Pep Guardiola is not your typical cup of tea, neither on the pitch nor off it. A unique personality in world football, and plenty of silverware to show for it. He rose to fame during the success-laden years at Barcelona, with tiki-take football dominating European oppositions and humiliating the proudest of rivals. Pep Guardiola Tames the Lions- The Day Strikers Went Extinct.
Despite describing himself as a humble student of Johann Cruyff and as a disciple of the Barcelona school of football, Guardiola has adapted his game to the changing times. While sticking to possession, build-up from the back, technically astute footballers and Cruyff’s principles generally, Guardiola’s tactics have evolved both defensively and attackingly. However, what has not changed is Guardiola’s scornful disdain for attackers, especially your typical centre-forward footballer. Is it true?
Upon taking charge as head coach of FC Barcelona, Pep Guardiola made it clear that Samuel Eto’o did not fit into his plans at the club. The Cameroonian felt he was being disrespectfully banished away from his own club. He rejected the idea of leaving, and yes, there was drama. The next year, Eto’o left Barcelona. More than one narrative exists. In brief, the player and coach did not see eye to eye during his time at Barca. Guardiola had a clear idea of what he wanted to build at Barca, and the type of players needed to execute his plan. Eto’o, a highly prolific goalscorer and a big personality at Barca at the time, was “surplus to requirements” if you ask Pep.
Was Eto’o so unable to fit into Pep’s tiki-taka? Can we blame bad communication? The fact is that Eto’o enjoyed his freedom at Barca, he embraced that liberty up front, to express his raw talent and take on players and score. Eto’o moved on to Inter Milan where, under none other than Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho, he managed to take revenge by humiliating Pep’s Barcelona in the 2010 Uefa Champions League final. Respect.
Ibrakadabra! Zlatan came in, with a mission to fill in for Samuel Eto’o. However, a combination of bad communication, bad luck and injuries ended his Barca career prematurely. The reality, however, is that Zlatan was a freedom-loving striker, with physicality and good ball control earning him good performances inside the box. That came at odds with Guardiola’s football. Slowly, Ibra was forced to stick to positional play and high pressing. His effectiveness in the box was decimated, his game collapsed, and very quickly he was relegated to bench-warming duties. That was the end of Ibra. Next!
Thierry Henry- a Side Gig
The Arsenal legend didn’t fulfil expectations at Barcelona. Henry is an Arsenal legend and a goal-scoring all-time great. Still, after moving to Barcelona, he spent a lot of time on the bench, sharing precious minutes with Zlatan Ibrahimovic at times, warming the bench at others. Meanwhile, Messi played up front, until Barca offloaded Zlatan and Henry by year 2011.
In one of his appearances on Sky Sports, he recalls a funny incident that shaped his experience at Barcelona. Henry mentions that Guardiola constantly emphasized 3 key pillars, “Play, Possession, and Position”. The most important one, Henry emphasizes, is position. “Trust your teammates, and wait for the ball to come to you”, he says. He continues, “I wanted to be clever one day, like we all try to do. Sometimes, you kind of don’t listen to your manager. Because you haven’t touched the ball for a while, and you’re like, ok, they’re enjoying football over there, let me see if I can be part of it. So me being me, I went there a couple of times to play with Leo, one-two or whatever it was. And I could hear him (Guardiola) being upset on the side because I was on that side of the dugout”.
Henry also adds that, “One day, I scored a goal. 1-0 up against Sporting Lisbon. Come back at halftime, all nice and everything. He took me off! He did, I was like, what did I do wrong?!”. Henry then concludes that, “When Pep has a plan, respect the plan. My job is to take you to the last third. Your job is to finish it”.
Remarkable, and such a humbling experience for Thierry Henry. More importantly, it’s clear that Pep Guardiola teams have no place for egos and big personalities, only humble students. No mavericks or instinctive behavior; everything has to be part of the plan. But isn’t instinct for goal what strikers are touted for, their raw talent that pounces on the slightest hint of blood?
Yet another forward comes in, David Villa. A prolific goalscorer, but more importantly a more “mouldable” striker this time around. However, this time around, the Blaugrana striker enjoyed much success. Villa’s success, though, is attributed to the fact that he was moved to the wing. There, he spent most of his time pressing high while off the ball and opening the midfield wide (basically hugging the side-line) while on the ball. None of this sounds anything like striker business. Or maybe we should start begging the question, “What really makes a striker nowadays”?
The Interesting Case of Robert Lewandowski
Bayern Munich is a unique football club, a club with its own distinct set of rules and way of doing things, as Bayern legend Michael Ballack once described. Coaching a Bayern Munich side means by default accepting the involvement of the hierarchy in team affairs. We’re talking Uli Hoeness, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Franz Beckenbauer, Hasan Salihamidzic, Oliver Kahn.. So yeah, Guardiola didn’t have his way all the time during his tenure in Bavaria. Maybe that’s the reason Robert Lewandowski outlived Pep at Bayern. Or maybe the Polish international was just too good, arguably the best at his trade if not one of the best players of all-time.
Striker- The End of the Complete Centre-Forward and the Rise of the Hybrids
Pep Guardiola changed football forever. His principles, including a possession-based game and building up from the back, found wide acceptance, not resistance, in every league Pep set foot in. Only a few teams in the Premier League have stuck to tradition, such as Burnley for instance. And the same applies to the Bundesliga. There, the league has finally embraced the idea of playing proper football for a change. The contrast is that during his first year in the Premier League, Guardiola continuously reiterated that he does not want to change English football nor footballing culture in England, and that he respects English footballing traditions. Can he say that today?
But Guardiola’s influence is even more far-reaching. Even if you go far away, to the hinterlands of football leagues. If you’re a young defender in Scotland or the Netherlands, and you want to be taken seriously one day, you have got to work on your passing, your dribbling, and your technique. The build-up begins with a defender, and you’ve got to work on yourself to one day play in the Premier League, the La Liga or the Bundesliga.
As for strikers, I’m not sure we’ll see the next Lewandowski, Harry Kane or Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Those complete forwards are going extinct, thanks in large part to Guardiola’s football imprint. The new “striker” is more of a “false 9”, midfielder-of-sorts. Someone who can fit into a system, serve the team and move in packs to press opposition defences high up the pitch. Guardiola often preferred to bench Sergio Aguero, with any one of De Bruyne or Bernardo Silva playing instead. At Barcelona it was Messi at the expense of your Eto’o or Ibrahimovic. What’s funny is that Arsène Wenger recently predicted that he sees a future where heading the ball is not allowed in football. That doesn’t bode well for your classical striker. But it’s football, a game that evolves to adapt to changing times, culture and civilization. Check our article about interesting sport disciplines here.