AFP/Manchester, United Kingdom
Less than 12 months ago Pep Guardiola feared he could be facing the sack at Manchester City after his first trophyless season in an almost impeccable coaching career. Now he has added to three league titles in both Spain and Germany by conquering England in a style that has provoked comparisons with the greatest sides ever seen in the Premier League. Used to the highest of demands from his spells at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Guardiola believed other clubs may have been more ruthless after City finished 15 points behind Chelsea in third in the Premier League last season.
But City were never likely to cut Guardiola adrift so quickly having waited so long to land him in the first place.
That patience has been rewarded in spectacular fashion as City wrapped up the title with five games to spare to match Manchester United’s record for the earliest Premier League title win in 2000/2001. While Guardiola has admitted to doubts over his future last season, he never wavered in the way he wanted his side to play.
“Last season many times when I was asked — it works to play my way and I said ‘I am going to insist’, I never had a doubt about that,” Guardiola said recently. Mocked at times in the British media for stating he does not train players how to tackle, questions were raised whether Guardiola’s style, learned at the knee of the legendary Johan Cruyff at Barcelona, was compatible with the more physical approach of the Premier League.
“For those of us brought up on those ideas, who have internalised them so deeply, it’s like a religion,” former Barcelona great Xavi Hernandez said of his old coach. “Pep is a purist.”
Guardiola has proven his point, but he had to show a ruthless streak of his own along the way. Claudio Bravo’s series of costly errors in goal saw him replaced by the excellent Ederson to give City a far more stable platform from which to build.
Critics point to the enormous sums City have splashed on players before and during Guardiola’s reign, with nearly £500mn ($700mn) spent on transfer fees in the past two seasons alone. But the secret to Guardiola’s success is also taking the raw talent at his disposal and harnessing it into something even more special.
“A manager like that brings the best out of you, he makes sure to tell you when you’re in the wrong,” said Raheem Sterling, who has finally delivered on his abundant potential, scoring 21 goals this season.
While moulding the prodigious talents of Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane, Guardiola has also kept City’s old guard from two previous Premier League title triumphs. Forced to battle for his place in the team with Jesus, City’s all-time top scorer Sergio Aguero described the Catalan as the best coach he has ever had after netting in the League Cup final in February to deliver Guardiola’s first trophy at City.
Guardiola’s magic comes from a mix of relentless work on the training ground and intensive study of his opponents. In the book “Pep Confidential” chronicling Guardiola’s first season at Bayern, Catalan author Marti Perarnau describes Guardiola’s process of burying himself in his study for hours until he finds his “eureka” moment of how to defeat the opposition.
“He is obsessive, he would keep going until he got it right,” added Xavi. “He demands so much from himself. And that pressure that he puts on himself, those demands are contagious — it spreads to everyone. He wants everything to be perfect.” Having beaten all before him at Barca and Bayern, Guardiola now has his masterpiece in Manchester too.
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