By Noah Tan
Pep Guardiola has somehow earned himself a two-year contract extension with Manchester City, despite overseeing a dismal season which saw the Citizens not only lose their English Premier League (EPL) title to Liverpool, but also fail to reach the semi-finals of the Champions League for the fourth year running.
As you can probably tell, I’m not quite convinced that this is the right move for City.
Because while Guardiola brought a bald bold new approach to the EPL when he first joined City in 2016 – winning six major trophies in the process (yes, the League Cup counts) – his team has been nothing short of underwhelming recently.
Opposing teams have learnt how to effectively counter the Spaniard’s tedious ‘pass, pass, pass’ style of play. All they need to do is sit deep, defend the flanks, and hit them on the counter when their full-backs are out of position.
In short, Guardiola’s tactics do not seem to have progressed from four years ago. Even the United States have managed to evolved from a simian-like President to a more traditional statesman within that period. And that’s a country who thought giving asylum to Amos Yee was a good idea.
In an official club interview, Guardiola explained that both he and the club decided to continue with each other as they had “unfinished business”.
The Spaniard said: “In the end we decided that the best for all of us is to continue because still we have the feeling that there is still unfinished business and still there is something to do, and continue what we have done in the last years.
“This club won in the recent past, but together we won a lot and we won a lot and we won again.
“The target at this club…is to continue to try to maintain the stature of the club as long and as much as possible.
“That's why I still have the desire to help with all the fantastic players we have for the next years, especially for the fans and we will feel proud of the way we play and the way we win.”
Well, yes, no one is saying that there isn’t “unfinished business”, not least in terms of winning the elusive Champions League.
The more pertinent question is: Can Guardiola be trusted to finish that business? Or is he a has-been whose ability as a manager has stagnated, if not declined, since he left Barcelona and Lionel Messi in 2013?
Unfortunately for City fans, I believe the latter to be true.
Now, before any of you City fans start sending hate mail to me (although seriously, can you? We’d love to get in touch with City fans in Singapore, even if that means you expressing your desire to hantam me to next November), let me explain myself.
When Guardiola left Barcelona to take a sabbatical – because winning all the time and managing the best player in the world can suck the life out of you – he was widely regarded as an innovator who introduced tiki-taka football to the masses.
It was an effective style of play that emphasised keeping possession and patiently working the ball within the opposition’s half until a chink in their armour opened up – sometimes through a defensive error, but more often courtesy of a moment of Messi-magic.
Soon, however, Guardiola grew tired of sipping on margaritas by the beach all day, and decided to re-join the world of football. While there was reported interest in his services from both Manchester clubs then, he chose the mighty Bayern Munich as his next destination.
Once again, Guardiola sought to imprint his ideology on Bayern. Once again, it worked a treat, as he went on to lead the Bavarians to three Bundesliga titles, two DFB-Pokals, a Super Cup, and a FIFA Club World Cup while in Germany.
But there was a notable absentee from his trophy haul at Bayern – the Champions League.
For all of Bayern’s domination in the Bundesliga, they were unable to make a real impression in the Champions League, and never even reached the final during Guardiola’s three-season reign at the club.
In the meantime, Barcelona went ahead and won the Champions League in the second year of Guardiola’s time at Bayern. Turns out, they didn’t really need Guardiola as much as they needed Messi. Who would have guessed?
And so, we come to Guardiola’s time in England with City.
At the start, his ideas seemed fresh. Exciting. Innovative. Deploying full-backs that didn’t really play as full-backs, but would double up as midfielders in possession and drop back as centre-backs when the team loses the ball? Sign us up for another round of tactical mumbo-jumbo, please!
As the rest of the teams in the EPL struggled to fathom what the hell Guardiola was getting his players to do on the pitch, City capitalised, and achieved great domestic success, sometimes in record-breaking style.
Yet, there remains a gaping hole in Guardiola’s list of achievements at City – the Champions League.
And it’s not as if City have not backed Guardiola to the hilt. The amount of money the Spaniard has spent on new players since joining the club is enough to make Scrooge McDuck change into his diving suit in double quick time.
Meanwhile, in the absence of Guardiola, Bayern continued winning the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal back in Germany, and just last season, won the Champions League with Hans-Dieter Flick. Turns out, Bayern are a consistently strong team, regardless of who their manager is. Who would have guessed?
But what should concern City fans – apart from the lack of a Champions League trophy – is the fact that their team under Guardiola now seems to have lost its lustre on the pitch.
Unlike title rivals and reigning EPL champions Liverpool, opposition teams are no longer worried about facing Guardiola’s men. It might have taken four to five seasons, but EPL teams have finally solved Guardiola’s tactical puzzle.
More worryingly, Guardiola does not appear to be doing anything different tactically this season. Instead, he seems to be relying on buying better players to play in the same system, with the hope that their superior quality will help see them past opposing teams.
That’s right – Guardiola is simply hoping for the next Messi to come rescue him again.
The good news is, City have the resources to buy anyone they want. But if that’s the way they intend on finishing their ‘business’, then they don’t really need Guardiola as their manager, do they?
This article, “Manchester City giving Guardiola a new contract is a mistake, and here’s why”, originally appeared on Football Siao – Singapore’s craziest EPL website.