Although incredibly successful and at times described as revolutionary, Pep Guardiola’s managerial career can be classified as a relatively young one. He’s only managed two clubs at the first team level, yet has won a myriad of trophies both domestically and in Europe. The Spaniard has now set his sights upon his third club, Manchester City, and will look to bring his iconic style to the Premier League.
Many have speculated upon what tactics he’ll be using at the Manchester club in order to create both the style of football in which he has been so closely identified with, and also that which will counter the long list of high profile managers coming to England in his inaugural year. Ultimately, though the system and formation used is essential in creating a blueprint for the manner in which one intends to play, the most important aspect of any footballing system is discipline.
Moving from any team that didn’t include the magisterial Lionel Messi was going to be a challenge for Guardiola because of the dynamic 4-3-3 in which he was allowed to build around the Argentine. And whilst he still operates under the same fundamental values of possession, position, and play in any system he takes on, his move to Bayern Munich has allowed him to experience the modern game as a manager with players subject to the fallacies of current moulds.
We often see players who are allowed to be so systematically one-dimensional, with strictly defensive or offensive midfielders for example, that limit the ability of an entire team. Barcelona, with or without the inclusion of Messi, can do so much via their ‘defending from the front’ and pack-hunting strategies that are fully embraced by all of their players.
For example, many often think of Andres Iniesta as a player that solely contributes offensively, but he’s enjoyed longevity and newfound success in his career because he works in a three man midfield in which all three players contribute to both sides of the game. Suarez is also a huge part of why teams struggle against Barcelona. He harries the opposition defence, stopping them from building out of the back and often times he creates chances because of it.
It is the shirking of this role caste that emanates down from the origins of La Masia football, inspired by Johan Cruyff, that I reference a position or role defining system versus a Guardiola or Enrique model. The Dutch ‘Total football’ model obviously isn’t currently being truly utilised by any modern team, but it is that core philosophy of a team unit that resides within Guardiola and subsequently Luis Enrique’s off ball mantras.
Enrique capitalised on a system for which Guardiola had already laid the ground work. Essentially tasked with undoing the stylistic regression implemented by Tata Martino, “Lucho” convinced these world class players that if they were to throw their egos aside and simply work hard for the greater good of the team, they could beat anyone and everyone.
Although it did take some time, let’s not forget that six months into the job rumours were flying around about him being sacked because of a poor relationship with Messi, since then one could say the players have taken to the style and it’s worked out well.
Had Guardiola stayed at Barcelona, where he would’ve been allowed to continue and build a system around a player that is ultimately an anomaly, it would have hampered his growth as a manager. His move to Bayern helped him understand and work in a system that catered to those players that strictly define themselves within one facet of the game.
Combining that role-centric interpretation of football with his possession and discipline-centric philosophy has garnered some results, but he will ultimately recall that a team built with dynamic players who aren’t afraid to operate out of position when required is holistically a better system. The question remains as to whether he can achieve the ultimate success of winning a Champions League with this less dynamic and rigid, role-defined team.
Another reason Guardiola may have wanted to experience this different model, besides his own ambition to further himself as a manager, may be because players that more easily fit that system are much easier to come across and play with.
Rather than convincing a professional player to change the way in which he plays, Pep tries to perfect the system that fits the majority of players better. He realises that he might not always have the highly-trained players that come with specific La Masia-styled ideologies at his disposal, so instead he has tried to integrate his own values into a system that is more consistent with players from many different academy teachings. One advantage of being so highly-regarded in the footballing community is that Guardiola probably has an easier time breaking those old habits that would negate the purpose of his intended style.
Since football is a game with only one organic stoppage within the course of its game, managers must ingrain a habit, a way of thinking, a mindset that comes like second nature to the players, rather than the rigid confines of set plays. This inclination and discipline towards the concepts that Guardiola has so often illustrated to have a specific effect on the opposition is what allows for the wondrous creation of his passing-oriented football in which we all so commonly associate with the Spaniard.
What he will bring to Manchester City is already known, it’s how he will go about implementing it that remains to be seen.