“Guardiola wants to make football better…”
Perhaps this quote from Johan Cruyff, the man widely seen as Pep Guardiola’s philosophical and spiritual footballing forefather best defines City’s manager.
Guardiola arrives at the Etihad Stadium with a peerless reputation in the world game as an innovator, a master tactician and a born leader.
Before you even get into his unrivalled record for landing titles over the course of his seven years as a coach, the 45-year old’s renown for getting the very best out of the resources at his disposal marks his appointment out as even more exciting than any of the players switching clubs across the continent this summer.
Pep’s ascent from Barcelona B Head Coach to UEFA Champions League winner took place against a footballing backdrop very different to the one we find now in 2016.
Following an era where the moment of transition between defence and attack had been pinpointed as the single most decisive action in a match, allowing pragmatic, counter-attacking football to prosper, Pep showed that there was another way.
His way. Cruyff’s way. A beautiful way.
Just don’t mention “tiki-taka”.
“I loathe all that passing for the sake of it, all that tiki-taka,” Guardiola is quoted as saying in Marti Perarnau’s revealing Pep Confidential book, “You have to pass the ball with a clear intention, with the aim of making it into the opposition's goal. It's not about passing for the sake of it."
While having the ball is at the centre of Pep’s footballing philosophy, you only have to watch a few minutes of his FC Barcelona or Bayern Munich sides in action to realise that this strangulation of possession is no sterile domination.
His teams prod and probe, the players’ positions fluid, forcing overloads, seemingly tilting the pitch left and right, overwhelming with accurate passes and relentless overlapping runs.
Beautiful football, yes, but there’s more to it than aesthetic.
Speak to Guardiola and the tactical pillars of his football are given equal billing to the character, the determination and fighting spirit he demands from his players.
A player must be willing to sacrifice himself for his teammates – ego must be left at the door, there can be no special dispensations – aggression and intensity underpin the inherent elegance for Pep’s methods to take hold.
This is where the leadership comes in.
There is no “one size fits all” approach to his interpersonal management but a bespoke approach which accounts for all of the different personalities in a dressing room.
Speak to those close to the 45-year old and they’ll describe a man who places all of the pressure on himself to “convince” his players to play, to fight, to win.
If a player falls short of his stratospheric expectations, the blame will be directed towards himself rather than outwardly.
"I can't promise titles but I am convinced that the fans will be proud of us…"
These are the words Pep used in his very first press conference at FC Barcelona. Words he echoed upon taking up his latest role in Manchester.
He may not have guaranteed silverware on these first steps into management at the club he conquered Europe with as a player but he certainly delivered them. All of them.
Pep won the La Liga title in three of his four seasons at the Camp Nou and lifted the UEFA Champions League twice.
In addition, the Catalan giants won the Supercopa de Espana three times, as well as twice lifting the the Copa del Rey the UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup.
You’re 41-years old and you’ve won it all as a player and as a coach with the club you supported as a boy. Where do you go from there?
The answer, as it so often is with City’s new boss, “to carry on learning”.
Whether that’s taking tips from chess grandmasters like Garry Kasparov, Michelin star chefs such as his great friend Ferran Adrià or his footballing peers, Pep has a childlike curiosity about the world around him and will apply his learnings to his fanatical work in his office and on the training ground.
Guardiola’s insatiable appetite for education, coupled with his lifelong obsession with football and commitment to his ideas on how it should be played, took him to the Bundesliga to challenge himself away from his Catalan inertia.
It was the challenge that brought him to England and so it was three years ago when he arrived at the Allianz Arena.
Could Pep do it without Messi? Without Iniesta, Xavi and Busquets? Without his mother tongue? In another culture? In another league? How do you take over a treble-winning Bayern Munich side at the peak of its powers?
A new manager in a new country with an unfamiliar group of players who’ve won it all.
Do you rip it up and start again? No. Guardiola made just one signing in his first transfer window, subverting the footballing trope that a manager must build from a position of strength.
Pep absorbed the best of the footballing institution that is Bayern and blended it with his own innovative tactical ideas to produce some of the best football that Germany has ever seen.
This was no reskinned FC Barcelona but something new – a team in his own image with the elements of artistry and fantasy but with constructed on the foundations of that quintessential Germanic organisation and will-to-win.
He improved his players. Champions League and World Cup-winning players. He taught them to play new positions, showed them another way to win as a collective and they loved him for it.
In their words…
Lahm: “He took us to another level.”
Lewandowski: “An obsessive? ‘That’s right. He covers every angle to the smallest detail and he always demands 100 per cent in training and in games.”
Neuer: “Guardiola has moved Bayern forward in all aspects. I have learned a lot from him both as a footballer and as a human being.”
Ribery: “It is impossible to imagine the team without him.”
Robben: “It is just a great experience to work with him because with him, it’s football 24-7. He thinks constantly about how to make the team better and how to improve players.”
Seeing off the threat of Borussia Dortmund, Pep led his all-conquering Bavarians to the last four of the UEFA Champions League in each of his three seasons, landing the Bundesliga three times and winning the league and cup double twice.
He leaves Germany with an unequalled, jaw-dropping record: In seven years as a manager, Guardiola averages a trophy every 20 games.
Now, the question which has fascinated supporters ever since Guardiola was first linked with a move to the Premier League will be answered.
He won in Spain. He won in Germany. Will Pep keep winning in England?
The 45-year old arrives in Manchester to scratch an itch which has existed since his playing days: to work in the Premier League.
In a league with a reputation for fast and furious play, the footballing world waits with bated breath to see whether Guardiola’s cerebral, technical and tactical ideas will take root and flourish in these new surrounds.
Manchester City has changed a great deal since Pep was unable to agree terms on a contract at the back end of his playing career following a fortnight-long trial at the club in 2005 – (“Absolutely the right decision” the man himself admits now).
11 years on, with his name a byword for innovation and success, Guardiola inherits a team that broke new ground in the UEFA Champions League in May but has laboured a little in the domestic league over the past two seasons following three years of domestic domination.
His first priority in this new era in the club’s history will be to take back the title – a feat he has achieved in all but one of his seven seasons as a manager
“For Pep, winning is a consequence of playing well…”
The words of Thierry Henry, who played under Pep at Barcelona but how does Pep plan to win in England?
Away from changes to the playing squad, what will Pep do with the materials he finds already in Manchester at a club which seems perfectly set up for his arrival? What tweaks and adjustments will take place? How will the man blend his ideas with the Premier League’s footballing tropes? Will any young players catch his eye and make rapid ascents?
How things play out over the coming days, weeks, months and years promises to be one of the most captivating storylines in sport.
A new era begins.
Watch Guardiola's unveiling live on www.mancity.com this Sunday from 2.30pm and hear his first words as Manchester City boss.