Pep Guardiola has proved himself to be an exceptional coach. His success in all available competitions has players and managers everywhere apart from Madrid cooing in delight as they watch his ever-evolving team. Whilst initially his success was put down to the outstanding players he has at his disposal after seeing such consistent success in the face of the equally impressive Real Madrid squad it would be bigoted and ignorant to deny that he is indeed an extremely tactically astute manager. With that in mind to what extent will his emphatic opinions and tactics be copied around the world? The most interesting comments that he has declared in recent months are those about the future of football, about teams without strikers, about teams made up almost entirely of midfielders. Guardiola has, since 2008, reshaped the Barcelona team in to one more dominated by midfielders than ever. He told FIFA.com in an interview:
“The midfield is a crucial part of any team. Midfielders are intelligent players who have to think about the team as a whole. They’re selfless players who understand the game better than anyone and the more midfielders you have, the easier it is to slot them into other positions. That’s how they become versatile and helps us to have smaller squads that are still able to offer more options.”
Before Cesc Fabregas moved to Barcelona many wondered how he would even get in to the team yet Guardiola has not only found a place for him alongside Iniesta and Xavi, he has made Fabregas into Barcelona’s second highest goal scorer for the season. The versatility he inspires in his players is nothing new. He began by using Yaya Toure in defence as well as midfield and now he does the same with Javier Mascherano and Sergio Busquets. On top of that David Villa has been converted in to more of a midfielder than a striker and Dani Alves’ role in the team is far more like a winger than any defender in world football. At times this season Barcelona have been playing with two defenders, a goalkeeper and eight midfielders. It works pretty well too.
What he is trying to instigate here in football not only appears to make sense from a footballing point of view, but also a financial one as less players are needed to have a more complete squad. Barcelona’s success over the last few years has been achieved with a very small squad yet the success they have achieved is remarkable considering how many competitions they have been in. It makes a mockery of English teams’ that claim they don’t have the squad size to pursue multiple competitions. Guardiola is talking about squad rotation, but squad rotation in a positional as well as personal sense.
People might say that this is only the future for Barcelona, that only they have the players capable of performing well in positions other than their natural ones, but that isn’t necessarily true. It is always the best teams and managers in football history that inspire tactical evolution. Not all teams will evolve in this way but players could. In fact it is already happening, particularly with defenders. These days it isn’t enough at the top level to simply be an excellent defender, there has to be more to a defender’s game, they have to be technically better. Defenders like Thomas Vermaelen, Thiago Silva, Gerard Pique and others are demonstrations of the value of having a player who is more versatile. Similarly whereas in the past having full backs capable of going forward as well as being able to defend was a luxury, now it is almost a necessity. Strikers too have to have a more accomplished game. The value of a striker that can help out in midfield as well as attack is a priceless option; you only need look at Wayne Rooney for evidence of this.
Perhaps what Guardiola is talking about is less a ‘team of midfielders’ and more a team of players whose roles are interchangeable, with players who are capable of performing multiple positions. As I said before it not only makes sense on the pitch but also off it financially. With that being the case it seems only a matter of time before more managers and more players try to replicate this idea.
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