How much is Pep Guardiola actually to blame for Manchester City’s woes?
Harry Redknapp and Pep Guardiola may not have much in common, but Redknapp used to have a saying that the beleaguered Manchester City boss may relate to. In 2008, as Portsmouth geared up for the FA Cup final, Redknapp insisted their success had little to do with tactics. “It’s all about good players.” he said. “I could say I’ve drilled them for 12 hours a day on the training ground, but I’d be talking a load of bollocks.”
There is a simple truth to it, and one suspects Redknapp has not been shocked to see Guardiola find it tougher at City than at Barcelona and Bayern Munich. The players seem increasingly incapable of executing his complex plans. Improvement is on the agenda but the squad remains one of the oldest in the league, filled with veterans less likely to pick up new concepts than open-minded youngsters.
It’s all about good players. I could say I’ve drilled them for 12 hours a day on the training ground, but I’d be talking a load of b******s
The team’s potential would have been huge if Guardiola had a squad comparable to those at Barça and Bayern. But without quality even he may end up fifth after 21 games, 10 points off the top, contemplating a 4-0 defeat at Everton. Tactical errors have abounded but, beyond Guardiola, there has also been a failure in long-term planning that traces to the club directors.
Preparing to fail
Firstly, though, it is important to state that Guardiola deserves criticism. His adaptation to the Premier League has been slower than expected, particularly in terms of stopping counter-attacks and outplaying compact defences, and while he has simplified his tactics somewhat, he is yet to find a model that retains his fundamental principles – high pressing, possession, playing out from the back – while also negating the idiosyncratic challenges thrown at him by British teams.
City spent big last summer and Guardiola will have had a significant say in it. Being fifth and having given up the title in mid-January represents a huge underachievement
His critics will surely say his backline would work better in a more rigid structure in which John Stones is not forced to cover an entire half of his own. And no manager can complain about a lack of creativity when Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva are at your disposal.
City spent big last summer and Guardiola will have had a significant say in it. Being fifth and having given up the title in mid-January represents a huge underachievement.
Yet for all that, we live in the knowledge that Guardiola’s ideas have proved strikingly successful elsewhere. He has a track record that merits patience, credibility and faith. The same is not so true for certain others at the club.
Particularly the two Spanish directors, Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano, should have seen this coming. They have built towards this project since arriving at City in 2012, knowing that they might get Guardiola due to his relationship with Begiristain, a former team-mate of his at Johan Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’ in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s who was later influential in his appointment to the Barça first-team job in 2008.
They knew what players he might like; what it would take for him to make it work. And yet their groundwork has been anything but adequate.
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