English football has been moulded in Guardiola’s image


Just after Manchester City went 2-0 up and the game effectively died, Watford had one of those half chances that at least gave their supporters a degree of hope.

Defensive lines weren’t cleared, the ball fell to Troy Deeney and the Watford captain snatched at a shot which Ederson smothered. It wasn’t much, but it was something. Or so you might have thought. It mattered to Pep Guardiola. On the Wembley touchline, he fairly exploded.

Arms were thrown in the air, he spun around and faced his assistants sat on the bench, aghast. A flurry of Catalan or Spanish invective was emitted in a suburban corner of north-west London.

Mikel Arteta rose from the bench, seemingly to placate his boss, but arms were now being flung seemingly in varied and bizarre directions, a sign of clear distress. Guardiola felt that his side had erred. It was only a moment but it was pure Guardiola. He can be charming, funny and infuriatingly inconsistent, for example when it comes to issue of human rights – but he is nothing if not intense.

That would be the word most would use about him. There is a rich seam of literature detailing Guardiola’s methodology and there was, of course, Amazon’s hagiography of a TV documentary last year, which seemed almost to be in awe of the man.

Yet amidst the obsessiveness and the excruciating attention to detail, it was the sheer volatility of the man that stood out.

There is a plausible argument that his energy and intelligence changed modern football when he took over at Barcelona in 2008.

He wasn’t the first to utilise pressing nor did he invent passing football, but he undoubtedly combined the two to reboot the vision of his mentor Johan Cruyff. This was Total Football 2.0.

Yet if he was just a tactical wonk, he wouldn’t be half the man he is. The charisma he carries and sheer force of his personality is what is evident in those frequent dressing room meltdowns. We used to call that the hairdryer. Guardiola probably calls it a heated tactical debate.

It is almost as though bad football or unnecessary mistakes physically disgust him. That’s how it seemed in the 44th minute. He was, of course, furious with his defence, irate that they had switched off for a second. We didn’t need the past fortnight to remind us that, even with a team as might as this Manchester City are, a 2-0 lead doesn’t necessarily mean an awful lot.

Still, the game was absolutely as routine as we had expected. A team that has amassed 198 points over the last two season swatted aside a team that had managed to accumulate – very creditably – 91 in the same period.

It wasn’t the first one-sided FA Cup final, even if it was the heaviest defeat at this stage for 116 years. Indeed, Watford fans of a certain age may had felt a familiar sense of deflation. Back in 1984 they arrived full of hope to under-perform against an Everton side that were about to dominate England and might have done the same to Europe had a ban not intervened.

That game was effectively over in the 51st minute when Andy Gray knocked Steve Sherwood in to the back of the net. Still, that stayed at 2-0. Chelsea pre-Roman Abramovich capitulated 4-0 here in 1994 and Aston Villa were overwhelmed by Arsene Wenger’s least-impressive Arsenal side in 2015. Mismatches are nothing new in this single game.

It is the dominance that City exude domestically that feels new. Those points’ totals are unprecedented. Once we assumed Wenger’s Invincibles wouldn’t ever be matched. Now, the fact that City haven’t managed that in these past two seasons, seem bizarre, given how good they are.

Of course, there are caveats. City’s greatness does not exist in isolation. Liverpool are pretty much their match as a team even if they haven’t acquired the crucial knack of landing a trophy – yet.

At times, Tottenham run them close, yet in squad depth are far behind. There are multiple reasons for this. It may grate with City fans but it would be obtuse not to ignore the £1.3billion – and growing – in that Sheikh Mansour has put into the club, and that’s the money that we know about. It seems Uefa suspect there is even more.

An era in which energy-rich states decided they needed football teams and tournaments as public relations campaigns was unimaginable back when Elton John cried at the old Wembley, fans massed on open terraces and Michael Barrymore was embedded with the Watford team for comic relief.

Still, for 58 years, since the League Cup was invented, Lancastrian businessmen, north London financiers and diamond dealers, Russian oligarchs and aggressive American capitalists with a genius Glaswegian at the helm have invested money in their clubs to have a tilt at something like this: a domestic clean sweep. If the size of the financial backer in 2019 unimaginably outstripped them all, then so maybe did the magnitude of the man they eventually put in charge of the project.

Combine Guardiola’s extraordinary insight with Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano, executives whose depth of understanding of the game only makes Manchester United’s efforts to match them look pitiful and you’re already half way there.

When Guardiola arrived here, there was scepticism that he could bring his unique brand of football to our island. There was a thought that it might not cross the Channel. Yet he had discussed this scenario long into the night with his mentor Cruyff.

“We spoke about it many times,” said Guardiola. “He believed we could play the way we want to here.”

Shortly after Guardiola arrived in England, Johan’s son took up the thought. “It is not the new coaches are going to adapt to English football,” said Cruyff junior. “It’s that English football has to adapt to the different, the new things of football.”

Three years on the outworking of that evident at Wembley. English football has been moulded into the image of Guardiola.


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