Pep talk — Where Guardiola ranks in the greatest soccer manager debate
On the back of domestic dominance, Pep Guardiola will be remembered by Manchester City supporters for helping the club win their first-ever Uefa Champions League title. However, his overall legacy transcends even this achievement.
“Oh, he found a team that Frank Rijkaard had already cooked at Barcelona. He just had to dish up. Plus, he had players such as Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta. If he is so good, why did he fail to win the Champions League with Bayern Munich?”
“Of course, he was going to win at Manchester City with all their oil money. He gets all the players he wants. Anyway, it was former City manager Roberto Mancini who laid the foundation for him to obtain this success.”
These are just some of the utterances that fly around when it comes to casual soccer conversations pertaining to City manager Pep Guardiola versus his managerial rivals.
Some feel that the Spanish tactician should not be mentioned in the same breath as colleagues such as former Manchester United mastermind Sir Alex Ferguson — who built a dynasty at the club. Or Portuguese manager Jose Mourinho. The latter famously led an unfancied Porto to Uefa Champions League glory in 2004.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Manchester City revel in historic first Champions League triumph
The dirty work
The consensus from those who do not rate Guardiola highly is that he enjoys taking over projects that are already up and running. He does not soil his hands doing the dirty work. For example, as Mourinho did when he took over Italian side Roma and helped them reach consecutive finals in continental football recently.
As for Ferguson, his trophy cabinet speaks for itself. He has a haul of well over 40 trophies across spells with United and Scottish side Abeerden.
In 1986 Ferguson took over a Red Devils side that was teetering around the relegation zone. He proceeded to gradually improve the team season by season — turning them into a European powerhouse during his 26 years at the club — and halting Liverpool’s dominance.
His success included steering United to an unprecedented continental treble in 1999 as they won the Premier League title, FA Cup and the Champions League. The first English club to accomplish this feat.
Mourinho also shaped Chelsea to be the competitive juggernaut they were under the ownership of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. However, much like Guardiola does now, the Portuguese had a blank pay cheque to splurge on the transfer market.
Mourinho managed his own treble in 2010 by building an Inter Milan side that was as tough as nails and bulldozed all those in front of them. With the Italians Mourinho added to the European title he had surprisingly led Porto to six years earlier.
The likes of Carlo Ancelotti (who remains the most successful manager in the Champions League, with four winners’ medals), Giovanni Trapattoni and Bob Paisley can never be left out of the conversation.
The debate can loop around endlessly. However, according to former Liverpool and England defender Jamie Carragher — one particular feature about Guardiola sets him apart from the rest, the type of soccer his sides play on the way to winning.
“Sir Alex Ferguson’s supporters will always suggest otherwise… The reality is it is not even a debate beyond this country,” wrote Carragher in a column for The Telegraph.
“At two different clubs, Guardiola has created a side which has produced the most perfect football I have ever seen live. First with his Barcelona Champions League winners of 2011 and now City in 2023,” he said.
“The argument about whether City’s treble winners are better than Ferguson’s of 1999 should be over too. This City team is on a different level.”
Indeed, this City side — much like the Barcelona side that outclassed Ferguson’s Red Devils in the 2011 Champions League final — plays fluid, flamboyant and free-flowing football. In typical Guardiola fashion.
“He’s created a team that’s improved every year. Winning three championships in a row tells you the story. Their performances in the latter part when it really means something, they produced top-class performances,” said Ferguson of the Spaniard after they clinched the Premier League.
Despite this, Guardiola is always in pursuit of perfection and trying out new things. Such as his deployment of English international John Stones as a midfield pivot-cum-centre back in the second half of this memorable campaign.
“He’s a genius, isn’t he?,” said Stones’ teammate Jack Grealish of Guardiola following their triumph over Inter in the Champions League final.
With that victory, the Spanish coaching powerhouse made history by becoming the only manager with two European trebles after winning one with Barcelona. He now also has three Champions League titles — one less than Ancelotti.
Additionally, he is the only manager to win a domestic treble in England’s top-flight after leading City to the league, FA Cup and Carabao Cup in 2019. At just 52 years old, he has enough time to add to his already bulging trophy cabinet. DM