There are a lot of people who say that Manchester City’s current manager Pep Guardiola has only achieved what he has due to having exceptional players and vast resources at his disposal throughout his career. We disagree.
Barcelona had won only 2 league titles in 9 years before his arrival, and just one Champions League in the last 16. They proceeded to win three league titles and two Champions League’s in Guardiola’s four seasons at the helm. Granted, they had some exceptional players coming into their peaks, but to assume that they would have reached those levels without Pep’s presence is foolish at best.
At Bayern Munich, Guardiola failed to win the Champions League, which is where the bar is set for a manager like Pep at a club like Bayern. However, in terms of the Bundesliga, he was flawless. He has by far the best win % and points-per-game record of any manager in the divisions history, cruising to 3 league titles in 3 seasons.
And finally, at Manchester City, Guardiola has spent a lot of money, but so too have the likes of Manchester United, and they’re a million miles away from the football City are playing. Last season, City were statistically the best team in the history of the Premier League and arguably the greatest in the history of English football in terms of the football they played.
Pep’s intense man management style and the enormous demands and expectations he puts on his players are well-documented, and it’s often said that players couldn’t cope with playing under him for more than three or four years. His approach has also brought out the best in a very many players, and today we wanted to look at some particularly notable examples of players who have been transformed under the Spaniard.
Here are our 7 players who have been transformed by Pep Guardiola:
7. Joshua Kimmich
Quite possibly the most versatile elite level footballer in the world right now, Joshua Kimmich started out as a central midfielder, a position he has recently returned to in the German national team. Pep Guardiola showed huge faith in Kimmich when the former Schalke man was only 20 years old by entrusting him at the heart of the Bayern defence as a centre-back.
Kimmich flourished, eventually settling at right-back and becoming probably the best young defender in world football under Pep. Kimmich is a brilliant player, and he most likely would have made the Bayern first team with or without Guardiola, but we doubt many managers would spot a centre-back in the young central midfielder or have moulded him into such a complete footballer.
6. Gerard Pique
Another young defender who Pep Guardiola put huge faith in, we had to include Gerard Pique in this seven. The young Barcelona-native had never registered double figures in terms of appearances in the Premier League for Manchester United, and when Pep brought him back to Barca for £5 million, the Catalans had the likes of Carles Puyol, Rafael Marquez and Gabriel Milito as centre-back options.
It was widely expected that Pique would begin life at the Camp Nou as a backup option then, but Guardiola immediately thrust him into the middle of the club’s defence, handing him 45 appearances in his debut season. With Pep’s influence, Pique became one of the most assured, but also one of the most technically capable and composed centre-backs in world football.
His confidence on the ball and ability to play out from the back made him perfect for a Barca side ready to conquer the world. Pique has gone on to rack up 457 appearances at the Camp Nou, becoming one of the most decorated players in the history of the game, as well as winning more than 100 caps for Spain, with whom he won both a World Cup and a European Championships.
5. Nicolas Otamendi
There’s a very defensive theme to this seven so far, which is perhaps a little surprising, since most people would best associate Pep Guardiola’s style with vibrant attacking flair based on movement, vision and technique. We wanted to include players who Pep had the biggest influence on in terms of improving them and altering the way in which they played though, and on that front we had to include Nicolas Otamendi.
It’s easy to forget that before Pep Guardiola arrived at the Etihad, Manchester City had been plagued by an ongoing centre-back crisis. Players like Eliaquim Mangala and Matija Nastasic had cost the club lots of money but failed to produce the goods, whilst the likes of Stefan Savic and Martin Demichelis never really looked good enough, and Vincent Kompany was permanently injured.
It threatened to be a similar story with Nicolas Otamendi, who arrived for a huge fee from Valencia but looked a bit of a liability in his debut campaign. Pep’s arrival saw a new Otamendi though, with the Argentine looking like he’d had a huge injection of confidence. Gone were the reckless lunges and poor positional play of his time under Pellegrini, with Otamendi now looking like a really solid centre-back in a team which doesn’t have to do too much defending.
4. Sergio Busquets
Simply put, Sergio Busquets is one of the finest footballers of his generation, and that can be put down in no small part to Pep Guardiola. The dynamic of a game of football can be changed in an instant by a player who is capable of doing what most players need two or three touches to do in one, and that is what Sergio Busquets is perfect at.
Busquets was a 20-year-old when Pep Guardiola got the top job at Barcelona, but he hadn’t yet made his La Liga debut. Guardiola quickly changed that, and Busquets was promoted from Pep’s Barca B team to make 41 appearances in his first season with the first team squad. That’s obviously quite some transformation, and we don’t think there’s another manager in world football who could have had the impact Guardiola had upon Busquets.
Since then, the likes of Yaya Toure and Cesc Fabregas have been and gone, whilst Busquets has remained a mainstay in the Barca midfield, his vision, awareness and subtle technique providing the perfect pivot in Pep’s Barcelona side.
3. Raheem Sterling
Into the top three and we start with Raheem Sterling. Cast your mind back a couple of years and Raheem Sterling looked to be failing to progress as a player since his breakthrough at Liverpool, there were suggestions that he was just another speed merchant in a similar vein to an Aaron Lennon or Theo Walcott, and the press wouldn’t get off his back… Okay, some things never change, but as for the other two, Pep Guardiola has completely altered Raheem Sterling’s career trajectory.
