Although many Premier League fans might argue that Manchester City’s rise to prominence might have been fueled by Middle Eastern oil money, one cannot doubt that the quality of their game has been boosted by their prolific Spanish coach Pep Guardiola.
Pep is known for instilling a free flowing, attacking style of play into whichever side he coaches. He has experienced huge success in his home country with Barcelona, as well as with Germany’s Bayern Munich. It is no wonder that whichever country he coached ended up winning football’s most coveted trophy, the FIFA World Cup.
Not only is his attacking style known to break defences, his teams have broken many records. He left Spain in 2014 with a record 14 trophies, while the Blues have broken numerous records in their two consecutive Premier League title-winning seasons.
The Catalonian’s tenure in England has been no different. He has instilled a sense of confidence as well as humility in his players, while bringing out the best in them. Before Guardiola’s era began, the Citizens had won only two Premier League titles in nine years. They had a plethora of stars in their ranks, including Argentinean strikers Sergio Aguero and Carlos Tevez, Italian star Mario Balotelli, and Spanish World Cup winner David Silva. Their last Premier League Trophy came in the 2013-14 season under current West Ham United coach Manuel Pellegrini. The Chilean departed unceremoniously, leading City to their worst-ever Premier League finish this decade.
Guardiola’s arrival brought out a new sense of confidence from within the existing players. With the full support of City’s Director of Football Txixi Begiristain, he began the revival of Manchester City toward being the best football club in the United Kingdom. His transfer policy corresponds with the needs of his star players. The signing of speedy and technically able players like Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva has helped provide the best service to Sergio Aguero. His policy of signing young talent, supported by City’s cash-rich scouting system, has brought in such talented players as Brazilian striker Gabriel Jesus and German winger Leroy Sane. Last season, City had the second youngest squad in the league, with an average age of 27.3 years.
While a majority of his players are on the younger side, Guardiola has constantly shown his dependence on his veterans. While he kept by Vincent Kompany’s side till his departure this season, contract extensions for David Silva and Fernandinho has shown his faith in experience. However, with David Silva announcing his departure at the end of the season and Fernandinho said to follow suit, many young stars from City’s academy, like 19-year-old Phil Foden are touted to shine under the Spaniard.
Although the Guardiola effect has undoubtedly improved the game of all his players, English winger Raheem Sterling seems to have benefitted the most. Before his forced move from Merseyside, Raheem Sterling was a young, talented attacker with rash instincts. Under Guardiola, his game has become much more refined. With Pep seemingly allowing the young winger to play a free-flowing style of football alongside his Belgian counterpart, Sterling scored 18 and 17 goals respectively in City’s last two Premier League winning campaigns. Guardiola’s second season as City coach allowed Sterling to express himself in front of the goal more vividly, with the winger hitting double figures, not only for the first time, but for two consecutive seasons.
The attacker has taken his performances up a notch, scoring five goals in his five starts for the club. The most important contribution of Sterling however is his ability to grasp last-minute winners for his side, making him a crucial cog in City’s attacking forays. He is seen as the future of English football and will hope to duplicate his performances for his country as well.
Pep Guardiola is by far the best coach in the world and is touted to win his first FIFA Men’s Football Coach award. However, one trophy that has eluded him is the UEFA Champions League. After winning the trophy twice with his phenomenal Barcelona squad, the Catalonian coach has failed to win the coveted trophy that will proclaim his team’s position as Europe’s best club. He fell short in the semi-final stage in the three years that he coached Bayern Munich. His Champions League exploits with City have been less successful, with his team unable to progress further than the quarter-finals.
Guardiola might not have won the Champions League since the 2010-11 season, but there is no doubt that his tactical genius can make any mediocre side the best in their respective country. Much like former counterpart Claudio Ranieri, who won the Premier League in 2014-15, Pep Guardiola believes in the abilities of his players. His ‘take the ball, pass the ball’ tactic has revolutionised the modern game.
Although he almost left the club after subpar performances in his first season as The Citizens’ coach, his City Project almost seems complete and ready to conquer Europe this season. With five wins in as many games, City hope to claim the only trophy they have failed to win, and Guardiola seems like the only tactician who can achieve this feat.
Feature image courtesy: Glyn Kirk