Gonzo Sports Digest; Pep Guardiola and a New Manchester City Era

Pep Guardiola, the world’s most coveted manager, he’s definitely going to lead Manchester City to multiple trophies, the Champions League and perhaps be the man who gives the blue half of Manchester real supremacy over rivals United for the first time in living memory.

Or at least my living memory. City have had the edge both in terms of silverware won and derbies of late.  But it has been fairly close, and given the ‘project’ at the Etihad and the upheaval at Old Trafford in recent years that gap should be wider.

But it isn’t, and City want a real dynasty.  Now they’ve made a bold move and put all their eggs in Pep Guardiola’s basket.  There is even the thinking they hired Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano specifically to snare Guardiola as manager, those guys arrived in 2012 so if that’s true the long game has worked out there.

There may be more than a smidgen of truth to that but it’s also unfair. Having done the same jobs at Barcelona; they had the pedigree, any help in future managerial appointments would be seen as just an added bonus at the point of hiring.  Maybe, that’s what I’d do if I was running a football club… I wouldn’t put key decisions in the hands of people I considered inadequate simply on the basis that years down the line their talented buddy might turn up.

If it was by design, forever destined to happen since Sheikh Mansour set sights on the Catalan, the pressure will be immense on the current Bayern boss.  Even if it wasn’t the demands aren’t particularly lowered.  The day after he arrived as City boss local paper the Manchester Evening News published an opinion piece entitled ‘Pep Guardiola’s arrival marks pivotal moment for Manchester as a football capital’ – make no mistake the expectation levels are through the roof, and this is his toughest gig to date.

Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona team was incredible

There is absolutely no denying that.  He coached that side to four La Liga titles, two Champions League crowns, the Copa del Rey twice… we all know the good points but it is the negatives people will point to if/when things hit the skids.

For one thing, it wasn’t necessarily a team he built.  The undeniable stars of Guardiola’s side were Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi, all of whom had been with the Camp Nou club long before his arrival as manager.  His best signings were probably Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas and Javier Mascherano, and he knew the former pair from his time with the club as a player when they were in the youth ranks.  He’s also the man who allowed Yaya Toure to leave, and I doubt there are many City fans who think that was a great idea.

For another, Guardiola knew the club through and through; he is Catalan (he was a Catalonia international as well as a Spanish one), he came through the youth system and in total spent 17 years as a player there. Add to that he was already coaching the B team before he became the main man and it starts to feel as if destiny had decreed he was always going to take that role and achieve something remarkable.

I don’t want to take anything away from his achievements – all trophies aside that team is without question the greatest club side I’ve ever witnessed.  But there were certain mitigating factors that helped that process and advantages unique to that particular situation.

He knew that squad inside out, they were his people and he saw a beautiful moment to take that further.  It was an historic, momentous and unprecedented period in modern football – that team broke the mold, then ground it up into tiny pieces that blew away in the wind.  It was perhaps so divine it can never be repeated but everywhere he goes people will want him too.

Bayern Munich offers little insight on Pep Guardiola

I see Bayern Munich as both a gift from above and a poisoned chalice for a manager.  On the one hand, it is hard to see anyone else winning the Bundesliga title, but on the other the Champions League is the only real target as a result.  There are no legitimate rivals domestically for the Bavarians at present and anything other than a league win will be seen as a monumental fuck up.  Previous bosses had Borussia Dortmund to deal with but they faltered as Guardiola arrived and no one filled that void.

It couldn’t have gone any better for Guardiola in some ways but in another it robbed him of a chance to prove himself.  Europe at this time is the true barometer for Bayern and that hasn’t come easy, in his first year they were the holders and no one has ever successfully defended that title, while last year Bayern had big injuries at the wrong time.

But no one cares about excuses, so if he doesn’t win it this year he won’t go down as a true Bayern legend. Regardless of whatever records he sets/has set along the way.  He’ll go down as a success but not a legend. The manner of his exit hasn’t really helped in that respect either.

His transfer record will again be scrutinised but not necessarily in terms of whether or not his captures were successes.  Guardiola made some great signings for Bayern such as Douglas Costa, Robert Lewandowski and Xabi Alonso, but his activity has been fairly limited as he inherited a fantastic squad anyway, so instead chose to make small improvements rather than big changes.  That may not be an option at City, and even if it is it might not be one he wants to take up.

At Bayern the league title was almost a ‘granted’ every year he was there, any further silverware was a bonus.  He took over from Jupp Heykes after a treble that included Europe’s crown, matching that would be hard but losing that amount of ground would have been careless.  History will view it as a safe gig for Guardiola even if that is slightly unfair, unless Carlo Ancelotti screws it up when he takes over and I’m going to suggest that’s unlikely.

The problems the Premier League and Manchester City pose for Guardiola

City are by no means a safe choice for Guardiola, I’m not sure they’re even the safest Premier League side to go for.  At Barcelona and Bayern the squads needed tweaking upon his arrival, at City they need an overhaul.  Toure will seemingly be gone, the thinking is he doesn’t want to play under Guardiola and in any case the new boss may think it is time for a change in regards to the Ivorian.

Vincent Kompany’s injury problems of late mean a new centre-half is needed in the summer, indeed it wouldn’t come as a huge surprise to see the whole defence overhauled.  Essentially I’m expecting the biggest rebuilding job Guardiola has ever faced. He then has to get his new players integrated into the team and working as a unit before the new season,  which of course brings his first experience of Premier League football.

At Barcelona he only had Real Madrid as true rivals, they were admittedly formidable foes but there is only one Real Madrid.  At Bayern there were no major challengers, and that had as much to do with the shortcomings of the other Bundesliga sides, if not more, as it did with Guardiola’s own efforts.  In the Premier League there could be four or five teams still in the title mix by December quite comfortably in any given season, he hasn’t experienced that kind of rivalry before.

This may be viewed as a criticism of Guardiola but it shouldn’t be seen that way, my point is he has a tough task ahead of him and I’m already sensing a few getting carried away.  There is every reason to both expect and demand success but walking into English football and dominating from the offset is easier said than done.  It goes without saying that I’m looking forward to Pep Guardiola gracing the Premier League, and I’d love to see him build something special at City – but there are reasons to be cautious, other than Bayern winning the Bundesliga there are never any guarantees in football.

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