Is Pep Guardiola the greatest football manager of all time? Or is he just lucky to have been in charge of some of the best teams of his generation? There’s no quantitative method to settle these debates. But, you can argue both ways.
Guardiola’s achievements over the last decade have been nothing short of phenomenal. His Barcelona team of 2008–12 is, to many, the greatest club team in history.
His next venture with Bayern Munich was also highly successful, trophy-wise and stats-wise, though he couldn’t quite do it on the European stage.
And then there was last season, where he and Manchester City scripted the greatest Premier League season in history.
In all, the Catalan has won seven league titles in 10 years across the three toughest leagues on the continent. (Note that Guardiola took a one-year sabbatical in 2012–13). These are just numbers on the surface. If you delve deeper into stats such as goals, possession and win percentage, then you’d be forgiven for thinking he’s Merlin in designer clothes.
So, that settles that, right? Well, not so fast. For the sake of fairness, let’s look at it from his detractors’ perspective.
At Barcelona, Pep had in Messi, Iniesta and Xavi, a constellation of all-time great footballers close to or in their peak years. Yet, the squad was such that even without the triumvirate, Barcelona would’ve been good enough to challenge for honours.
At Bayern, he inherited a team that had just achieved the domestic double and won the Champions League where they put to sword a Barcelona side that was under his guidance a year earlier.
In a way, his triumph with Man City is his greatest in terms of difficulty, considering they had finished 15 points behind champions Chelsea the previous season. However, Guardiola did bolster the squad prior to the successful campaign with talents such as Jesus, Walker, Laporte, Ederson, Bernardo Silva, Mendy and Gundogan.
So, how do you rate a manager who’s had unprecedented success but who’s also been blessed with once-in-a-lifetime personnel and owners willing to splurge? In combat sports, they say you achieve true greatness when you pull through adversity. Think Sir Alex Ferguson and his band of mostly young charges hauling back a 12-point deficit and winning the league in 1996.
It’s interesting to note that Guardiola’s teams have never won a league when they’ve been anything other than top at the turn of the year. This season, the opportunity to correct that is manifest. Manchester City are four points behind Liverpool, a team high on confidence and ability and under the stewardship of an individual with a rare winning record against the Catalan.
The script is there. It’s for him to deliver. Over to you, Senor Josep Guardiola.