Is Pep Guardiola really that good?
This is something that’s been in OTP’s thoughts for a couple of seasons. But it’s never really seemed appropriate to bring it up (what with Pep winning all trophies before him and everything).
Given that he’s announced that he’s quitting as Barcelona boss at the end of the season, it suddenly seems more appropriate.
So, is Guardiola really that good?
He’s not bad, that’s for sure. Plenty of managers have shown over the years that just having a good group of players at your disposal doesn’t necessarily build a good team. At the same time, having a great group of players at your disposal does make life a helluva lot easier.
Then you have to factor in that one of the group is arguably the greatest player ever to grace a football pitch. Granted, he’s not an out-and-out striker, but he will chip-in with 60 goals a season for you.
And he’s not some mercenary you’ve shipped in to score those goals for you. He’s been at the club since he was a kid, just like the rest of the core of the team.
That’s another key in Barca’s success under Pep. Most of the team have grown up together, playing exactly the same tactics and with exactly the same footballing philosophy. In terms of getting your team to gel, it’s safe to say that most of the work has been done.
This is the first season of Guardiola’s tenure that Barca have come under serious pressure on the domestic front, and that has told in their European campaign too.
If you try to pinpoint why they’ve not enjoyed the same success this season as in recent years, you’d probably have to point to weaknesses in their defence and the lack of a decent plan B.
The structure of Barca is such that Guardiola isn’t the main man when it comes to transfers. But he works with the team every day and you would think that his achievements at the club have earned him a bit of wriggle-room to be able to tell his board: “We need to strengthen at the back.”
Pique’s loss of form/concentration, Puyol ageing another year and Abidal’s illness have meant they’ve fielded a defence not befitting the best team in Europe too often this season. It goes without saying that their midfield and attack are usually able to mask this weakness.
But that brings us to the lack of a plan B. When the aforementioned midfield and attack are not firing on all cylinders, it gives Barcelona problems. Pep’s side face a charge that’s been levelled against Arsenal regularly over the years. If they’re slightly out-of-sorts and/or come up against a team prepared to put in a committed rearguard performance – like Chelsea – they often don’t have the ability to mix things up or grind out a result.
And that leads on to our final point. Now that the going has got tough, it sounds like Pep is about to get going. Some might see that as bottling. Jose Mourinho seems to be building a great Real Madrid team that looks like it can continue to grow and, perhaps more importantly, knows there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
Barcelona, on the other hand, are faced with losing their driving force (Puyol) and their heartbeat (Xavi). A bit of rebuilding is going to be needed in key areas over the next season or two and it doesn’t look like Pep fancies overseeing that.
OTP has always had a niggling feeling that if Guardiola left his Camp Nou comfort zone to take up one of the various jobs he’s been linked with in recent seasons, he might come unstuck.
Don’t get us wrong, you can’t argue with his record at present. So this is mainly based on a hunch.
But we’ve still got that lingering suspicion that Guardiola might not realise how good he’s had it at Barcelona until he tries to replicate that success elsewhere.