His Pepness’—a section of the British press has already started the reverential campaign. Pep Guardiola is coming to the blue half of Manchester and the excitement is palpable.
Guardiola’s impending arrival is a terrific advertisement for the Premier League. The world’s best football manager is leaving Bayern Munich as he looks for a new challenge. His decision to join Manchester City also confirms a power switch in the north-west of England. The ‘noisy neighbours’ can now claim the bragging rights over their more fancied rivals across town. It’s a doomsday scenario for Manchester United, but we will come to that later.
The 45-year-old Spaniard, mastermind of tiki-taka at Barcelona, is entering an uncharted territory. He has a massive reputation to bank on. In fact, Guardiola’s managerial career so far is not just about winning countless trophies, including three European Cups. He is someone who changed the game. He will call the shots in all football matters at City. The club must be feeling privileged to have him.
There’s a flip side though, and it presents a tricky challenge to the boss-designate. Guardiola is used to working with the very best. He had a dream team in Barcelona with Lionel Messi being the jewel in the crown. At Bayern also, the level didn’t drop. In England, he is set for a culture shock. He won’t be allowed breathing space. Matches will come thick and fast from all three fronts (Premier League, FA Cup and League Cup). He won’t have the advantage of a winter break.
Intensity and depth are the other issues Guardiola will have to cope with. English football revels in its physicality. It thrives in fierce competition. With 14 matches to go this term, Leicester City top the chart with 50 points. They have trumped the pretenders and big spenders. This is the beauty of English football. With all due respect, Guardiola never faced such stiff competitions at Barcelona or Bayern.
As a coach, Guardiola is very serious about maintaining strict tactical discipline. Thierry Henry, who played under him at Barcelona, offered excellent insight on Sky Sports: “When Pep has a plan, respect the plan. (It’s about) the three Ps—play, possession and position, and the most important one was position. You have to stay in your position and trust your team-mates in order for a goal to come to you,” Henry said.
Guardiola puts a huge amount of emphasis on possession as well. He likes to build from the back and frustrate the opponents by keeping the ball. It would be interesting to see how he does that with Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi. To be precise, Guardiola has to bring in a different class of players. Money won’t be a problem and Guardiola’s managerial class will help facilitate marquee signings. But the real test would be to build a team and create a legacy. At Barcelona, he had an assembly of the greats. At Bayern, he inherited the treble winners from his predecessor Jupp Heynckes. At City, he will start almost from scratch.
City, however, have stolen a march on their arch rivals with the Guardiola appointment and bitter Manchester United fans now want a response. The Red Devils appear to be in terminal decline following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013. David Moyes was the wrong choice as Ferguson’s successor—too lightweight to win over a star-studded dressing room. And under Louis van Gaal, Old Trafford is yawning in boredom. The 20-time England champions are placed fifth at the moment with 40 points from 24 matches. A top-four finish looks unlikely. Failing to secure a Champions League qualification could be catastrophic. Van Gaal has another year left on his contract, but the club’s executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward must decide. Fans want an elite manager to replace the beleaguered Dutchman.
For three seasons now, Ryan Giggs has been serving as a managerial apprentice, but desperate times call for desperate measures and Giggs is not the answer to the club’s current crisis. He must rise through the ranks to become a United manager. The team needs a proven performer. United need Jose Mourinho.
A section of the Manchester United hierarchy is always iffy about Mourinho’s confrontational style. Also, the Portuguese offers very little in the long term. But United need some quick-fix at the moment and Mourinho guarantees success; at least for the first two seasons before his customary third season meltdown. He is the only one who can get under Guardiola’s skin. He did that in Spin, guiding Real Madrid to the La Liga title.
Mourinho covets the United job. The volatile (managerial) situation at the club is a reason why he is staying put in London even after being sacked by Chelsea. Van Gaal belongs to a different era. He is past his sell-by date as a top-flight manager. The choice is simple for Woodward: dial M for Mourinho or bust…