When the Spaniard arrived at the Etihad, some people speculated that he might get rid of Sterling. Guardiola did no such thing, instead giving the youngster an enormous amount of game time and working relentlessly on his game.
Last season bore the fruits of their labour. Sterling can still become cooler, more measured and more deadly in front of goal, but he was exceptional for City last term, in fact, we think his 2017-18 campaign has been largely underplayed. Only Mohamed Salah and Harry Kane had more combined goals and assists in the Premier League, meaning Sterling led the way among Manchester City players and was more productive than the likes of Eden Hazard, Sergio Aguero and his new teammate Riyad Mahrez.
For Sterling to be doing that at the age of 23, and the fact that most people are not even surprised to see him hitting those levels now is a huge testament to the way in which Pep has progressed him as a player.
2. Jerome Boateng
A former Manchester City player who Pep Guardiola coached at Bayern Munich, Jerome Boateng was already a full German international when Guardiola arrived at the Allianz Arena, but few would have ranked him among the world’s elite centre-back’s. Under Pep’s watch, Boateng was – at one time at least – the best centre-back in world football.
With a 6’3” frame which packs power and pace, Boateng has all the physical tools required to be a world class centre-back. He had become defensively astute under Jupp Heynckes, but Pep took his game to another level. Guardiola gave Boateng the confidence to carry the ball out from the back and act as a creative player who could break lines and initiate attacks.
When Germany won the World Cup, Boateng was such a complete centre-back, and it’s a real shame that he has suffered such severe injury struggles since Guardiola left the club in 2016.
0. Honourable Mentions
It is a mark of Pep Guardiola’s extraordinary talents that in less than a decade as a manager, he gave us a huge shortlist to try and whittle down to just seven for this video. As such, we’re going to take some time to look at the honourable mentions who really stood out.
One player who it was tough to leave out of this seven was Thiago Alcantara. A regular at Barca in Pep’s final season with the club, he subsequently brought him to Bayern Munich in 2013. A masterful technician and passer of the ball with wonderful vision, it’s little wonder the Italian-born midfielder proved such a hit under Pep, and he has even been linked with following him once more to the Etihad.
Under Pep’s tutelage, Kevin De Bruyne has gone from being a top class attacking midfielder to one of the two best midfielders in world football. Fabian Delph transitioned brilliantly from central midfield to left-back, working his way back into the England squad, and John Stones has cut out most of the errors in his game, becoming much more assured under a manager seemingly tailor-made for his ball-playing defensive approach.
Lastly, we have to mention Pedro at Barcelona and David Alaba at Bayern Munich. Like Busquets, Pep had worked with Pedro in the Barca B team, and he immediately promoted him to the senior side. In the 2009-10 and 2010-11 campaigns alone, Pedro played 105 games and scored 45 goals, being named as La Liga’s Breakthrough Player in 2010. Put simply, he has never got anywhere near those levels since.
Alaba, meanwhile, is a similar case to Boateng. At the age of 21, he was already a regular for both Bayern and Austria when Guardiola arrived in Bavaria. However, anyone who thought he didn’t have plenty of room to improve would be proved bitterly wrong. Alaba became almost universally considered the best left-back in world football, and it’s worth noting – as with some others – that he has regressed as a player since Pep left.
That’s if for our particularly honourable mentions, please do let us know of any others you feel deserve a mention and any future video ideas you have for us the comments, but firstly, we come to top spot…
1. Lionel Messi
I toiled with this one for a while since Lionel Messi was obviously already a world class talent before Pep Guardiola took the reigns as Barcelona’s first team manager. We have no doubt that even if Sam Allardyce had been appointed as Barcelona manager in 2008, Messi still would have gone on to win a handful of Ballon d’Ors.
However, this seven is about players who were transformed under Guardiola, in terms of being improved and changing the way in which they play, and in that sense – we can’t overlook Lionel Messi, nor can we overlook the impact Guardiola had on making Messi the greatest footballer of all time.
The little Argentine was playing on the right wing when Pep took over, and he was yet to hit 20 goals in a season. He stayed on the right flank but bagged 38 goals in Guardiola’s debut campaign, more than doubling his previous seasonal best. Once Samuel Eto’o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were out the way, Messi was moved more central, basically operating as a false nine but as a lone centre-forward rather than in behind a traditional striker.
It was at this point that the goals really began to flow, and also that Barcelona hit their peak. In the 2011-12 campaign, Messi scored 73 goals in 60 games, as well as bagging a record 91 goals in the calendar year of 2012. Not only was Messi now scoring on a frighteningly regular basis, but he was also becoming an incredibly well-rounded forward who dragged defenders all over the place and carved out chance after chance for his teammates.
This positional and stylistic alteration by Guardiola not only assured Messi’s status as the best player on the planet, it also – as we are seeing now – gave him the potential for far greater longevity. In the last season or two, Messi has moved deeper and deeper, becoming almost an attacking midfield playmaker, although he continues to guarantee 40+ goals a season.
It’s impossible to say how Messi would have developed and where we’d be now if it wasn’t for Guardiola’s coaching, but given the way in which Messi has developed and the career he has had, you’d be inclined to say any other manager would struggle to have had a more positive influence upon him.