One of the worst kept secrets in football was finally confirmed on Monday as Manchester City put us all out of our misery by announcing Pep Guardiola will take over from Manuel Pellegrini from next season.
Man City finally get their dream of reuniting the holy Barcelona trinity of Pep, Director of Football Txiki Begiristain and CEO Ferran Soriano as they continue in their attempts to make significant progress in Europe, while Guardiola gets his dream of being interviewed every week by Geoff Shreeves.
Given the relative lack of world class talent gracing the Premier League these days, clubs have turned to recruiting superstar managers to raise their profiles – going with the mantra “in the Premier League, first you get the manager, then you get the players, then you get the trophies.”
To that effect, Guardiola joins Wenger, Klopp, possibly the likes of Mourinho and Simeone next year as the man in the dugout continues to be as much of a story as the eleven players out on the pitch, maybe even more so in some cases.
This will be Pep’s biggest test yet, and in the pressure-cooker environment of English football it will also be the place where he will come under the most scrutiny. The whole world might love him now but it takes a surprisingly short amount of time to become a laughing stock in that league.
It will be a massive undertaking for Guardiola, far more than the Bayern job was initially, because he’s walking into a side that needs significant work done to it – more even than his initial Barcelona rebuilding job because it comes with the added burden of expectation.
Not to suggest the Bayern task was a cakewalk, but he did inherit the European champions at the time – the squad turnover was minimal compared what awaits him next year.
He is potentially facing a similar problem to that which Jürgen Klopp initially had at Liverpool (and indeed will have until at least the summer) insofar as it’s hard to look at at this team and work out how Guardiola’s system will suit these players.
The reality though is that it probably won’t have to. This is a squad that needs renovating and Guardiola will not be shy in molding the team to the shape he wants – if that means certain players have to leave, so be it. That being said, he’s perfectly willing to adapt his system for certain individuals – as we saw at Barcelona with Zlatan Ibrahimović – but he definitely does have a preferred style and certain players just won’t fit into that.
The attacking combination of Sergio Agüero, David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne is one that will only stregthen the more they play together, and with Guardiola’s keen interest in promoting youth, 19-year-old Nigerian international Kelechi Iheanacho could well have something of breakout season along with other academy prospects. (Wilfried Bony though should probably just start looking for a new club right now.)
Arguably everything behind that front four can theoretically be upgraded though. Yaya Touré will have a hard time convincing his new manager he is worthy of a place in the squad given the breakdown of their relationship at Barcelona – though there is every possibility the player might finally make good on one of his hilariously frequent threats to leave the club.
The defence should be another area of concern – in fact it should probably be the place where the renovation begins. Vincent Kompany, top class though he may be, is starting to be let down more and more by his own body, Martin Demichelis will almost certainly be leaving and the duo of Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otámendi don’t really inspire the confidence one would expect from a pair of £30 million plus central defenders.
Of course the possibility remains that the new manager might enjoy the challenge of getting the best out of them – there is enough potential in those last two to warrant the high transfer fees in the first place – in a similar fashion to the way he created a monster in Jérôme Boateng at Bayern.
Guardiola has never created a team primarily through financial means before, more for the fact that he has never had to, so it will be interesting to see how he takes that on. He has very rarely spent vast quantities of money on single transfers (Zlatan being the main exception but David Villa and Mario Götze run it close) but at the Etihad he will probably have to, initially at least.
As soon as Guardiola has his side in place though, then the results have to come.
For Man City, this has to be it. This has to be the point where they transform themselves from just some rich club with notions to becoming bona fide European superpowers. Big clubs aren’t really respected as such until they have the European gravitas to back it up. Not only that but until they can win that first Champions League they will remain in Man United’s shadow.
What a lot of Premier League clubs tend to forget is that money and success are not the same thing – clubs are spending like never before and yet their collective form in Europe has dropped off dramatically. Bucking that trend should be the least that is expected of such a talented manager.
They have the money to make it happen, they have the manager they’ve always wanted (and arguably always planned for), now is the time to properly announce their arrival.