Pep Guardiola is one of the game’s most successful and innovative managers to ever grace the field.
But on Sunday, April 30, his Manchester City side traveled all the way to struggling Middlesbrough in what seemed to be stride through Riverside Stadium in the team’s’ Premier League fixture.
Instead, Guardiola’s team put up a 2-2 result against a squad fending off the depths of relegation.
This has been Guardiola’s frustration since the start of the 2016/2017 Premier League season, but with all the talent and his tactical prowess, who’s really to blame for the struggle?
From winning at least one piece of silverware every season in charge, this might be Guardiola’s first trophy-less season of his career. From starting the season strong and perfect to stumbling and struggling to fight for the final Champions League spot available, Guardiola has faced these challenges for the first time this season.
This begs the question: has Guardiola’s managerial resume, highly regarded, taken a hit since his move to England?
Let’s delve into two aspects of his young career so far – his teams and its competition – and see if his resume takes a hit at the close of the season.
This might be the most extensive analysis for Guardiola, so let’s start from the humble beginnings.
He was daring at Barcelona, and not many remember that this was the same man that thought two-time world player of the year Ronaldinho wasn’t a proper fit for his soon-to-be treble winning side. He changed the system, added Dani Alves and Seydou Keita to the squad and led them to an unprecedented six trophies in a calendar year in his first year on the job.
Guardiola revolutionized Barcelona with his philosophy and his tactical prowess sparked copycats throughout the globe and was the focal point of Spain’s tiki-taka play in the 2010 World Cup winning run.
That’s where we park the bus.
Guardiola was gifted a side that’s played on the same team and in the same academy for a life time, not to mention he was gifted arguably one of the best player’s the game has ever seen in Lionel Messi.
Though there were questionable team selections and transfers from time to time, most notably his purchase of Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Inter Milan for Samuel Eto’o and cash, he was able to lead the team to another Champions League title and ended his tenure with three-consecutive La Liga titles.
Essentially, he was able to walk the walk and let the haters hate.
So at Bayern Munich, he brought his mindset to Germany and inherited a team fresh off winning the treble and securing a transfer for Mario Gotze.
Again, Guardiola was criticized for his team selections, this time with experiments like transitioning Phillip Lahm to the midfield. But he was able to win three consecutive Bundesliga titles bringing in talent like Xabi Alonso and Robert Lewandowski.
Despite winning the league-and-cup double on two occasions, a European crown proved to be elusive. Guardiola came up short all three years, crashing out of the semifinals on all three occasions. That’s great for any manager, sure, but he inherited a treble-winning side, had the blueprints for success and only bolstered it in the offseason on his return from sabbatical.
His Bayern side won the Bundesliga in record time in his first season in charge, but does that cover up the three, successive European semi-final exits?
Finally, we make it to Manchester City.
The team drops loads of cash year-in and year-out for the best talent in the world, and this year was no different. Should we give Guardiola the benefit of the doubt because it’s his first season in England, though his predecessor was successful in that same time-span?
Granted that latter two on the list are serving long-term injuries, his team is still stacked on talent with two-time Premier League champions David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany – veterans who have played on the same side for years.
He’s criticized for his team selections, nothing new – loaning out an out-of-favor Joe Hart to Italy and bringing in Claudio Bravo and rotating squad player after squad player.
Sure, the team has to adapt to his playing philosophy, but Bayern was able to muster up some kind of winning mentality to earn a league-and-cup double in Guardiola’s first season. And are we going to forget that Guardiola’s predecessor, Manuel Pelligrini, won the title in just his first season in charge?
Guardiola’s had a lot to handle with Chelsea’s resurgence, Liverpool’s newfound identity, and Tottenham’s rise to power, not to mention the weaker, yet traditional powerhouses in Arsenal and Manchester United.
But, let’s be real, it’s not like facing Real Madrid or Borussia Dortmund every season to ultimately decide who’s crowned champion of that respective league. Case in point, the Premier League isn’t as much of a walk in the park as in the previous two leagues he managed.
Sure, Spain and Germany’s talent have kept up toe-to-toe against its English counterparts in European competition, but a Barcelona-Sevilla or Bayern-Schalke matchup almost always favored a Guardiola win, no matter how gritty it would end up. Even Guardiola boasted a spotless, 6-0 record at the Santiago Bernabeu until a first-leg loss to Madrid in 2014 when he led Bayern Munich.
This season, Guardiola’s side conceded the most goals in his career (34) and lost by the biggest margin in his tenure, 4-0 against Everton. It’s been tough.
Comparing Guardiola to his previous City managerial counterparts makes an even bigger dent to his resume.
Of the previous two Manchester City managers to have similar experience to Guardiola, only Manuel Pellegrini can say he has the Spanish La Liga experience to match Guardiola, who he’s faced as manager of Villareal, Real Madrid and Malaga.
Ultimately, Guardiola has the capability to succeed anywhere he goes and his track record helps him out for the most part. But the scary part is that, even though Guardiola has never been fired from his post, this time he might not be so lucky.
Will the Manchester City board be so gracious this time around knowing who they’re dealing with, or will they continue on their precedent with former, unsuccessfully successful managers? How would you evaluate what’s going on in England?