Everyone wants Pep. So goes the conventional wisdom. Chelsea have hired a temp because they’re hoping Pep will saunter into Roman’s Siberian-warm embrace in the summer. As clubs like Man City and AC Milan founder, in Europe and in Serie A respectively, Pep’s year-long sabbatical has added to his cachet. It’s even been mooted recently on Sky’s Sunday Supplement that David Gill might want to ask Sir Alex Ferguson to consider his position, given Pep’s imminent availability. I’m not sure Gill’s man enough for that assignment.
But what do we know about Josep Guardiola i Sala as a manager? His body of work consists of some time with Barcelona B before leading the most devastating club side the world has ever known (Real Madrid in the late 1950s don’t count; football, like all sports, was rubbish back then). Here comes the but.
But how can we really know how good he is until he’s managed somewhere else? Preferably, at a club without the greatest set of midfielders of their generation.
Though it can’t be a direct comparison, Pep’s predecessor at Barça Frank Rijkaard was pretty successful with them too, with his ‘Lionel Messi’ taking the form of the enigmatic genius Ronaldinho. Rijkaard’s average points per La Liga season (76) don’t look too handy next to Pep’s (93), but his European record of 30 wins, 12 draws and 7 losses stacks up farely well against Pep’s 30 wins, 15 draws and 5 losses. Rijkaard has since failed at Galatasaray and is struggling to get Saudi Arabia to the 2014 World Cup.
Looking beyond the numbers, Barça’s style under Pep stemmed from the blueprint laid out at La Masia, their famed training complex where players are schooled at an early age to ‘play the Barça way’. It was this style which Rijkaard found successful with the club too, but has so far been unable to recreate elsewhere. This is not to say that Pep is either maestro or charlatan, merely that it’s probably too early to tell before he sits in another dugout.
Another salutary case may be that of Andre Villas-Boas. He too was enormously successful at his first major club, with a determined focus on a preferred approach to playing the game (albeit in a much shorter timeframe than Pep at Barcelona), before struggling to use that system with a different set of players, within a different footballing culture (perhaps twice). And while AvB’s detractors have been quick to highlight his sometimes fractious relationships with players, Pep’s handling of Zlatan Ibrahimovic didn’t come directly out of the managerial textbook either.
Pep no doubt appreciates full well that his next role will come with incredible scrutiny and a fickle footballing public itching to lead a backlash against the venerated anti-Mourinho. He will therefore be looking for a job which affords him ample patience from the owner, fans and media. Don’t put all your money on Pep going to Chelsea.