Men's Team

Pep Guardiola: Mentors

Pep Guardiola: Mentors
If Pep has seen further than most in the managerial game, he will be the first to admit it was because he was standing on the shoulders of giants.

Even the greatest of footballing minds need their inspirations and City’s new boss has been fortunate enough to have worked with some of the sharpest and most innovative brains the beautiful game has ever produced.

Three men stand out above the rest – here are three of the most influential men in Pep’s trophy-laden coaching career.

Johan Cruyff 

“I knew nothing until I met Johan Cruyff.”

When the football world mourned the loss of one of its greatest thinkers earlier this year, Pep Guardiola gave one of the most moving tributes.

History has shown us that the best players don’t always make the best managers but Cruyff is a one-man exception to that rule as he went on to lead one of the greatest teams the world has ever seen in the early 1990s.

His Barcelona  “Dream Team” went on to lift 11 trophies in eight years following a lean spell of just one league title in 11 years and, for the most part of this golden age, Guardiola was Johan’s metronomic pass master at the base of midfield – the Xavi before Xavi.

Pep was given his debut by Cruyff in 1990 after graduating from the youth academy.

Before Cruyff, Barcelona had selected youngsters on potential physique but the Dutchman, inspired by the “total football” principles of his former club and national team manager Rinus Michels, brought an abrupt end to this policy.

“I had short lads like Albert Ferrer, Sergi or Guillermo Amor; players without great physiques but who pampered the ball with their touch and pressed the opposition like rats,” Cruyff said.

“Even Pep wasn’t all that physically, but with the ball he was intelligent. That’s what I wanted.”

Without getting too deep into time travel paradoxes, would Guardiola have made it as a player at Barcelona without Cruyff’s intervention, never mind one day taking up the managerial reigns where he won every available trophy with a team of pint-sized academy graduates like Xavi, Iniesta and Messi?

In Guardiola’s words: “Johan Cruyff painted the chapel, and Barcelona coaches since merely restore or improve it.”

MEETING OF MINDS: The pair share a philosophy
MEETING OF MINDS: The pair share a philosophy

Juan Lillo

When Pep joined Al-Ahli in 2003 at the age of 32, many took this as a sign that his playing days were coming to an end and expected the Qatari side to be his final club.

For that reason, it was something of a surprise when Guardiola opted to sign for newly-founded Mexican outfit Dorados de Sinaloa for one season in 2005.

Dig a little deeper, however, and the move wasn’t all that shocking, given that Juan Manuel Lillo, the man credited with inventing the 4-2-3-1 system, was the man in charge.

Although Guardiola’s class was still evident on the field in his 20 appearances for his final team, he was already gearing up for a career in coaching when he signed for the club, with education very much at the forefront of his mind upon arrival in Sinaloa.

Lillo was regarded as one of football’s great philosophers and Guardiola would go on to regard him, along with Cruyff, as one of his most inspirational coaches in football.

Pep would take a black book with him to training every day to write down pointers from the man who had held posts at Salamanca, Oviedo, Tenerife and Zaragoza.

Juan was never officially appointed into a specific role by FC Barcelona when Pep took the reins as B team manager in 2007 for his first coaching job but Spanish football expert Sid Lowe wrote that “his fingerprints were all over the project” in the introduction to an interview with Lillo in the Blizzard, published in 2013.

Lillo once said that there’s no such thing as attack and defence – “a simplification” as he puts it.

He explained: “You can’t take an arm off Rafa Nadal and train it separately.

“If you did, when you put it back in it may create an imbalance, a rejection from the organism. How can you gain strength from football outside of football?”

It’s easy to trace this school of thinking in Pep’s work on the training field where, rather than breaking up and working with the separate departments, he engages the whole squad in shape work and arranges the team into positions for with and without the ball.

Marcelo Bielsa

The coaching chapter of Pep’s Barcelona career went full circle when he faced off against Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao in his final game as manager in 2012.

It was the Copa del Rey final which took place six years after he sought Bielsa’s wisdom before taking up his position at Barcelona B, making an 11-hour pilgrimage to his house in South America where the pair bonded, sharing their footballing ideals long into the night.

Guardiola has always felt a strong affinity with the Argentine manager, nicknamed El Loco (the crazy one), who is considered as one of the most innovative, unconventional coaches in the world game.

Like Pep, Bielsa is a football obsessive who, as legend has it, owns thousands of games on VHS and has trained himself to watch two matches on separate screens simultaneously.

His signature formation is the 3-3-3-1 which he utilized during spells with the Argentine and Chilean national teams, as well as Athletic and Olympique de Marseille.

Central to this system being effective is the players’ fitness and then their willingness to press aggressively when without the ball and then attack in collectives of six and seven.

With the players’ buy-in, it’s a system which produces some of the most exciting football seen in the modern era – although Bielsa may lack the trophies his “student” has lifted, he’s unquestionably one of the most influential coaches in the game.

Following Barcelona’s win in that Copa del Rey final which brought down the curtain on Pep’s tenure, Bielsa humbly led the tributes to the outgoing boss: "After all the success and everything he has won, you have to wonder who is the mentor here and who is the pupil."

LOCO-MOTION: Bielsa in charge of Chile at the 2010 World Cup
LOCO-MOTION: Bielsa in charge of Chile at the 2010 World Cup

Watch Guardiola's unveiling live on this Sunday from 2.30pm and hear his first words as Manchester City boss.