Hold your fire, let the man speak.
When Josep ‘Pep’ Guardiola left Barcelona many years ago, it was footballing history. Never had we seen a coach on this level. Not only did he build arguably the greatest team in the history of the sport, he also reinvented the beautiful game.
Football was no longer trying to put the ball in the back of the net. It was now also about how the team puts the ball in the back of the net.
Pep is one of the all-time greatest managers in world football. He has managed three teams – FC Barcelona, FC Bayern Munich, and Manchester City. He has achieved stellar success with each team and in each league. Indeed, his trophy cabinet can put entire clubs to shame.
A disciple of Cruyffist teachings, Pep took those valuable Johan-influenced lessons and elevated them to the next level. He built on that philosophy and created a brand of football that came with a sense of purpose.
While everyone raved over Jose Mourinho’s ruthless pursuit of perfection, Pep sent at least half of those pairs of eyeballs towards his garnet red and blue team.
Barcelona saw Pep win a sextuple, which in layperson terms is scooping every trophy there is to win, including the UEFA Champions League two times in three years.
His tenure at Bayern Munich and his current stint with Manchester City speak for themselves, with countless trophies and domestic honours. You will notice that ‘European success’ was missing from that last line, and that’s where things start to go under the microscope.
At the time of writing, it has been around a decade since Pep last lifted ol’ Big Ears. Even with City’s seemingly unlimited riches, the best he got to was a final, which he lost to Chelsea.
The tenure at Bayern and his current tenure at City have the same glaring gap – European success. For a coach with his resume, you expect nothing but the best, and the best thing in football is being European champions.
And that is where we approach the million-dollar question.
Is Pep Guardiola starting to approach overrated territory?
Again, hold your fire, let the man speak.
One of the main problems fans of Bayern and City have had with Pep is his uncanny and annoying tendency to overthink the big games. There have been a fair few of those at Bayern, but for the sake of remembrance and memory, we will talk about his (heartbreaking/unlucky/disastrous) City failures.
To awaken horrors in the minds of City fans, all you have to do is utter a few words, in Black Adam style. In exactly the order – Monaco, Liverpool, Spurs, Lyon and Chelsea. Words that awaken tactical horror shows and disasters, and at the centre of it was Pep, in various capacities. The man may be a genius, but his alter-ego ‘Fraudiola’ is genuinely a thing.
Take the game against Lyon. All City had to do was beat a team that was far from the running for Ligue 1, forget the UCL. Yes, they had shocked Juventus, but would lightning strike twice?
Apparently, it really did, because Pep played an untested 3ATB formation against Lyon.
In which universe is it alright to be the overwhelming favourite in a match and set your team up to counter the underdog?
That wasn’t even the problem. The problem was messing with a winning formula that was working wonders for them. People will blame Raheem Sterling for THAT miss, and of course the clingy ex in VAR. City got VARd the previous year as well, but take nothing away from the strange setup and how they played.
Lyon beat the mighty City 3-1, and with all due respect to the French team, that’s not an indication of how good they were. That was an indication of the consequences of a pre-UCL brainfart.
Oh, but Pep did one better the next season. That season saw City do no wrong anywhere. A historic quadruple was on the cards, and by the end of it, they only completed 50% of the work.
The main loss was the UCL, which was somehow a more bitter pill to digest for fans. How do you breeze past Borussia Dortmund, embarrass Paris Saint-Germain over two legs, get to your first ever UCL final, and then play without a proper defensive midfielder?
That is one of football’s most recent big mysteries, and a big red flag against the bald genius. He finally, finally went a year without his overthinking, and he chose the most important game in the club’s history to do it.
Not starting Fernandinho or Rodri was like inviting Chelsea over to come over to your house and set fire to it. If you haven’t figured it out by now, City lost the final, and suddenly the Internet took a giant step towards answering in the affirmative for our million-dollar question.
The argument that Pep can’t win the UCL without Lionel Messi is an overused trope. The other overused trope is the fact that he can’t do it even with the bottomless treasury of Manchester City.
What’s not overused, however, is talking about his positives, and what he is beyond his ten years of UCL exits since 2011. Under that analysis, the black and white of ‘rated fine’ and ‘overrated’ start to turn grey.
Take it this way – if someone says Pep is finished, slam the door shut on them. If someone says Pep got carried by Messi, do the same, but give an ear to what they are rambling outside. If someone says Pep is a tier below the true greats of the managerial world, listen to them with a dropping level of patience.
And if someone says Pep is a great manager who is not easy to analyse, nod your head and listen, because that is exactly what this is.
There is no doubt that Pep is a genius, and a truly great manager. Not only are his teams efficient and well-drilled, they play with a real sense of position.
They make you fall in love with football, and if you don’t at the very least appreciate his style of play, you are watching the wrong sport. Like steps in life, each pass has (for the most part) purpose. He also improves players and unlocks abilities they never think they have.
He backs it up with some ridiculous wins and an ever more ridiculous success rate and trophy collection. Where that greyscales is the kind of success it is.
Clash of expectations
Bayern Munich and Manchester City, given their standing in their respective leagues, are expected to fight for all domestic honours. When it is someone like Pep, he is hired by those teams to take them to and keep them at the top of the footballing mountain.
He hasn’t quite done that, yes, and we have heard that Mourinho is better because he won with Porto and Inter Milan. Then again, Sir Alex won a paltry two times, and he was schooled by Pep in UCL finals twice in three years.
Pep’s UCL adventures are one thing, but calling him overrated based on that would mean one of two things.
One, it would mean that somehow that is the only honour that matters, which is incorrect.
Two, you rate him that highly in the first place, perhaps more so than any of his contemporaries.
Either of those will be the undoing in this argument.
Yes, Pep should be doing better given the riches at his disposal. He also should have won it without Messi and the rest of the La Masia golden generation. However, there is a reason he is where he is and we are where we are.
We could be sitting here discussing his pros and cons, and the man must be thinking of how best to outplay his next opponent.
That is just who he is, and if nothing else, the fact that he elevated the game beyond goals, results and trophies means he has done enough to warrant his very high standing in the game.
Pep Guardiola isn’t overrated.
There, now you can lower your weapons.