They say that no single human being is perfect. And, whilst he may seem to be something greater, Pep Guardiola is only human; thus he is, intrinsically, not perfect.
He is not perfect, but he is certainly not far from it – at least in the eyes of Manchester City supporters and maybe even fans of his former clubs Barcelona and Bayern Munich. His desire, drive and determination to achieve perfection – the esteemed impossible – is admirable.
To put it more aptly and succinctly, a quote from former American Football player and coach, Vince Lombardi: “Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.”
Chasing perfection, and thus catching excellence in the process, requires an unchanging attitude; a rigid philosophy. Even when his revolutionary tactics, his desire to play out from the back, his beliefs have all been questioned by television pundits, his unerring stubbornness – in the most positive sense – continues to be admirable.
Though he is not completely unchangeable; like bamboo, his roots firmly planted in the ground, the basis of his football set, but capable of flowing in the wind and acclimatising to the changing conditions; that is, his strategies subtly alter depending upon his opponent. Something learnt during his three years in Germany.
The general blueprint for his side’s style is identical; to dominate possession, dictate the rhythm of football and thereby disabling the opposition of creating an abundance of direct goalscoring chances; though through meticulous planning and preparation, slight tweaks, renovations, amendments can be made. An incredibly studious individual, Guardiola declared upon his arrival at the Etihad Stadium that he had come to England to learn.
He has most certainly learnt from his experience in England already. An innovator at heart, Guardiola remains undeterred by criticism and is quietly confident that his style will enable him to establish his Manchester City outfit as one of the most difficult teams to face in the history of English football.
It will be a difficult task; the Premier League title race is more akin to a marathon than a sprint; a long haul, often gruelling experience which does not incorporate the infamous ‘winter break’, something Pep has been afforded during his previous tenures. Conversely, the fixture list becomes the most congested during the festive period and Pep’s resolve in his quest for perfection will be truly tested.
The transition to the Premier League is a process which for many coaches is difficult and sees many alter their core beliefs completely after the first hurdles. Guardiola’s first fall came at the hands of Tottenham before the international break, a team who pressed City high and made it as difficult as possible.
Yet, after just ten league games, the Spaniard already has his Manchester City outfit aligned with his way of thinking. Whilst Antonio Conte has turned Chelsea around since their defeat at the hands of rivals Arsenal, the Italian is permitted, in the words of Jermaine Jenas on BBC Radio 5 Live, a transitional ‘honeymoon’ period after slight tumbles on the running track. Simultaneously, each and every blemish on Guardiola’s immaculate record only serves to undermine him.
Guardiola has overseen 426 fixtures in all competitions across three countries during his relatively short tenure as a football head coach, losing just 45. He holds the best record in the history of the top four leagues among coaches that won at least a league title.
Against Everton a couple of weeks ago however, he saw his side succumb to a 1-1 draw at home to Everton, a side now managed by one of Guardiola’s biggest tactical and managerial influences, Ronald Koeman.
Koeman himself claimed after the game that the Blues were the hardest team he had ever faced and it was easy to see why. Despite dropping two points, City completely dominated the game. There could be no questions raised with regards to the effort demonstrated by the City stars; as is often said in the discourse of modern football, it just wasn’t their day.
Then came a perturbing spell of six games without a win in all competition and critics suddenly emerged in full voice once more. Yet, unlike the lethargy of last season, the Blues showed desire. They have generally been quick on the break and there has been a universal willingness, ultimately, to win the game.
There was never any doubt – at least amongst City supporters – that Guardiola would return to winning ways. And they were right not to doubt one of the most illustrious coaches in world football, as the aforementioned desire manifested itself in the Blues’ performances this week.
The 4-0 domestic drubbing of West Bromwich Albion at the weekend made for delectable viewing, but was inevitably overshadowed by the following match against Guardiola’s former side Barcelona.
In similar circumstances to West Brom, it was City who succumbed to a 4-0 defeat at the Nou Camp a couple of weeks ago; this week saw a complete role reversal, though, with City deserved winners in an enthralling 3-1 victory at the Etihad Stadium.
As quickly as the masses had turned their backs on Guardiola’s attempts at teaching them how to properly play football with a strong affixation on possession and position, passing and pressing, they now find themselves coming full circle.
He had ‘only done it at Barcelona’. Now he is done it against them. Ridicule has been consistently aimed at the Spanish coach, though he sees beyond it.
The majority of rival supporters and pundits alike had written off the talent of Raheem Sterling, questioned the costly acquisition of John Stones and criticised the departure of Joe Hart despite criticising him themselves during the European Championships.
His tactics would not work in the physical expanses of the English top flight. He would be exposed at a team where, it was claimed, he would not have such impressive talent as he had inherited with Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
City would become undone by the plucky Bournemouth and would be exposed by the route one, physically tenacious approach of Stoke away, a fixture traditionally found tough by City.
Yet Guardiola has proved the doubters wrong. The aforementioned critiques had perceived it as impossible for Pep to come to England and implement his beautiful, free-flowing style, regardless of the players at his disposal; and, whilst perfection may be impossible, implementing that style is most certainly not.