Wednesday, 22 February 2012
Pep Guardiola is undoubtedly one of the most successful managers in the modern era, producing a Barcelona team that even the most hardcore Madrid fans must admit to playing some of the most aesthetically pleasing football in recent times.
Guardiola spent a majority of his playing career with the Catalan giants, joining as a boy at the age of 13 and becoming a regular in a team that won La Liga by the time he was 20. He became one of the most successful players in Barcelona history, spending 17 years at the club and playing nearly 500 games for the club, before leaving for Brescia in Serie A.
After his playing career ended, Pep spent a year in charge of the Barcelona B team, working almost as an apprentice to Frank Rijkaard before replacing him at the beginning of the 2008-9 season. Guardiola’s first movement as manager was to oust what he saw as some of the luxury players not needed in the squad, Ronaldinho, Zambrotta,Thuram and Deco all left the club, where as Samuel Eto’o was put on the transfer market and told to prove his worth to the manager. Eto’o eventually went in 2009-10 season as a makeweight in the Zlatan Ibrahimovic deal, which also saw Guardiola throw another 49millions euros at to secure the Swedes signature. Peps lavish spending has been a trait of his time in charge at Barcelona, big money has been spent on players like Dani Alves, David Villa, Alexis Sanchez and of course the return of Cesc Fabregas.
With the Spaniard increasingly becoming linked to English clubs Arsenal and Manchester United as both Wenger and Ferguson look to be nearing the end of their respective club careers, I question whether Guardiola would be able to adapt to life in the Premier League and away from the Blaugrana. Undoubtedly Guardiola has been successful with the Catalonia club, totting up La Liga championships and Champions League victories, but this has been largely assisted by the development of perhaps the finest youth system ever in club football, this generation along has produced what are now regarded as perhaps 3 of the most talented players in the world with Messi, Xavi and Iniesta all graduates, not forgetting Fabregas and Pique (who Guardiola brought back to Spain after spells in England) as well as club captain Carles Puyol and other Champions League winners such as Pedro and Sergio Busquets. I would argue it is Barcelonas youth system rather than Guardiolas forays into the transfer market that have brought such success to the club. Wenger has tightened the purse strings at Arsenal and despite comparisons to Barcelona in the way they try to play, would Pep really be allowed the same spending power as he’s enjoyed over the last few years? And although being regarded as one of the best in England, is he Arsenal youth system going to provide 8 or 9 players good enough to challenge for the Champions League in the next season or so?
This may sound critical, especially when I am a self confessed lover of the ‘Tika-Taka’ style Guardiola has implemented and Barcelona have become famous for, but there is a great differentiation in styles and tactics shown by Premier League Clubs, from the close passing conveyed by Arsenal and Swansea, to the directness of your Newcastle’s and Sunderland’s, then to the physicality of teams like Stoke. Guardiola has rarely shown the ability or awareness to adapt his tactics and although largely successful, the Tika-Taka has shown signs of waning this year with Barca being out thought and out played by several teams in La Liga this year, leaving them trailing Real Madrid and the championship as good as over.
My argument is that he may not be quite the tactical genius or wheeler dealer people will expect him to be, as Pep Guardiola is Barcelona through and through, he knows the club inside out from the boys in the u13s to every coach working towards the glamorously almost arrogant, but most wonderful product that is the Barcelona first team. Perhaps a little stubborn this year in his delay in signing a new contract and his inability to change in vital games, Pep is still planning for the future, giving chances to players like Thiago, Villanova and Tello must show this. Surely the emergence of Real Madrid under ‘The Special One’ as a real threat to Barcelona’s dominance will see Guardiola stick around and once again become number one in Spain.