Guardiola And The Troubles

Pep Guardiola came to Bayern with a reputation of winning things, when he joined the Bavarians two years ago. The idea was that the club would dominate Europe just as much as Barcelona used to when Guardiola was at the helm. Five titles down and the world seems to have moved on from Pep and his football philosophy. Although his time at Bayern thus far cannot be classed as a failure, they expect more at FC Hollywood. After all, this is a triple-winning club, or so they think.

People like to compare and they also like the idea of rivalries, which is why Ronaldo and Messi have become one of most symbolic rivalries in football. Similar to that, coaches are subject to comparisons of the same nature. Is Guardiola better than Mourinho or Ancelotti? People compare. They compare trophy cabinets, personalities and playing styles.

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The reality is that the Spaniard introduced a style of play that is his version of total football, when he took over at Barcelona in 2008. The idea was to retain possession of the ball, whilst passing it around until an opportunity to change the pace became apparent. The Barcelona squad at the time was packed with passing talent and it came as no surprise that the philosophy worked more than well. Back then, a Mourinho comparison was not even necessary – the Portuguese was far inferior and that may still be the case. However, it seems as though, football has moved on.

When Barcelona dumped Bayern out of the Champions League recently, they did it in style. Luis Enrique prepared his team to perfection and within the first few minutes of the game, his players stamped their authority on the match. Incredibly high pressure, direct passing and a quick route to goal ultimately broke Bayern’s neck. With no focus on ball retention, this was a Barcelona performance completely different from those seen during Pep’s reign. The main focus was scoring, not passing it around. Essentially, this was a comparison Guardiola could not win.

Nevertheless, to say that Guardiola’s philosophy is failing would almost be offensive, given how convincingly Bayern have won titles under his guidance. However, to say that Guardiola is the best coach out there no longer applies either. Today, Luis Enrique is the world’s best coach; tomorrow, it might be Pep yet again, but to get there, the former Barcelona captain has to evolve and, as of yet, he has not. Bayern ultimately play the same football that Barca used to and Guardiola will only be great again if he adds new layers to his great philosophy. One might argue that the sheer fact that there is a Guardiola-style football out there complicates the situation. In other words, opponents know what to expect and have learned to adapt to Pep over the years. It really is Guardiola who they have to adapt to rather than the opposing team. This has to change.

Otherwise, Pep will not hold the Champions League trophy ever again, a fate he probably shares with Mourinho. After all, Fergie only ever won two Champions League titles, complementing his unbelievable record of 13 domestic championships. In other words, Guardiola and Mourinho may have peaked in Europe. Once their teams become unpredictable again and once pundits stop saying the likes of “that is a typical Chelsea performance”, can they reach Europe’s pinnacle again. For these two, the timer will be reset when European football resumes this autumn. Until then, let us enjoy the beauty of Barcelona.