The build up to the 2016-17 season has been dominated by a continent-wide reshuffling of Coaches at Europe’s top clubs, to the extent that superstar summer transfers aren’t the most talked-about aspect of the new campaign.
England has seen the biggest amount of change amongst its elite clubs, with Jose Mourinho and Antonio Conte taking charge at Manchester United and Chelsea respectively, while Jurgen Klopp is set for his first full season at Liverpool. However, the most intriguing appointment so far is Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
Guardiola has been linked with the Premier League since his departure from Barcelona in 2012, and despite leading Bayern Munich to three successive Bundesliga titles, there has always been a sense that he has been pining for a move to England for some time.
His switch to the Etihad Stadium has been greeted by most City fans as something akin to that as the arrival of a footballing messiah, set to deliver the level of consistent success they crave.
Guardiola is one of the few managers within the current European circuit that offers something of a guarantee of success wherever he goes, a factor that clearly increases both the pressure and the expectancy on him.
Adjustment to England
Guardiola will not struggle with the initial stages of readjustment, having proved to be adept in settling quickly at Munich, and language will be no barrier as he is already fluent. Despite being firmly under the media microscope during his time in charge of both Barca and Bayern, the English are likely to add another layer to Guardiola’s experience of Press scrutiny. The factor of his animosity towards Jose Mourinho, now leading the red half of Manchester, is likely to be a regular feature of his Press conferences, as will be the inevitable questions on his ability to transfer his Barca philosophy to Manchester.
However, Pep is an astute operator and adheres to the rules of the media game with ease. He will not look to overtly focus on anything other than events at the Etihad Stadium and will only engage in mind games when he feels the time is right.
His appointment of Mikel Arteta to his coaching staff was a wise move as the ex-Arsenal man provides the perfect link to instil Guardiola’s methods into the first team, while continuing Guardiola’s own education on the nuances of the English game. Director of football Txiki Begiristain provides an additional link to the successful Barca days, and he will be Guardiola’s voice in the boardroom and his support in transfer negotiations.
There appears to be no clear issues with Guardiola’s initial settling in period at City, but that does not alter the size of task he has on his hands.
Playing squad and transfers
Guardiola inherits a squad from Manuel Pellegrini that doesn’t lack in quality but suffers from an apparent mental block from the game’s top prizes and a lack of depth in key areas. The Catalan will not simply look to translate his tiki-taka style from Barca as he did not at Bayern, preferring a possession-based game that looks to utilise the creative strength of his attacking players, and he is likely to do the same with City.
His strategy will require every squad member to be clear on their role and be comfortable with a high-pressure style, with a quick recycling of possession.
He is unlikely to oversee a large-scale squad overhaul, particularly before the start of the campaign, however there are a number of individuals that will feel his breath on their necks in preseason.
Joe Hart, Eliaquim Mangala, Jesus Navas, Samir Nasri, Fernandinho, Yaya Toure and Wilfried Bony are all examples that will have a tough task to prove their worth as all have struggled under the Pellegrini regime. In defence, Guardiola prefers a unit built based on pace and an ability to build the play, the midfield will be based on flexibility and an ability to rotate seamlessly, something City struggled with last season.
He will look to bury a poor relationship with Toure, however the Ivorian’s powers are on the wane, and Guardiola does not like to build his midfield around one talismanic presence, but rather the collective. New signings Ilkay Gundogan and Nolito will have a big part to play, as will Kevin De Bruyne and Sergio Aguero.
The area Guardiola looks the most likely to invest in is attack, buying an elite-level forward to ease the load on Aguero, with both Raheem Sterling and Kelechi Iheanacho prime targets for Guardiola to drive on to the next level as the season progresses.
The 45-year-old has a reputation for giving chances but deals no space for passengers. He will also require his players to play in new roles, his deployment of David Alaba in midfield and Thomas Muller as a central striker being two hallmarks of his time at Bayern.
Demands of the Premier League
Guardiola is no stranger to the requirements of leading an elite team in a top League, he led Barca at a time when they were peerless with a demanding fan base and achieved success in Munich, at a club where unwavering glory is simply the only option given, their level of competition.
However the Premier League represents a different proposition, its demands on players and managers, physical, mental and tactically are immense and any dalliances are usually punished.
The core of the current Man City side are well capable of challenging for the League title in 2016-17, however Guardiola will need to navigate a tough road to glory.
Much will be made of his rivalry with Mourinho, and he will need to downplay this and protect his players from any Mourinho-centred distractions. He will also have to cope with the personal scrutiny of his methods and how successful they can be in England, with his decisions and judgements questioned.
Tactically he possesses a strong backroom staff, and as a scholar of the game he will have researched and formulated a plan for his tactical approach this season. A lack of physicality in his teams has been a criticism of Guardiola, however he adapted to that in Germany, and given the strength of his current squad, it shouldn’t be an issue.
Club ownership and fans
These two factors could prove to be the most difficult that Guardiola has to negotiate during his early days in England.
Following the club’s purchase in 2008 by the Abu Dhabi United Group, City have risen from perennial mid-table finishers to a European powerhouse, and so with it expectancy has escalated rapidly.
Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak has kept out of footballing affairs, leaving primary responsibility to the appropriate personnel, however there is a feeling within the club that Guardiola is the man to deliver consistent success and that ever-elusive Champions League title.
The two Premier League titles and one FA Cup during the stewardship of Al Mubarak is seen a somewhat paltry in return for the substantial investments made both on and off the pitch. Guardiola is seen as the great white hope and if he finds himself ‘underperforming’ by spring 2017, questions will be asked.
Alongside the owners, Man City supporters have also welcomed Guardiola’s arrival as the final piece of the jigsaw, and their expectations of their team can at times outweigh football rationality. It takes time to build a footballing empire as their rivals across the divide will testify, however their demand for success will be instant and Pep will need to respond.