The stuttering evolution of Pep Guardiola
IT was heartening to read about Pep Guardiola banning some of the Manchester City players from training earlier this week because they'd returned for pre-season overweight.
The Catalan might be accused of a bit of grandstanding but it was good to know a football manager can still hold sway over the pampered and protected stars of the English Premiership, particularly at a time when player power is strong.
City defender Gael Clichy told press reporters: “If your weight is too high, you're not training with the team. You hear it a lot but, for my part, it's the first time any manager has really done it. And we have a few players who are not training with the team yet.
"You have to know that if your weight is 60 kilos and you are on 70 kilos, then you cannot play football.”
Apparently Guardiola has banned fruit juices and pizza in a bid to whip his players into shape for the new season.
Guardiola likes to binge too.
As told to journalist Marti Perarnau who penned the insightful ‘Pep Confidential – The inside story of Pep Guardiola’s first season at Bayern Munich’, the former Barcelona captain rarely ate on match-days.
He would drink umpteen bottles of water and little food before games.
Afterwards, however, Pep feasted on the finest Bavarian cuisine.
Perarnau writes: “He’s already put away a whole bowl of pureed potatoes, a tomato and mozzarella salad, half a dozen rostbratwurst with sauerkraut – the legendary Nurnberg sausage – and linguini with truffles. Now he’s ready to attack a juicy sirloin steak...”
Guardiola and City will be an interesting watch in 2016/17.
City have been consistently less than the sum of their parts while Guardiola emerges from a decidedly disappointing three-year period with Bayern Munich that yielded domestic success but no cigar in Europe.
When he was appointed Barcelona manager in 2008 he initiated a football revolution.
When you hear Gaelic football managers and pundits talking about the high press, they’re merely extolling the virtues of Guardiola’s philosophy.
Guardiola’s Barcelona team tried to play the entire game in their opponents’ half of the field.
They would try and win back possession as quickly and as high up the field as possible.
Barcelona always had technically superior players than every other team.
So what do you do with one of your greatest strengths? You accentuate it.
Condensing the play meant that there was less space to operate in – and therefore technical ability would be key to the outcome of many of their games.
Guardiola’s greatest strength with Barca was making technical players more relevant.
Who knows what path the careers of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets would have taken without Pep’s decisive intervention in 2008.
He once quipped: “Without Messi, I’d be be managing in the third division!”
Of course, Messi et al owe their former manager a huge debt too.
In 2011, Barcelona reached the closest thing to perfection on a football field when they defeated Manchester United in the Champions League final at Wembley.
For Guardiola’s template to be successful it needed incredible intensity, high energy – and most of all it needed emotion.
A natural consequence of his managerial style is that his team will run out of steam at some stage.
Barca were so dominant in possession, their full-backs became more stationery because there was no space to run into.
Teams parked the bus and found a way to battle against them.
Two successful passes out of defence and the opposition could break down Barcelona on the counter-attack.
The tactical weakness in Guardiola’s plan was highlighted in last season’s Champions League semi-final second leg when Bayern were undone by a successful counter-attack by Atletico which involved just a couple of passes.
Guardiola was seen as the founder of Tiki-Taka football.
It’s a term he detests.
In his first season with Bayern, he told his players: “I hate Tiki-Taka. I hate it. Tiki-Taka means passing the ball for the sake of it with no clear indication…”
But that’s exactly what Barcelona became in his latter stages in charge. Likewise Bayern Munich.
Without the intensity, high energy and emotion, Bayern’s passing became slower, passive and predictable.
The ball didn’t move quickly enough and therefore neither did the opposition.
Pep’s Barca and Bayern began to play in front of teams partly because the opposition were happy to camp on their own 18-yard line.
As a consequence, his sides suffered some heavy defeats in the latter stages of Champions League.
Asked about which Barcelona team was better – Pep’s or Luis Enrique’s, Gerard Pique commented: “Now we have players that can counter-attack. Six or seven years ago we could not counter-attack. Now, the keeper saves. He passes the ball to Iniesta, to Neymar, Neymar to Messi – goal.”
The revolution that Guardiola initiated eight years ago doesn’t hold as much sway in 2016 because his teams became pre-occupied with possession and not enough emphasis was placed on, as Pique suggests, being able to counter-attack.
At times Guardiola has akin to a football scientist engaging in a self-indulgent experiment and getting too caught up in the cause-and-effect.
His philosophy sometimes bordered on being narcissistic as his teams yearned to score the perfect goal.
Bayern star Franck Ribery aimed a broadside at his former manager earlier this week, commenting: “Sometimes Guardiola talked too much…Football is very simple.”
Regardless of Ribery’s motivations to criticise Guardiola, perhaps he has a point.
Maybe the Barcelona legend has been guilty of over-complicating the game. Some of the intellectual touches are unnecessary.
When his players get sufficiently fit, it will be interesting to watch what Guardiola does with Man City and whether or not the Catalan has closed the tactical loopholes that cost him so dearly at Bayern.