There’s something slightly LeBron James about Pep Guardiola and the fascination around where he’ll end up next season. That being said, the euphoria isn’t coming from the manager himself, in the same way that NBA star LeBron played to the crowd.
With his glowing record of successes at Barcelona, there’s sure to be no shortage of takers when he does finally decide it’s time to enter the game again. But does he guarantee immediate success if he were to arrive in the Premier League?
There’s an assumption that Guardiola will spawn a dazzling group of world beaters and successive champions wherever he goes; that’s the pressure talking even more than the expectation. At Barcelona, there were no such pressures. No one really knew who he was (in managerial terms, of course) and it was simply his job to guide the team out of the slump from Frank Rijkaard’s remaining days at the club.
But the Dutchman didn’t fare too badly either, picking up consecutive league titles and a Champions League trophy, the majority of which was built on the foundations of the excellent Ronaldinho. That was still a time when Xavi wasn’t the Xavi we now know, Andres Iniesta was still making his way in the first team and Lionel Messi was on the fringes and seen as a remarkable prospect rather than the sensation he is today.
For Guardiola, everything was in place to take over the world and establish that group of players as the best team many have and will ever see. The team had all the components to play the high tempo game that Guardiola was pushing, married with an exquisite passing game and devastating finishing. Were many people wrong when they said a toddler could have guided that team to glory?
In England, wherever he goes, Guardiola will not have the same set up as what was in place at Barcelona. For one, no club can replicate the type of quality in abundance that his team had. The other problem is that Barcelona has a very specific and particular philosophy on how to play the game, one that was in place long before Guardiola took over. It was a case of needing the right mind and one who was familiar with the ideals at the club in order to take it forward again. Once more, Rijkaard didn’t do a bad job, but even with the same set up, he couldn’t do what Guardiola did.
English football has a zero tolerance on those who take a little more time to take off. Players are rubbished as weak physically and mentally for the state of the game in the Premier League, while some managers are headline-makers following less than a handful of games in charge. You’ve got to think that whoever is lucky enough to pick up Guardiola ahead of next season will have some level of sense to appreciate that he cannot form a Barcelona MKII overnight, if ever.
Let’s also not forget that the club’s successes under him were based on their youth academy, with only touches here and there added via the transfer market. But how good was Guardiola in the transfer market? Players like Dmytro Chygrynskiy, Keirrison, Martin Caceres, and Henrique came in and amounted to little if anything at the club. There’s a need to enhance and compliment those at Barcelona, but nothing came of a host of expensive signings.
But above all, there’s no proof that Guardiola will be a success anywhere other than at Barcelona. He hasn’t tried his hand in Italy or Germany, nor has he had to deal with a squad that didn’t feature Lionel Messi, Xavi and Iniesta. Jose Mourinho is the safe bet, you know exactly what you’re going to get with the Portuguese manager.
With Guardiola, any club will be handing out the champagne should they capture his signature, but all of that excitement derives from his successes with a team that no other club in the world can replicate. There isn’t another Lionel Messi floating around waiting to be picked up, a player who can force the changing of formations and tempo mid-game.
There’s far too much expectancy. Guardiola may prove everyone right and go on to create a dynasty that reshapes football in this country—let’s not forget the effects his Barcelona team have had on the Spanish national team. But for now, it’s a fool’s game to expect everything on the basis of nothing.