Three reasons why Guardiola should take his sabbatical at Old Trafford


May 3, 2012 by Andrew Howells

Well respected football writer, Oliver Holt, believes that Josep ‘Pep’ Guardiola has stuck faithfully to a philosophy of playing beautiful football at Barcelona. Pep stands for something more than triumph or failure, and because of this, is wanted by every football club in the world.

I disagree, and in my opinion, Guardiola still has a lot to learn to be a legitimately world-class leader. So let’s examine the reasons why Pep should spend his sabbatical season, if he does take one, under the strong stewardship of the sublime Sir Fergie.

Reason one: the three year cycle

Jonathan Wills, in his blog, quotes the great Hungarian coach, Bela Guttmann, as once saying: “The third year is fatal. If a manager stays at a club more than that, his players tend to become bored and complacent and opponents start to work out counter-strategies. There are occasional exceptions, especially in weaker leagues, but at the highest level it seems to hold true that great teams last a maximum of three years.”

Jonathan states that Guttmann’s solution was to keep moving, collecting bigger and bigger signing-on bonuses, never hanging around long enough for entropy to set in – a sort of Mourinho of his day. Another solution of course, is for the manager to stay put and for the players to change, which is the sustainably superior strategy Sir Alex Ferguson has endlessly employed extremely successfully, time and time again, in his 25 years at Manchester United.

Guardiola is a lovingly loyal man and not someone who would want to continually change clubs every three years. Pep has chosen to move on from Barca, but it is clear he is not motivated by signing-on bonuses – he is simply keen to learn and develop as a manager, and is looking to do this over the course of next season.

One skill then that he must acquire: to recognise when there is a need to re-build and find the ruthless streak, strength and staying power to do it. This will enable him to emulate Ferguson’s loyalty, leadership and long-term success – and who better to learn these skills from than the great man himself.

Reason two: always have a back-up plan

Fergie’s teams, as well as playing attacking, attractive football, would take a win playing badly over playing pretty football and losing; Fergie is never afraid to change his tactics if he needs to in order to win; and he always has a plan B. These are traits that, arguably, as David Pleat points out in his blog, Barca lack under Guardiola.

A directness and sense of urgency is what was lacking from Barca’s recent performances against Madrid and Chelsea, and it was evident in all these big games that they did not benefit from stubbornly sticking to playing to Guardiola’s ideal of beautiful football – just look how Torres rubbed it in!

Fergie can show Pep that he can play his beautiful brand of brilliant football, but that to be a top manager he needs to compromise at times on his principles.

During United famous 2-1 Champions League win over Munich in 1999, Ferguson threw the kitchen sink at Bayern – United abandoned their passing style for long balls into the box – and it worked. Pep in contrast, with his team needing a goal to go through to the final against Chelsea, in Camp Nou, decided to continue his passing football. As a consequence of trying to pass it into the net until the end, Barca failed to do so and crashed out.

David Pleat, summaries perfectly: “Having the ball for 70% of the game is a futile statistic if you lose sight of your purpose in the last 40 yards.”

Fergie will be able to teach Guardiola that some situations call for only one football principle – winning by any means, way or style of play.

Reason three: mutual benefits

If the ‘noisy neighbours’ win the title then Ferguson will not walk away from the game – and if even United do retain their status as the superior side in English football, there’s still this season’s failings in Europe to address. This is why Guardiola coming to United, not as manager, but as Sir Alex’s assistant, to be groomed to be his replacement for the 2013/14 season, makes supreme sense.

It would give Fergie another experienced coach to bounce ideas off, particularly when it comes to Europe – an area United have not looked as assured in since Carlos Queiroz left.

Further, if United do end the season trophy-less, they will need to attract big names on and off the pitch in order to keep the likes of Rooney, who threatened to leave in the summer.

And for Guardiola, a cultured man who likes to study and learn, it would provide a great platform to get to know the club, team and Premier League. Remember that before becoming Barcelona’s manager, Pep coached their B team for a year, learning about many of the players he has now brought through to the first team, and he was also a player at Barca and knew the set up, the history and ethos of the club.

Sir Alex realises that at the age of 70, he needs to plan for United’s future, and what better way than replacing himself with someone who could potentially become the best coach on the planet, as well as allowing himself one final swan song.

Conclusion: the ultimate manager?

With the added  ingredients of being able to win at any cost, the ability to re-build a team and the experience of spending a year getting to know the United set-up, Pep would surely not only become the ultimate manager, but ensure United remain the ultimate team for another 25 years. What do you think?

  • Gregg Haines

    If this happened, it would be unbelievable! Great article, really enjoyed reading it.

  • Eric

    1) Pep needs rest more than anything – why would he go get more stress at United? The English press is even worse than the Spanish one.
    2) Why would he go to United, period? Fergie is extraordinary, true, but he’s clearly not at his best this season, nor is the United team. Would Pep leave Barca for a team that dropped out of the Europa League? Hardly.

    I think the foolishness of this article is trying to turn an intellectual comparison into an actual suggestion. Does Fergie have some traits Pep doesn’t? Absolutely. Does that mean Fergie is the master and Pep should go be a disciple? Hell no – partly because it wouldn’t be useful at this stage in his life, and partly because that is a slight to Pep – he deserves to be nobody’s underling.

    Barca needs to evolve some more (your “Plan B”), and Pep needs to develop stamina (so he can become to Barca what SAF is to Man U without falling apart from stress). Both of those simply require time, no outlandish cross-continental moves. Give the man some rest, accept he is human, let him be with his family. Sir Alex can solve his own problems without Guardiola. Barca will follow Pep through Tito until Pep is ready to return – and when he is, it will be a dynasty the likes of which the world has never seen.

  • Jonesy

    I agree with the first comment – great article to read, well written and it would be immense if it happened. It probably won’t, but you never know in football.

    Is the second comment written by Pep’s Mum!? ‘He needs rest more than anything’! Haha! Stop being such a prune mate and let your imagination live a little.

  • miko

    fuck that Barcelona beat Manchester twice on the CL Final and you’re saying Pep should need to learn to Fergie? no way.

  • Raul

    Barca beat United twice as they have better players and a great style. The guy is suggesting that Guardiola could learn how to dilute that philosophy when need to with throwing the kitchen sink at teams when he needs to -like against chelsea and mighty madrid – and learn how to rebuild teams so he doesn’t have to leave them every few years. think he makes great points, but whether it happen or not could probably be stuff of dreams for united fans.

  • Many thanks for all your comments. The article was written to set the imagination alight, but I firmly believe that Guardiola needs to learn the two skills outlined to become a truly great manager.

    Will he learn these skills at United? Well, as Jonesy says in his comment above, you never know what might happen in football!

  • Joshua

    Seriously,the writer of this article is right,pep still have a long way to go,its not a crime if he can swallow is pride,been under fergie would do him more good than harm,remember he coached barca division B before taking over the senior team,he have to do the same and i tink united would be the right place since fergie is ageing,he has the quality he just need to exploit it a little bit more if he is to leave his mark on the shores of time

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