“We are sons of the Dream Team, trying to emulate them,” — a quote used from Pep Guardiola in 2009 to describe the Barcelona team he took over from Frank Rijkaard a year before. The quote was directed towards the ‘dream team’ Johan Cruyff had created in his stint of the club. Guardiola was primarily used as a defensive midfielder; beginning his career for Barcelona ‘B,’ he clocked 59 appearances for the team until Cryuff added the final piece to his brilliant jigsaw and stepped back and viewed what he had created, the dream team.
Guardiola appeared for Barcelona 366 times in the eleven years he had played for the famous club, collecting 6 la Liga trophies, 2 Copa Del Reys and one European cup, giving Barcelona’s first of four victories in the famous competition. Never contributing much to the attacking side of Barcelona, he became a pivot for the midfield and proved his worth for the club becoming the captain of Cruyffs team. He then left Barcelona in 2001 and retired in 2006 while playing for Mexican side Dorados.
The retirement didn’t last long however, as in 2007 he was appointed Barcelona ‘B’ manager and guided them to promotion from Tercera División, the fourth level of Spanish football to Segunda División B in his first season in charge. The following season, he was then promoted to Barcelona FC, a decision which at first wasn’t looked upon greatly. Barcelona at the time were viewed as a team that needed to be reconstructed, a team that had too many celebrities and not enough footballers. The Catalan newspaper El Mundo Deportivo reported that Jose Mourinho was to become the next Barcelona manager quoting that the now Chelsea manager “explained the main lines of his football project. He even handed Barcelona vice president Marc Ingla and sports director Txiki Begiristain a DVD that contained a more complete analysis and his view on the team and the players.”
But that wasn’t to be, and Guardiola was chosen as the successor to Rijkaard and given the task of turning Barcelona from headlining the gossip pages to headlining the sports pages. Guardiola had imposed new rules on the team such as creating a dining room for the players so they could all eat together, and whenever they were training, the public and press could not follow, making the training sessions private to only the players. Fines were introduced to the club; being late to training resulted in a €6,000 fine and missing a team breakfast would result in a €500 punishment. Guardiola wanted a togetherness of the players but also a professional attitude.
His first season in charge saw the team win the treble and subsequently become the first ever Spanish side to do so. He then followed that with a record of 14 trophies in four seasons and has made him the most successful coach in Barcelona’s history.
After the 2011/12 season, Guardiola needed a deserved break from football, having put the amount of effort he did in Barcelona he left, leaving Vito Vilanova in charge of the team he had changed into world’s most talked about to the world’s greatest.
After a season out, he decided to take over the treble winning side of Bayern Munich, replacing Jupp Heynckes as manager.
On March 25, 2014, Bayern Munich beat Hertha Berlin 3-1 and wins the Bundesliga in the quickest recorded time with an incredible seven games to spare. In the five seasons he has been a manager, Guardiola has picked up an incredible 17 trophies but why is he still being doubted by the press and public?
The issue many people have about the former Barcelona player is that he only takes over teams that are already great. One article published “He stated in a press conference he was excited to coach in a different country, a new league, and to build a new squad to win trophies. Oh, oh wait – this team has already won every trophy they can.”
When he left Barcelona, people believed he left because it needed rebuilding and that he was uninterested in starting again, if failing to do so his managerial credentials would be in doubt, so he left until a new challenge came along, the challenge was to take over former treble winning side, Bayern Munich and turn them from incredible to… Exactly, there is no way to improve a team that has already won everything, the only thing you can do is take over the ship and keep it steady, in which he has done so.
But has Guardiola improved Bayern Munich? So far this season he has managed 43 games winning 37 times, drawing 4 times and has lost just twice, giving him a win percentage of 86%. In Jupp Heynckes final season in charge of Munich he managed 54 games winning 46, drawing 5 and lost just 3 times, giving him a win percentage of 85%. A progress has been made, but only slight.
Former players under Guardiola have come out against him and questioned his managerial style. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a former player under Guardiola, questioned why he chose to join Bayern Munich:
“Why did he opt for Munich? Because the team functions without him. It’s a complete team. He bought new players, but he does not need them. It was a smart move by Guardiola, because nothing can go wrong in Munich. He will have success.”
Ibrahimovic has also claimed the Munich manager is a ‘coward’ and pushed him out to the wing because Messi wanted to be striker. ‘He wanted to play in the middle (Messi), not on the wing, so the system changed from 4-3-3 to 4-5-1. I was sacrificed and no longer had the freedom on the pitch I need to succeed.’ You could argue that making Messi into the main striker was the best decision of his career but you need to keep the team together and changing the team to support one player doesn’t help.
Chelsea striker Samuel Eto’o has also come out and questioned how Guardiola man managed the player:
“Guardiola has never had the courage to say things in front of me. He passed by the players. Xavi told me they wanted me to stay but I had to talk to Pep. I say ‘never, if you do not respect me, I do not respect you’.”
Although Guardiola did handle both situations poorly based on what the players have said, there is a pattern showing. Guardiola shut out the problem players of the team, having sold Deco and Ronaldinho the season he was put in charge, players like Eto’o and Ibrahimovic are still problems within clubs, they are both very outspoken and that always causes controversy.
Guardiola had banned press to attend any training sessions Barcelona had, making the team not feel like celebrities but just what they are, footballers. Celebrity footballers like Ibrahimovic could never handle that situation properly; they are self-confident players and like to speak to the press. Guardiola obviously knew this from the beginning and began to faze them out of the club which has led to such backlash. An interesting point to note, no Barcelona player currently playing for the club has come out against the manager, coincidence?
A complaint the press have about Guardiola is that he only takes over a team which are already great, that simple isn’t true. Barcelona under Rijkaard was a shambles when he took over, they had not won the league in two seasons and the team needed to be rebuilt, Guardiola took over the team and they won the treble for the first time in their history in his first season, that doesn’t happen by chance, only a truly great manager could possibly do that.
Why should Guardiola take over a ‘smaller’ side to prove his worth? When you’re managing at the top stages every year to then suddenly drop to prove how great you truly are is a pointless exercise. The press don’t question Lionel Messi’s ability as a footballer even though he has only played for Barcelona, one of the biggest clubs in the world. If you have made it at the top, you want to stay at the top.