Guardi­ola proves ‘Pep’s Way’ can work in Eng­land too

Tehran Times - - WORLD SPORTS -

Dur­ing Pep Guardi­ola’s first sea­son in Eng­land there were plenty of pun­dits won­der­ing if the Spa­niard could trans­late his suc­cess in Spain and Ger­many to the more phys­i­cal de­mands of the Premier League with­out di­lut­ing his foot­ball phi­los­o­phy.

On Sun­day, Guardi­ola’s Manch­ester City won the Premier League ti­tle with five games re­main­ing, hav­ing built up a 16-point lead and scored 93 goals but the num­bers tell only part of the story.

City may be dif­fer­ent to his Barcelona and his Bay­ern Mu­nich but the style with which they won the ti­tle was the proof that Guardi­ola could in­deed do it his way in Eng­land.

His first sea­son at City ended with the club fin­ish­ing 15 points be­hind champions Chelsea and with a num­ber of ques­tion marks over his team.

But his suc­cess in turn­ing his team into the best in the coun­try was not purely down to some as­tute moves in the trans­fer mar­ket, gen­er­ously backed by the clubs Abu Dhabi own­ers.

Guardi­ola’s com­mit­ment to a style of play based not only on ex­cep­tional ball-re­ten­tion but also a so­phis­ti­cated un­der­stand­ing of space and tim­ing took time to em­bed in the habits of the play­ers.

An ap­proach to the game which has a lineage back to the Dutch ‘to­tal foot­ball’ of the early 1970s, taken to Barcelona by Jo­hann Cruyff and which Guardi­ola has adapted and evolved, re­quires not only a top skillset from the play­ers but a change of men­tal­ity.

Guardi­ola be­lieves that top-qual­ity foot­ballers can play any­where on the field, what­ever their for­mal role, and ex­pects his de­fend­ers to be com­fort­able on the ball and his for­wards to be able to work hard off it in or­der to be in the right places for an even­tual tran­si­tion.

This sea­son, the Spa­niard has gone be­yond en­cour­ag­ing de­fend­ers to pass the ball out of de­fence rather than launch long balls by bring­ing his goal­keeper Eder­son into the pass­ing game, trans­form­ing City into an 11-man pass­ing ma­chine, play­ing with pre­ci­sion over the full length of the pitch.

One of his sum­mer sign­ings, Kyle Walker, was al­ready a proven at­tack­ing wing-back when Guardi­ola brought him from Tot­ten­ham, but he now looks at home play­ing as a more cen­tral de­fender and in Guardi­ola’s clever ap­proach of mov­ing full­backs into hold­ing mid­field roles when the team is in pos­ses­sion.

“Not as easy as it looks”

One of the Premier League man­agers who has had to take on Guardi­ola this sea­son, Hud­der­s­field Town’s Ger­man David Wag­ner, ad­mires the way the City man­ager has con­vinced his play­ers to change.

“As well as find­ing the play­ers you also have to ex­plain to them how to do it and they have to com­mit and fol­low. It isn’t as easy as it looks — it’s not just get the best play­ers and then they do it. He has done some­thing ex­cep­tional,” he told Reuters in an in­ter­view.

“In my point of view it’s more dif­fi­cult to ex­plain to at­tack­ers how to de­fend than to ex­plain to de­fend­ers how to at­tack,” he said.

“At­tack­ers are in­di­vid­u­als and de­fen­sive play­ers feel more part of a team. They feel more re­spon­si­bil­ity for ev­ery­thing and it’s eas­ier to ex­plain how to at­tack and how to play out from the back,” he added.

While few doubt Guardi­ola is ca­pa­ble of con­tin­u­ing his revo­lu­tion at City, it is ques­tion­able whether his ap­proach will have a broader in­flu­ence on tac­tics and coach­ing across the Premier League.

Guardi­ola may have set a new stan­dard but as Liver­pool showed in their three vic­to­ries this sea­son, there are other suc­cess­ful mod­ern ap­proaches to the game and the ‘Pep way’ may be for Pep only.

Wag­ner had a brief spell of try­ing the ap­proach with Borus­sia Dort­mund’s re­serve team and cut short his ex­per­i­ment.

“We tried it and I think you can do it, you only have to ac­cept that you will make more mis­takes and you will get smashed more of­ten if you have less qual­ity (than him),” said the Hud­der­s­field man­ager.

“It isn’t as easy as it looks. He has done some­thing ex­cep­tional. It is great to see it.

It is un­be­liev­able to see how he in­flu­enced Man City in the Premier League like he did in Mu­nich with Bay­ern.

“He has done it now a sec­ond time. It re­ally is great to watch his team and his style,” he added.

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