Football’s worst kept secret has finally been put to bed – Josep Guardiola has agreed to take over Manchester City ahead of the 2016/17 Premier League campaign on a three-year contract.
With a squad already full of talented internationals, facilities to rival the best clubs in the world and seemingly unlimited transfer resources at his new club, the Catalan is odds on favourite to win the league next year and the Champions League at least once during his tenure.
With a reported salary of upwards of €20 million a year at the Etihad, Manchester City have made a huge statement in getting their man, not to mention the huge outlay in terms of finance. However, it remains to be seen whether Guardiola will be worth the considerable outlay the club will spend and there are already rumblings in football circles that the City project will be his biggest challenge of his career to date.
While it is unfair to criticise Guardiola who is without doubt one of the best managers in the history of the game, some are saying that he has taken the easy option in accepting the offer to join the Blue half of Manchester. The squad is not without its faults but as with Barcelona and Bayern Munich it can be argued that the building blocks are already in place to be an instant success in English football.
When Guardiola stepped up to first team duties at Barcelona when he replaced the outgoing Frank Rijkaard in the 2008/09 season, he inherited an already great team albeit with disciplinary issues stemming from Brazilian genius Ronaldinho. The former midfield hero was brought in to turn the tide of several disappointing seasons and one of the first things he did was to get rid of the deadwood – some controversial choices were included when he offloaded the likes of Ronaldinho, Deco, and Gianluca Zambrotta to name just a few.
The next move was to implement his revolutionary tiki-taka passing style – with a squad containing the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andrés Iniesta, his type of possession based football was never too far away from happening – the hard part was perfecting it.
Some additions to the squad were also a necessity – the promotions from the B squad of Sergio Busquets and Pedro were master-strokes as were the signings of Daniel Alves and Gerard Piqué from Sevilla and Manchester United respectively.
Once the players got used to Guardiola’s way of playing, the team seemed unstoppable and the trophies kept coming – in his four years at the Camp Nou, Guardiola led Blaugrana to 14 titles – a phenomenal record for any manager.
Although he had inherited a great team, Guardiola developed it into arguably the best in the history of the game, playing magical, near perfect football that will be remembered for many years to come.
After taking a sabbatical in New York and heading to southern Germany with Bayern Munich, Guardiola also inherited a supremely talented and successful squad not to mention by far the most wealthy club in the country.
The team had just come off the back of a treble winning season – outgoing manager Jupp Heynckes had led the club to the Champions League, Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal titles. By the time the Spaniard arrived in Bavaria, Bayern had already secured the signing of Mario Götze from biggest domestic rivals Borussia Dortmund and was a club was full of players that were highly decorated at international level.
Seven players of his new first-team squad had represented Germany at the FIFA 2014 World Cup which was won by the Germans with a strike from new signing Mario Götze. As well as the World Cup winners, Guardiola’s new squad also boasted other international such as David Alaba, Holger Badstuber (though injured), Franck Ribéry, Mario Mandžukić and Arjen Robben to name just a few.
Needless to say, Guardiola secured a domestic double in his first season in charge – Bayern Munich’s eight Bundesliga triumph since the turn of the millennia. The club were almost unrivalled throughout the season after reaching top spot as early as Round 8 of their league campaign.
The title win showed the true strength of the club as they dominated domestic German football while still implementing the new coach’s high-pressing, possession based tactics.
Perhaps Guardiola and Munich’s biggest show of power was yet to come. That came at the start of the coach’s second season in charge with the signing of Dortmund’s star player and league top-scorer Robert Lewandowski on a free transfer. The signing severely hampered Dortmund’s season and they could only watch from a seventh place finish as Bayern walked the Bundesliga with ease, ten points ahead of second-placed Wolfsburg.
When the Spaniard says goodbye to the Allianz Arena this summer, he will face a somewhat new project with Manchester City. Manuel Pellegrini has done an excellent job at the club after taking over a fragmented team from Roberto Mancini but it is now an ageing one in the ultra-competitive Premier League. Without Captain Vincent Kompany and talisman Sergio Agüero in the starting line-up, City have often struggled this season.
Although he could well inherit a title winning squad once more, one of Guardiola’s first tasks will be a squad overhaul – something the Catalan is not afraid of doing, especially with the bottomless oil-rich coffers that the club appear to have.
The team will need a world class signing in each position on the field to challenge for the Champions League. There are question marks over the consistency and close ball control of Joe Hart, an ageing defence that needs replacing, a midfield that needs a true leader (after the probable departure of Yaya Touré) and a strike-force that is heavily reliant on Argentine Agüero.
It’s highly unlikely that there will be a shortage of players lining up to play for Guardiola at City – the names of Neymar, Busquets, Luis Suárez and Paul Pogba have already been mooted about joining the Citizens after the conclusion of the current campaign.
Pundits and media alike are also wondering if Guardiola’s tactics will be successful in the traditionally fast-paced, free-flowing English game. Manchester United under Louis van Gaal are trying a similar approach in dominating possession, but as yet, the Red Devils haven’t been able to find the winning formula.
With the Premier League looking stronger than ever with Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur’s surprise title challenges, Manchester United and Chelsea slowly regaining confidence, Arsenal always being challengers and Liverpool hoping to improve after Jürgen Klopp’s first season in England, Guardiola will certainly face the biggest challenge of his career.
The huge influx of television money that Premier League clubs will receive in the forthcoming season will also start to even the playing field for the smaller clubs in the league which have traditionally struggled to keep up with ‘the big four’.
Whatever happens, it is certainly going to be an interesting and highly competitive Premier League season.
Only time can tell if Guardiola’s decision to join Manchester City was the correct one.