In this week’s City Xtra column, Amos Murphy makes the case as to why Pep Guardiola should be considered the greatest football manager of all time, ahead of former Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson.
What’s your first-ever Manchester City memory? Perhaps it’s a standout victory, maybe it was a crushing defeat – there’s been plenty after all. Or what about a boring 0-0 draw?
Personally, though, for me it came in the City Superstore as a young boy, wandering around, holding my parents’ hands and singing along to ‘City, best team in the land and all the world’. A cult classic from the terraces, which was first sung at a time when City certainly weren’t the best team in Manchester, let alone the land and certainly not the world.
But now, on the back of the Blues’ fifth trophy of the calendar year, it’s safe to say that Manchester City really are the best team in the land and all the world. And in part, if not in whole, that success is down to one man: Pep Guardiola.
City’s Catalonian chief arrived in east Manchester a little over seven years ago and has since transformed the club’s fortunes. Last week’s Club World Cup win over Brazilian side Fluminense was his 16th trophy as Manchester City boss and a triumph that completes the set.
Pep Guardiola has won every single competition he’s managed in during his spell as City manager – a truly astonishing achievement.
Naturally, conversations around Pep Guardiola’s overall standing in the game have once again sparked up, with comparisons to great managers of yesteryear being made, most notably former Manchester United boss Alex Ferguson.
Like Guardiola, Ferguson won the lot during his illustrious managerial career, retiring in 2013 with an impressive 49 major honours to his name. But when it comes to standing up against Pep, unfortunately, for the Scottish coach, it’s an open-and-shut case.
Starting with their head-to-head records, Pep Guardiola is the clear (and only) winner, guiding his FC Barcelona side to two UEFA Champions League final victories against Manchester United in the space of three seasons.
The first coming at a time when United had established themselves as the most dominant side in English football history, winning three Premier League titles in a row and entering the 2009 final as reigning European champions.
Then the second at Wembley Stadium in 2011, where a Barça team at the peak of their powers dismantled Fergie’s side in humiliating fashion, with the then-United manager claiming Pep Guardiola’s side were “the best team we’ve faced” during his lengthy spell at Old Trafford.
And then there’s Guardiola’s achievements as Manchester City manager, where the Catalan has all but equalled – and in some cases eclipsed – that of his Scottish counterpart.
For so long, the Premier League, FA Cup, and UEFA Champions League Treble, which was first achieved by Alex Ferguson and Co. in 1999, stood alone as the greatest achievement in English football history.
City not only went secured their own trio of trophies last season, but did so after United themselves had the chance to preserve their status as England’s only-ever Treble winners – a defence which lasted all of 13 seconds.
But away from that, Guardiola’s achievements in England outweigh those of Ferguson’s, with the Catalan having presided over a City team that secured a record 100 points in 2017/18, completed the domestic treble in 2018/19 and have also notched up three Premier League titles in a row. Anything Ferguson managed of note in England, Pep has matched in a much shorter space of time.
Throw into the mix City’s latest success, with the east Manchester outfit becoming the first English side ever to win five trophies in a single year, and it’s clear the argument is heavily weighted towards Guardiola.
Yet it’s the impact and the legacy on the wider game that Guardiola will be remembered for the most. A football visionary, Pep’s imprint on the sport will still be felt long after the former Barcelona man has stepped away from the dugout.
While by no means the man to invent such concepts, Guardiola has however been responsible for implementing and finding joy with the false nine, playing out from the back, double pivots, inverted fullbacks and many other tactical tweaks which have helped sustain his team’s success. As good a man-manager Ferguson was, he and Pep are in different leagues when it comes to influencing coaching philosophies in such a manner.
Just take last season’s mid-season system switch for example, where Guardiola, conscious of City losing control in the middle of the park following Erling Haaland’s introduction, switched to the three-two defensive set-up, that saw John Stones step into midfield from the backline.
It was a move that proved vital for City, who went on to win the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League, with Stones playing a crucial role in all three wins and is already being copied and pasted by different managers across the globe.
Would Ferguson – or any other manager for that fact – have switched to such a tactically demanding system midway through a season and gone on to achieve so much? The likely answer is no.
The only quantifiable metric Ferguson tops Guardiola in is the total number of trophies won, with the former leading the latter by 12 major honours. But that, in part, is down to Ferguson having managed for a longer period of time than Guardiola. When working off the pair’s season-to-trophy ratio, once again, there’s a clear winner.
For Ferguson, it’s just over one trophy per campaign in management. For Guardiola, it’s an average of two per season. In terms of games-to-trophy ratio, it’s even starker. Guardiola averaging a piece of silverware once every 20 or so matches, Ferguson once every 40.
Critics will point towards the resources that have been on offer for Guardiola in his previous jobs, yet as currently being demonstrated by United, wealth doesn’t automatically equate to success. Money can give you access to top talent, but Guardiola finding a way to mould such players into an all-conquering side is down to the genius of the man himself.
Such luxuries are just rewards for Guardiola being at the top of the pile in terms of coaching talents. After all, you wouldn’t ask reigning world champion Max Verstappen to spend a Formula 1 season driving a 1.4-litre Ford Fiesta, with worn-out tyres and a dodgy gearbox, would you?
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