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Pep Guardiola: Making The Best Teams Better

*Lakshit Sharma

Taking over the most successful club at a young age, moreover, the club for which he played and always has an admiration, to be at the helm of the club and to take already a successful club forward, there is something special about this man; Joseph Pep Guardiola. Pep Guardiola took the FC Barcelona club, already a successful club, to great new heights. He not only broke one of the most significant records in football; winning the sextuple, but he gave football, individuals like Xavi, Pique, Iniesta, Dani Alves and arguably the greatest player of all time; Lionel Messi. After every single trophy under the sun with Barcelona, Pep joined the German giants, Bayern Munich, on a three years stint. With Guardiola, Bayern went on to win three back to back Bundesliga titles and other German domestic titles.

2016. Manchester City Football Club has just managed to finish in the top four on the Premier League and has qualified for the Champions League next year, and this achievement is still an under-achievement for the club owners. The club has announced that as soon as the summer training practice starts for the next season, Joseph Pep Guardiola will be now taking the managerial position of the club.

Chucking out the weak links in the team

The 2016-2017 season was one of the most exciting seasons for the Premier League. The League was graced with the presence of top managers like Jose Mourinho, Arsene Wenger, Antonio Conte, Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola. As the season progressed, Man City had a good start, but things began to fall apart after the winter period. It was evident that the team was lacking young blood in their defensive area. As the season came to an end, City finished in the third position, and according to the points tally, it was Pep Guardiola’s worst performance (by his standards)

Pep understood that a rebuild of the team’s defensive area needs to be done, and he bought in two full-backs and a goalkeeper which were to replace club legends; Pablo Zabaleta, Kolarov and Joe Hart. This was a huge decision take by Pep as the weak links were the club legends and to let them out of the team would mean that the manager would get stick from the fans and the manager too had to justify buys of the now expensive players to the fans and the club owners.

The 2017-2018 season changed the Man City team from neck to toe. This was a new team with a different strategy altogether. The players were not complacent, and this was the best attacking and counter-attacking team, not only in the Premier League but in Europe as well. The aggressive Man City broke almost all the premier League records that season. This was the first time a Premier League team broke the 100 points tally.

Manchester City (2017-18)

Communication is the Key

Pep has always made it clear with his club, staff and especially the player that communication within the club will be in a single language and specifically in a local language.

Leading by example

When Pep took charge of Bayern Munich, he took a course to learn the German language. He then took media questions in Spanish (mother-tongue) initially. However, after some time, he started to give answers to the media in the German language, the media was shaken because no foreign manager had learned the German language in such a small amount of time.

Passing on to the players

Pep encouraged and directed his foreign players to understand and speak the foreign language so that the media reach of such players expands in the local community. Pep had given a direct order to the staff and players to learn the English language. Pep also gave instructions and game plans in the English language. This was highly appreciated by the media and the owners. For example, Sergio Aguero, Man City striker for eight years, started to give interviews in English. This stunned the club supporters and the fans.

Building a young squad: Changes and Adaptability

Pep has always made it clear that his squad needs to be full of young players. When Pep took charge of Man City, the squad's average age was 30.4years[1], and this was one of the reasons Pep stated why City couldn’t win any major title.

In the coming year, the team was revamped and was full of young payers. Currently, the team average age is 27.8 years[2] which is one of the youngest starting line-ups in the Premier League.

The mentality of players change and they have to win at all costs, as they know that under Pep, one can be replaced, no matter what. This holds true to the players who do not do well. Otherwise, players like Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero have bettered their game and have been consistently a part of the playing eleven squads. Pep demands a lot of work ethic from his players, which is not shown by old legs many a time.

Challenging the traditional methods

Pep Guardiola in Barcelona

The ‘Tiki-taka’ Style

Pep had made his style of play one of his USP’s and is hailed by every manager. His “tiki-taka” is one of the most popular football styles of play which he used with his FC Barcelona team. In this tactic, Pep made it clear that short and simple passes will win you games.

