Manchester City are on a run of no wins from their last six matches in all competitions, which is poor. This has prompted claims in some quarters over the past week that Pep Guardiola is not actually that good. Some ignoramuses going so far as to proclaim he is actually a fraud. Just to put that six game winless run into perspective, City won their opening ten matches of the season in all competitions. Their overall record this season is ten wins, three draws and three defeats; scoring 35 goals and conceding 18 – not exactly shabby.
A much changed and mostly reserve City side lost 1-0 away from home in the League Cup to a full strength Manchester United and even that goal was a dubious one, with what looked like a foul on Kolarov in the build-up. To some, this was laughably their affirmation that Guardiola is just an over-hyped reputation who wouldn’t be able to transfer his success to the Premier League, because he had it practically handed to him at Barcelona and Bayern Munich and English football is the ultimate test of any player and manager.
Perhaps the fact that Guardiola dared to challenge the long held and much publicised belief in the UK that the Premier League is the toughest and most intense league in the world has irked those suspicious of the validity of other leagues.
Contrary to popular belief, Guardiola did not simply inherit one of the greatest teams in football history at Barcelona. He actually inherited a very talented, but dysfunctional Barcelona squad. This, after leading the Barcelona B team to promotion after winning La Tercera (Spanish second tier) in his inaugural year as a coach. Guardiola quickly offloaded Deco and former World player of the year Ronaldinho upon his appointment as Barcelona first-team coach and Samuel Eto’o only stayed after showing renewed dedication in training. Few experienced managers would’ve had the balls to do that, let alone an inexperienced one managing at the top level for the first time. Guardiola had cleared out the ‘superstar’ of the squad, as well as other high profile players and imposed his authority. He put full faith into a very young Lionel Messi and promoted Xavi and Andres Iniesta from the fringes. Sergio Busquets and Pedro were promoted from the Barcelona B team as Guardiola pressed ahead with his vision of how the team should train and play. His Barcelona team quickly gelled and matured into one of the greatest football teams I have ever seen in my life. His courage, vision, disciplined approach and virtual obsession with the game paid off. His schooling under Johan Cruyff is evident in his tactical bravery and innovation.
His decision to end his reign at the all-conquering Barcelona was one few coaches would’ve made at the time. In his time out of the game, he was courted by many of Europe’s elite, but decided to move to Bayern. This was another decision that surprised many because although Bayern had an excellent squad, they were not yet widely considered a ‘super power’ and this was four months before Jupp Heynckes led Bayern to Champions League glory. His time in Germany is too easily dismissed because Bayern did not win the Champions League, but their domination of the Bundesliga was imperious and his development of key players understated. Guardiola’s coaching influence was felt on the international stage with Spain’s 2010 World Cup and double European Championship winning teams and Germany’s 2014 World Cup winning team.
He is still in the very early throws of his Manchester City career, but already the tactical philosophy is clear on the pitch. Yaya Toure and Joe Hart have been his highest profile casualties to date, with a positional adaptation to David Silva, the further development of Kevin De Bruyne and the resurgence of Raheem Sterling. Many laughed at the transfer fee, but Pep instantly put trust and responsibility into summer recruit John Stones – a player who had his defensive qualities questioned, but Guardiola saw the opportunity to maximise his strengths and suitability to his system and preferred style.
A few wins do not make you a genius, just as a few losses do not make you a failure, so to see articles such as the one from Stan Collymore in a national newspaper last week just highlight the myopic views all too prevalent in British journalism and ‘punditry’. There may be a few bumps in the road along the way, but Manchester City are on a journey of enlightenment and growth under Pep Guardiola – a coach who deserves respect, rather than suspicion and opportunist derision.