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Monday, 16 April 2018

A Ball Boy becomes the best Manager - Guardiola Wins

Pep Guardiola was full of promise as the skinny youngster I remember when I was manager of Barcelona in the mid-Eighties.

It is a promise he has fulfilled way beyond reasonable expectations, not only as a player of the highest order but as a manager acknowledged as the most successful of his era and probably everyone else’s.
We have just witnessed the most significant of his successes here in England, achieved with Catalan style — free-flowing, entertaining, winning football.

Pep Guardiola (left) was full of promise when I was manager of Barcelona in the mid-Eighties

He has demolished Manchester City’s rivals for the Premier League title with time to spare and in doing so has raised the bar with thrilling performances match after match. They didn’t just grind them out. It has been beautiful to watch.

Pep’s beliefs determine how his team play, the way I wanted my teams to play, so put me down as one of his admirers.

They pass fast. One-touch, two-touch, three-touch. They press. They play in the opposition half, confuse the defenders, exhaust them and take advantage of that. Tired defenders make mistakes.

They pummel the opposition and leave them like a boxer with both hands up to his head desperately trying to protect himself.

It is a promise he has fulfilled way beyond reasonable expectations as a player and manager

They attack relentlessly but they are also very strong defensively; an absolute must. Cracks have appeared. Being turfed out of the FA Cup at Wigan was a blip.

The two very disappointing nights against Liverpool in the Champions League and the defeat by Manchester United when they were expected to confirm the title at the Etihad were serious downers — but these will not have side-tracked Pep. He is not a man to be knocked from his stride.

However, you cannot concede as they did, or you risk damaging the hard work. They will all learn from this. Complacency is the enemy. When you think you can walk on water it is a serious misjudgment. I cannot imagine them making the same mistakes again.

If I can look back for a moment at my arrival at Barcelona all those years ago, it was to take over from Cesar Luis Menotti who had managed Argentina to World Cup victory in 1978.

Even with Diego Maradona he couldn’t win La Liga because his team forgot how to defend, or rather were never taught. That was the flaw I learned after spending hours poring over videos of Cesar Luis’s matches and that was the problem that had to be solved.

My remit was to do what Barcelona wanted of me as a young modern coach — find a way to win. How we did that was my choice. We worked on a pressing game to utilise the ability of my players, a set-up that has been developed since by Johan Cruyff and others.

He has demolished Manchester City’s rivals and as raised the bar with thrilling performances

To play as Pep’s teams have played this season also requires extra strength and stamina that can only be achieved by a demanding training regime of the type I used at Barcelona and had earlier introduced at Crystal Palace, QPR and later at Tottenham, involving British Olympians Ron Jones and then Fatima Whitbread. The players initially loathed the athletic approach. ‘We play with the ball’ they would moan as they vomited.

They eventually accepted that the torturous sprint sessions gave them the power to outlast all opposition. It was a plus when we won our first La Liga title in over a decade in my first year with Allan Harris, my late and greatly missed friend who was by my side throughout.

There has to be an affinity, love and devotion towards the manager’s teachings, an unflinching belief in what they are doing. There has to be total buy-in and for all managers it is hard love. The players must accept the discipline he imposes on them.

Pep has his detractors who will argue that any coach and manager would create an equally successful team with the same financial resources.

The hundreds of millions available to Pep, and he has spent plenty, is more help than hindrance. Money can buy success, but only rarely the Pep way with his bright mind and vision.

Anyway, City had thrown money at it before and didn’t play like this prior to Pep’s arrival.
Pep has made players like Kevin De Bruyne more valuable, he has made them better players

If four of his current talents are Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Raheem Sterling then he didn’t buy them. What he has done is make them more valuable, he has made them better players.