Players were out of the team if they showed a lack of willingness to learn. Pep took almost a year to get his team to play in his style. At times the tactic was a major failure, teams with long-balls play, sometimes have made a mockery of Pep’s team, but Pep has been adamant on his style and has proven time and again that tiki-taka is the ‘real’ football where the foundation is built on passing the ball.

“Striker is the first Defender”

Pep’s other play style includes aggressive man-marking, as soon as the team loses possession, players who are near the ball, need to aggressively go for the ball and win it. Be it a striker, a winger or a mid-fielder; their first aim is to close down and put pressure to win the ball.

‘Possession’ is the key

Guardiola’s teams have always been the teams who keep possession of the ball. Uncharacteristic what the football was used to, especially in the Premier League, where the style of play was mostly long balls or just make the ball reach the opponent’s final third.

Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and Xavi

The possession tactic of Pep’s team makes the players more comfortable as the game progresses. The Barcelona team with players like Messi, Xavi and Iniesta rarely gave the ball, and even the defence would keep the ball if the area in the mid-field is congested.

Goalkeepers are key passers

Traditionally the goal-keepers are supposed to just save the ball going in the net and to take goal kicks so strong that it surpasses the opponent’s half. Guardiola introduced that in football, even goalkeepers should know how to pass the ball and not just make saves.

A goalkeeper is one of the most important players according to Guardiola. According to him “a team attack starts from the goal-keeper.” The play style of including goal-keepers in building up the attack was another method that Pep introduced, and now many teams want a goalkeeper who can pass the ball efficiently and is not just a good blocker/thrower of the ball.

Tectonic Changes

When Pep took charge of Man City, after not winning any trophy, he was ridiculed by the media that his possession play tactic will not be of any use in the Premier League. Pep denied this, and with his methods made man City an indomitable team. In the 2018-2019 season pep challenged his learning and made amendments. Now that the full-backs were young, they were given full support by Pep to go in the opponent’s half. The mid-fielders/defenders were told to fill the position of the full-back.

When Pep was in Barcelona, apart from the tiki-taka, he introduced the false 9 formations to the footballing universe. Barcelona had always played the 4-3-3 or the 3-4- 3 formation. Pep made some tweaks in the 4-3-3 formation and making it a (false 9) 4-3- 3 formation. The tweak was made because Messi was playing as a striker, but apart from being the talented goal-scorer that Messi is, he was also one of the world’s best passers in football.

Pep initially changed Messi’s position to a centre forward, essentially playing behind the striker. This didn’t make much of a change in Messi’s style of play and thus the false nine was taken into consideration. Messi was told to play deep in the midfield position and then move forward in the striker position simultaneously being a playmaker for the team. After a few matches, this was one of the most talked-about strategies in football and Messi, not only did he become the best goal-scorer in the world, but he is now the leading assist maker in the LaLiga and European Football. With these stats, he has gone on to win a record 6 number of Ballon’dOrs, which is the most prestigious individual trophy in Football.

The 2020 – 2021 season started with uncertainty and a lot of fatigue for the players. Due to COVID-19, there was no pre-season involved and fans are banned from the stadium. Manchester City brought Ruben Dias and Ferran Torres in the summer transfer window. Dias has been the signing of the season. The defensive partnership of Dias and in-form John Stones has made City the team to beat. City has won the Premier League and the EFL Cup, furthermore, after a decade Pep has now reached the Champions League final and Manchester City are the favourites to win Europe’s biggest competition.

Pep Guardiola talking to Kevin de Bruyne

I sit down and watch videos. I take notes. That's when that inspiration comes - the moment that makes sense of my profession. The instant I know, for sure, that I've got it. I know how to win. It's the moment that my job becomes truly meaningful.” - Pep Guardiola

*Lakshit is an Honorary Advisor to Global Sports Policy Review and the founder of Tutelage.

(The images used here are for representational purposes only)



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