The Perfectionists: Guardiola, Klopp and Wenger
Pep Guardiola has arrived in the Barclays Premier League and constructed a team that plays beautiful free-flowing football which delights football fans from every persuasion. In addition to this they have run away with the League title light years ahead of Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United. However, it must not be forgotten that one of the main reasons as to why Pep has been able to have such a great side is because in the transfer window pretty much every player he put his hand over was given to him. Yet this does not in any way diminish the job he has done at Manchester City. This is because my whole point is that if Jose Mourinho also had such success in the January transfer window he would not have created a side to match Guardiola’s. The fundamental reason for this is because he does not come under this category of perfectionist managers. What I mean by this term is managers that aim for perfection, they have a plan A and that is it. This plan A is an aim at perfection and they will not budge from it, as this plan A is their vision of perfection. This means that these managers when they get it right can only be beaten by another perfectionist, they cannot be beaten by a pragmatist. These managers aim for the very best, it doesn’t matter if they are losing 2-1 with a minute to go they will not change their game at all they will play with the same principles and ideas, with ultimate faith in them.
An example of this from this season is Liverpool vs Manchester City at Anfield from this season which I would argue was one of the great Premier League encounters. This was two managers who were perfectionists with excellent teams who were not going to compromise on their idea of the way the game should be approached and thus what resulted was a spectacle of football. Klopp’s reds pressing high up the pitch with 90 minutes of intensity against Guardiola who seemingly played into their hands with his close quarter passing at speed attempting to play out from the back, overload on the flanks. However for Guardiola, it did not matter that he may well have been tactically playing into Liverpool’s hands, he felt that if his team could actualise his vision of perfect football on the pitch his team would come out on top. It just so happened that Klopp’s players were able to actualise his vision better (just about). The best way to play against Liverpool as has been shown many times is to sit deep and switch the play in order to counter the Liverpool press but I am very sure that this did not enter Guardiola’s mind at any stage. This idea is further evidenced in an article by Adam Bate where he shed some light upon Pep’s first job as manager of Barcelona B where he first implemented his total football ideas, they did not bring him immediate success at which point he was at the point where he could have chosen to be a pragmatist or a perfectionist and he chose the later. He decided to persevere with his methods and the eventually brought him success.
The third perfectionist I have added to my list is Arsene Wenger, a figure much debated in recent years, especially amongst Arsenal fans, many of whom would like to see a managerial change at the Emirates. However, Wenger was also the man who built probably the greatest ever Premier League side, ‘The Invincibles.’ A side made up of incredible individual footballers who played wonderful football and made every football fan a secret Arsenal fan for a few years. However, in recent history Arsenal have struggled to hit those dizzying heights with Arsenal recently dropping out of the Champions League qualification places. This is because Arsene still plays the exact same way as he has always played, the very same free-flowing style however now he does not have the likes of Henry, Bergkamp and Vieira to execute his plans instead the players are nowhere near as good which has resulted in Arsenals decline. A perfectionist manager who does not have players that can match up to his vision.
This brings me on to my final point: perfectionist managers always ask a lot of their players as their visions are always at a very high level. An example of this is Jurgen Klopp whose high pressing game results in his defenders often occupying the halfway line and every player having to be perfect in his defensive work. This results in Liverpool often winning the ball high up the pitch and the other team having a limited number of chances, however, the high pressing game means that if the opposition manages to make their way through the press the goalkeeper and defender (if there is one left) are often completely exposed. This results in players such as Mignolet and the Liverpool defence being criticised from all quarters. In addition to these attacking players under Klopp such as Mohammed Salah, Mane and Coutinho have taken their games onto new levels. Most people fail to appreciate that it is much easier to play as an attacker in Klopp’s Liverpool then it is in a Mourinho team, and conversely much harder to play as a defender than in a Mourinho team. This also illustrates why players like Pogba and Lukaku have come under sustained criticism this season whereas United defenders who are not considered excellent players have not really received any. The perfectionist managers can thus achieve incredible things, however, all of the elements need to click in order for that to happen but if things do not work out then things can go very wrong. This article has only really discussed high brow managers and not looked further down the table which may well be subject to a further article such as Brendon Rodgers, Ian Holloway to name just a couple.
The Pragmatists: Benitez, Mourinho, Conte
As a beginning point, I would like to clarify that being a pragmatist does not mean that a manager cannot produce a side that plays entertaining football or a highly successful team. In fact the three managers I have selected are in fact, brilliant managers. However, the characteristics which group them as pragmatists are that they are less interested in actualising their own visions of perfect football rather they are much more interested in winning the game before them. This then results in managers who are much more willing to change their tactics from game to game and within games. They will also play different ways according to the strengths and weaknesses of the players that they have. A very recent example of this is Conte’s Premier League winning Chelsea side who had a dreadful start to their campaign, however, this was transformed with a complete change in formation and playing style. Conte had absolutely no issue at making this change and reaped the rewards form doing so.
Another feature of this is the readiness to make changes quickly in matches, something Jose has often been praised for, this is because for Jose his plan A is not that important, it is more about reacting to the changing tactical situation. The Pragmatist manager will be focused on playing the opposition in front of him rather than simply playing their own game which the perfectionist manager will want to do. Rafa Benitez is another man who I would add to this list, who someone like Jose has been to many different clubs and has managed to adapt to many different situations, and like most pragmatist managers is regarded as an excellent tactician as this is what his skill lies in rather than being a great footballing visionary. Rafa Benitez’s greatest footballing achievement was perhaps his La Liga winning Valencia side which actually did not achieve an incredible amount of points rather they relied on their defensive qualities and quality attacking movement by their skilled attackers such as Pablo Aimar.
The archetype of these two approaches are perhaps Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola who are now at the two Manchester clubs duelling it out for Premier League superiority which Pep at this moment in time is well ahead in. Many pundits are asking the question, who does Jose need to sign and what does he have to do in order to beat Guardiola? He has already bought Sanchez, Pogba, Lukaku and also has many other star attackers at the club. He is actually not doing to bad in terms of points attained it is just that Manchester City have raised the bar so much, as Conte alluded to earlier in the season. The question thus remains, how can Jose beat Guardiola? I would answer this question by simply saying he cannot unless Guardiola falters. A pragmatist can never beat a perfectionist if it all clicks, and looking at Guardiola’s Man City side I don’t see him faltering in the next 2/3 seasons and so it doesn’t really matter who Jose signs he will not be able to beat Guardiola. In fact, the only managers that may be able to are Klopp and Wenger. Wenger and Arsenal do not seem to have the spending power to match the better teams, however, Liverpool could do so. Klopp has built a very good team thus far and could well finish second this season. If he can add 2/3 more pieces to his jigsaw then he may be the only one who can stop the Guardiola/Man City juggernaut because only a perfectionist can beat a perfectionist.