Ever since Pep Guardiola arrived at Manchester City he has been subjected to an unprecedented degree of inspection and expectation. Understanding the negative impact this could have, Pep has been the voice of reason. When City started the season with a run of ten wins, he spoke to closed ears when attempting to explain it wasn’t a true indication of the team’s current level. Now with a dip in form, he once again faces ignorance from a media determined to undermine Europe’s most successful manager.
Suddenly there is no shortage of experts offering advice to the Spaniard. Pundits that occupy seats in the safety of studios, or journalists who have to service the wants of fans from opposing clubs (the clickbait brigade), are suggesting that his proven methods will never work in the Premier League. That before we’ve even entered November, it’s time to admit the English way is unique and his crazy ideas have been shown up for what they are.
Not satisfied with telling a man – who was happy to point out in Friday’s press conference he’s won twenty-one titles with his ideals – his tactics are wrong, they are also attempting to forge wishful transfer rumours into facts. He was happy to point out where they are incorrect.
Beneath the obvious, are more subtle claims. These are just as easy to dispel. The most erroneous is that in principal he is no different to predecessor Manuel Pellegrini. For those that found that amusing (as any serious person should), take a second to let the giggles pass.
The notion comes from the half-baked view Pep and Pellers both shared a common denominator: They have one way and no Plan B.
This was clearly a case that could be mounted against Pellegrini. Like Roberto Martínez, it seemed they’d rather lose playing their way then adapt to opponents and unique situations. They refused to be proactive, instead soldiering on, expecting different outcomes with faltering systems.
Pep is different, and certainly not a one-plan man.
The ethos – his religious view on how the game should be played – will remain consistent, but within the framework changes are made. Whether it’s switching to three at the back or an extra man in midfield at the expense of a striker. There was always a rigidity with Pellegrini (even with formation changes) that isn’t evident with Pep. A tailored approach after examining the opposition has replaced blind optimism, or should that be: plain stubbornness.
When those able to acknowledge Pep has adaptability, they cover it by saying he should slowly implement his ideas and until then play to the strengths of the current squad. It can’t be argued that the best managers go in and work out where strengths are and chop the weaknesses. But isn’t that what he’s done already with the brutal treatment of players like Joe Hart and exclusion of Yaya Touré?
It’s only managers who are survival experts, like Sam Allardyce, that allow personnel to dictate shape and style. There’s a reason veterans of the managerial game have never featured in the Champions League while Pep has won it two times.
It is always a results based business – Roberto Martínez would have done well to remember this – but to take the silverware, become an all-time great, you need to have ideals that can be transposed across a spectrum of tactical problems.
He’ll accommodate players where possible but ultimately they bend to his will: his ethos can’t change for theirs.
Unlike Pellegrini, who it seemed sent players out with vague instruction, Pep makes it clear what he expects to see. When his system fails it’s obvious where individuals have been lacking. This accountability makes it easy to root out weaknesses and build the correct team. That process is now underway following the passing of the honeymoon period.
Players are beginning to show their true colours. Some are just unsuitable for the demands Pep is making. Others, through either poor work ethic, attitude, or time of life, cannot perform to the required standard. Pellegrini may have ignored their shortfalls, Pep will not.
Guardiola also knows football tactics are constantly evolving, it’s why he came to City. This opportunity is the continuation of his education. There’s no suggestion he’ll plough on with failing tactics but he’s confident the overriding ethos works.
People shouldn’t complain when José Mourinho parks the bus because it’s boring, they should question why he’s still rolling out tactics from yesteryear. Pep’s dynamic approach makes even the Portuguese United boss look like a tactical dinosaur.
But members of the “Red Press” would rather highlight Pep’s perceived failures, that are nothing more than growing pains, and ignore how the Special One has become the Stagnant One.
They also believe his tactics have been worked out. That Celtic somehow exposed the key to the conundrum when they only replicated what Swansea had attempted. Pep would rub his hands at the prospect of every team pressing City every game until the end of the season. If his system is implemented correctly, they’d be making the space for him in vital areas of the pitch.
But it’s easier to pretend after years of success, the brutal nature of the Premier League has cracked the Guardiola code. It’s as if he was the Illuminati and Brendan Rodgers formed some part of a Da Vinci Code, that the Tom Hanks looking Premier League managed to work out in time to prevent an embarrassing runaway success.
Thankfully people like Robbie Savage have sound advice. The man that only adorns the BBC because his dress sense brightens up the dreary looking Phil Neville, and his mindless enthusiasm on commentary offsets the drier tones of Mark Lawrenson, believes Pep isn’t a tactical genius after all. Robert Langdon – sorry, the Premier League – has seen to that.
Nor does Pep need to reinvent the wheel to conquer Europe with City, just fix its punctures.
And that’s the problem: Pellegrini didn’t leave Guardiola with a working wheel. It was a shiny cart with its components used for forward motion removed, instead sat upon shaky bricks and an instruction manual that had been left out in the rain. City didn’t need tweaking, they required revolutionary treatment.
There is no one better in the game to provide this than Pep Guardiola.
Like any revolution, it will take time. Those that have faith will be patient, those with hope it fails will fabricate stories and print insincere views to upset the steady progress.
Pep doesn’t need to change his ethos; he just needs to realise in the land of Premier League football, freedom of speech means the nonsensical have the loudest voices. But empty vessels do make the most noise…