Pep Guardiola is a victim of the media's Brexit obsession
The Catalan manager has all but been deemed a failure by the media after a patchy run of form16:10 Friday 16 December 2016, 16:10 16 Dec 2016
As Pep Guardiola endures one of his most difficult runs as a manager, the media has shown themselves more than ready to declare him a failure, despite lauding his arrival in the league just a few short months ago.
Arriving as a genius, there were a few who questioned whether he would be able to adapt his tactics to the fast-paced, aggressive football of England; the true home of the game. Could he do it on a wet, windy night in Stoke?
Despite the fact that his team has lost just three league games so far this season, the press are ready to declare en masse that no, he is not. That attitude should come as little surprise, given the Brexit vote earlier this year.
As Spanish or German clubs dominate the Champions League winners list (not to mention the antics of the national side), football has become distinctly more European in recent years.
Even in the midst of an ongoing corruption scandal, the English FA remains on the outskirts of FIFA. Managers from abroad have been coming to the biggest league in the world from all over the globe, Europeans mainly, but now the turning tide has even washed up a precocious tactician from a former colonial territory.
Britannia may be changing, but its football is still the preserve of physical, hardy souls, the way it should be; they made the Laws of the Game, after all. And they are unbreakable Laws, not bendable rules.
Fans cheer big tackles, not positional discipline or possession. There will be no regulation or banana-straightening here.
But now Guardiola has arrived, like Thomas Hobbes, to point out that hard tackling and relentless running need not rule over English football by divine right; they can do something different, and indeed may have been doing something wrong entirely.
Football under Guardiola is not the anarchic, brutish game of the exposed island on the European outskirts, it is the vision of an "expert," an endangered species in this post-truth era. They have had enough of experts.
Many yearn for the 'good old days,' before football became the domain of experts, with their statistics and tactics, not the real football men. Men who know how to coach a tackle. Men who shut their mouths for several seasons if they make a mistake.
Guardiola's disdain for the very idea of having to make a tackle was clear in his recent press conference, his conception of the game barely countenances the action. If you have to tackle, something has gone wrong somewhere else on the pitch.
In his book on Guardiola, Marti Perarnau delves into the obsession that the Catalan shows for his work. In an extract published in Newsweek, he speaks to Ferran Adrià, a world renowned chef and "peer" of the famous manager, who believes that despite his critics, Pep hasn't gone far enough. Sure he is an expert, but he has failed to take the next logical step to achieve the clinical, sterile distance needed to assess the game with no emotion.
"It’s one thing to be a football expert who has watched thousands of games, but it’s quite another to know how to apply scientific principles to your work," says Adrià. "It’s almost like your players are robots on whom you test your ideas. Or at least that would be the ideal scenario in a scientific context."
There is no doubting that Guardiola enjoys his experiments. He plays Pablo Zabaleta in midfield, he asks John Stones and Claudio Bravo to play the ball out from the back under incredible pressure, and he has already tried eight different formations with his new team in the first 26 games in charge.
As innovative as those ideas are, Guardiola's experiments are not taking place in a scientific context; he is not in a lab, and Stones is no robot. He is in a contest, one where men like Tony Pulis, a good British manager, is waiting in the wings to play the type of football that defines the Premier League - swashbuckling, aggressive and direct. It may well be that the weakness of his highfalutin, elitist style is an eruption of an underlying fury that captures something of a simpler time in an imagined past.
Football fans and pundits are a fickle group in general, though. In a few weeks they may well be lauding Guardiola as a genius again if his side goes on a winning run, à la Antonio Conte's Chelsea team. But if he should fail, if the league refuses to succumb to his expertise and charm and he's sent back to Iberia with his tail between his legs, then they will celebrate how they have finally "taken back control" of their own game.
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