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Writing off Pep Guardiola is as misguided as believing in Santa Claus

Writing off Pep Guardiola is as misguided as believing in Santa Claus

Guardiola has been roundly criticised for Man City's disappointing first half of 2019/20.

IF a substantial points difference was proof enough that Manchester City’s title challenge was in grave health then last Friday’s loss to Wolves was the reading of its last will and testament. Understandably then the opinions that followed in its wake were somewhat piqued.

The club’s ill-judged recruitment in recent windows was criticised, with particular emphasis put on a perplexing decision not to replace Vincent Kompany in the summer. Individual performances at Molineux were highlighted along with individual mistakes. The manager meanwhile was chastised for an ultimately costly substitution of Kevin de Bruyne.

These though amounted to insignificant pawns in the blame-game with so much of the censure concentrating on a fictional character that some desperately want to exist. This at least is apt at Christmas. Welcome once again Pep Fraudiola. The Bald Fraud. A chequebook manager whose attributes will forever remain shrouded in doubt until he’s done it at League Two level.

He is a creation born from pure ignorance and given life by bitter bias but regardless he is back after being placed in cold storage halfway through 2016/17. And if it’s tempting to dismiss those who seek to diminish the greatest coach in the modern era then a trawl through Twitter after any City defeat this season leads to a startling conclusion: there are a good many out there who don’t just desperately want him to exist; they seriously believe that he does.

To counter this makes me a touch tremulous because it is such an open goal. You thought Ronnie Rosenthal against Villa all those years ago was a straightforward tap-in? This is on the goal-line with no defender in sight. To counter this is the equivalent of a music buff hearing the words: “The Beatles and the Rolling Stones were rubbish. Discuss.”

Nerves at missing an absolute sitter aside though let’s waste no more time because the subject deserves the absolute minimum of it. After arriving on our shores to find a nation defensively doubled down on delusion Pep Guardiola has bent English football to its knees and to his will. He has made it infinitely more beautiful and brave. He has shown us a way so intoxicating and successful that it soon became the way.

His ideology is there in every match you see, from Arsenal to Accrington Stanley. Teams now commonly play out from the back with a stoic refusal to speculate on long balls, instead accumulating possession. They pass, press and probe and they do this not through any aesthetic endeavour – that is simply a huge bonus for all of us – but because they have witnessed first-hand the substantial dividends that are paid out when it’s done well.

In 2017 Chelsea won the Premier League with an overall possession of 53%. A year earlier Leicester shocked one and all with the ball at their feet 40% of the time. We were entering the world of sucker-punch football. Yet in Pep’s second season, with his bewitching creation complete, City romped to 100 points boasting 68.1% possession across the campaign. Last term they reached 98 points having completed 2940 more passes than runners-up Liverpool.

That is a pretty compelling case that beauty can slay the beast. That’s a pretty persuasive argument that those who insisted the Premier League would be too robust for Pep’s pretentions were comprehensively wrong. Guardiola is a pioneer. He is a visionary, an artist and a genius. His Barcelona team seduced and astonished, transforming long-held norms and influencing every crevice of the sport.

He ‘changed the concept of German football’ during his time at Bayern according to midfielder Thiago. Now he has remodelled us too for the better. And he has done so forcefully. Manchester City have won five of the last six domestic competitions. They have scored 513 goals in Guardiola’s 204 games in charge, so many of them fluid, swishy, gorgeous inventions that warrant flowery prose.

Yesterday’s 2-0 victory over Sheffield United was the coach’s 100th Premier League win and he has reached this landmark miles ahead of the time it took Mourinho, Klopp, Ferguson or Wenger. We can whisper eulogies over his inverted full-backs, and creation of overloads, and his fearless, unshakable conviction in ball-playing keepers but it’s his domination that speaks the loudest.

Yet it only took a few months of toil courtesy of players so fatigued from achieving this domination for the sceptics to feel emboldened enough to grab back the microphone. How soon they forget. How could they forget? So daft is their reasoning that it is hard not to believe it’s largely a result of social media thinking, where reality is constantly refreshed and the only thing that matters is the here and now: where yesterday is the distant past and last season is ancient history.

And the same excuse can be applied perhaps to those now acclaiming Jurgen Klopp as the Premier League’s sole messiah. The German is an exceptional coach, a true great. Pep Guardiola is an exceptional coach, a true great. Beyond the binary world of online one doesn’t have to pale to the other and be the fall guy.

Even so, what cannot be disputed is that we are now in unchartered territory because previously the Catalan has only conquered then departed but here he must reconstruct what he himself has constructed. This scenario has led some to prematurely write off his chances; to double down again on their delusion and bitter bias but I wholeheartedly will keep the faith.

I’ll back the genius thanks. Every single time.






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Stephen Tudor
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