many results this season could easily have had different outcomes, namely the games against Chelsea and Spurs, and perhaps people are being too harsh on Guardiola. Had City’s finishing been better and decisions gone their way they would undoubtedly and deservedly won those games. Seriously watch those games back, it’s unbelievable how they didn’t win them. Finally, and most importantly this is Pep Guardiola’s first job in the country. To expect a manager who hasn’t played in the country let alone manage in it to arrive here and start dominating is unrealistic. Most managers entering the country don’t tend to start all guns blazing.
People will point to Antonio Conte and maybe Jose Mourinho’s arrival at Chelsea but that’s not quite the same. Mourinho for a start walked into a weaker league and a club with huge finances at their disposal. Conte is a fairer example but even he struggled earlier in the season and Chelsea’s team was nowhere near as bad as last season’s league position suggested. In short how can you expect a first time manager to inherit a team needing investment and expect miracles?
But this is no ordinary manager, this is Pep Guardiola the most in demand manager in the world, one of the few managers labelled with the term “genius”. For a manager of Guardiola’s undoubted ability, he should be performing better than of late. When Guardiola was announced I wrote an article warning people not to expect miracles from Pep which you could find here http://www.back-post.com/2016/02/12/pep-talk-dont-expect-instant-miracles-from-guardiola-at-man-city/. Without blowing my own trumpet some of my concerns have been proven to be justified.
Perhaps the biggest of my concerns was regarding the investment and namely finding players who fit Guardiola’s profile. Guardiola has a style which he wants to play and that meant that the players at City would either not fit it and would have to be replaced. The likes of Mangala, Hart and Bony were never going to be Guardiola players and investment was needed. But you can’t just replace almost an entire team and sacrifices had to be made.
Players like Kolarov, Clichy, Otamendi and miraculously Yaya Toure have found themselves back into the team mainly because they couldn’t find or afford replacements. Even worse was the big money additions that Guardiola brought in were questionable to say the least.
Due to the style he wants to play, Guardiola needed top class players but most players were either too costly, unavailable or already at a top club. There are only so many top level players out there and as such Guardiola’s standards had to be lowered. Ask yourself this; how many of the acquisitions have truly improved the team? Any? John Stones may end up being a top player but City needed a ready-made star not someone who MAY end up world class. And for £50 million- that’s just not worth it or smart business when a lot of signings are required. He may be new to the country but Nolito was a puzzling one to me. Given his age and price it points to my earlier point, that City couldn’t attract any truly top class players. How many top teams would Nolito get in? He’s one paced, predictable and ultimately only a good player. Hell, I don’t think he’d stand out at Bournemouth.
Ilkay Gundogan is an excellent player, a fantastic passer that can glide with the ball at his feet and dictate games. But there’s a reason Dortmund allowed him to leave. The man makes Jack Wilshere’s injury record look acceptable. Gundogan’s injury is unfortunate yes but bluntly it’s sadly predictable and should their only central midfield signing have been an injury prone one?
Leroy Sane just escapes criticism because I like him as a player and think he could end up being top class. But like Stones and Gabriel Jesus was signing him for such a large fee given his age wise? And then there is Claudio Bravo. I don’t want to criticise Claudio too much because I feel like aside from his wife and family nobody wants him to succeed. The man replaced England’s number 1 so to say he was under pressure from the start is an understatement. All I will say is that he hasn’t helped himself at all and if he really was the best option City could find somebody’s job should be getting looked at.
I’ve always been a big Pep Guardiola fan and remain so. When he has the right players to work with and improve he produces football that without being clichéd can take your breath away. Anyone who watched Barcelona or Bayern over the years can testify to this. But that’s his limitation. Guardiola’s style and system allows for top class talent to flourish but the players have to be gifted beforehand. Pep can’t exactly take a team of James Milner’s to glory, that’s just not what he does.
People shouldn’t equate this to Guardiola being overrated, all managers have weaknesses and that is his. What is clear is that these next few months will be very interesting to watch. They might get into the top 4 but I have my doubts. A cup run could ease pressure but that’s far from easy. Crystal Palace should run them close at Selhurst Park in the FA Cup this weekend. In the Champions League I really fancy Monaco to not only give them a game but to knock them out. Monaco are one of the most prolific teams in Europe and their fast, brilliant counter attacks will surely challenge a City side who continually get undone by the counter attack. Even if they do progress I don’t think they are good enough to go deep in the competition so come the end of the season could Pep be under serious pressure?
What would happen if they finish trophy less and 5th or 6th? Who knows come the end of the year I could be totally wrong and I will happily admit that. But until then let’s just enjoy the ride, it should be a fun one.