And so when the worst kept secret in football was revealed, that Pep Guardiola would become the manager of Manchester City next season, the inevitable questions followed. How many points will Man City win the title by next season? Are they now officially the number one team in Manchester? What are the chances of the club reuniting Guardiola and Leo Messi? Yet throughout a plethora of unanswerable and tedious questions there was one more interesting prospect that remained untouched; what can Guardiola do for the England national team?
Perhaps it’s naive to think such a question would have ever been considered in the first place, given how internationally pleasing the Premier League’s football and business agenda is, and also how it isn’t a directly obvious question. So consider this – when Germany won the World Cup two years ago, of the 14 German players used on the pitch during the final, 7 played for Bayern Munich, where Guardiola was manager. When Spain won the World Cup four years beforehand in South Africa, of the 14 Spanish players used during the final, 7 played for Barcelona, where Guardiola was manager. Coincidence? Probably not.
When Guardiola took over at Barcelona in 2008, they hadn’t won a trophy in two years. In his first season in charge, the club won the treble with the league, cup and Champions League, and in the 2009/10 World Cup season, Guardiola guided the club to another league title in addition to three other pieces of silverware. The Catalan manager created a footballing machine that is probably the best team of all time, with a strong core of Spanish players. These were players who were not only wonderfully gifted players, but also ruthless winners.
On the other hand, the Bayern Munich team that Guardiola inherited in 2013 had just won the league, cup and Champions League treble, and perhaps appeared seemingly complete. Yet under Guardiola’s guidance they seem to have improved, with players such as Arjen Robben and Thomas Muller not only declaring just how much fun playing for the club is, but also that their standard has risen another level; who would have thought that the treble winning side of 2013 could get better? This project is all the more special given the prolific German core of the team.
And so Guardiola has a new project on his hands in Lancashire, with similarities to his previous projects. They are blessed with top quality players, the club is in a financially strong position with a fantastic stadium and wonderful facilities, and similar to the situation he inherited at Barcelona, Man City have a squad full of talent that hasn’t quite reached the pinnacle of its capabilities (i.e. they haven’t done terribly well in Europe). However, they quite evidently lack a native English core to the squad, something so conspicuous in the successes at Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
The only English first team players at Man City are Joe Hart, Fabian Delph and Raheem Sterling, and there are more native Spanish speakers in the squad than English speakers. Over the years we have seen Guardiola’s players become tactically astute, technically developed, and confident winners, qualities that could help English players reach the recent heights of the Spanish and Germans of recent years, so what a shame only three players are likely to directly learn from him. Saying that, people are already suggesting that Joe Hart’s limited ability playing with the ball at his feet might provoke Guardiola to replace him with a different goalkeeper given his preferred style of play.
You wouldn’t really be surprised if Guardiola doesn’t care about this much. Naturally he has little affinity to the health of the English national team, the club has a quality squad without needing any English players, and given he has signed a 3-year contract and traditionally doesn’t stay at clubs for too long, the idea of blooding young academy players for the future probably won’t fit his plans for immediate success.
So in short, with the 2018 World Cup taking place when Guardiola will be two years into his stint in England, English football won’t benefit as much as the Spanish and Germans did from him. Sure, Raheem Sterling might become the world-class player he can become, and Fabian Delph may continue to improve, but unlike Barca and Bayern, Manchester City are unlikely to provide the core of the national team. Of course if Everton and Tottenham continue to play with their gifted young English players, the national team will certainly improve with them, however, while playing for their respective clubs Messrs Stones and Alli are unlikely to become the ruthless winners that Iniesta, Muller and co. have become.
The English game is being graced by one of European football’s greatest managers who will make the Premier League even more exciting, while demanding high quality football. It is unsurprising that such a commotion has surrounded the appointment as this really is a box office ticket that could help to put an English club in the ‘elite’ category with Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG and Bayern Munich. Nonetheless, it is such a shame that so few English players are likely to directly learn from the manager of his generation.