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English Football's Top-10 Managers of the Decade, 2010-2019: 2nd - Pep Guardiola

Before anyone starts waffling on about the avalanche of money that Pep Guardiola has had at his disposal. Yes, we get it, he’s had cash to splash, there’s no denying that. But so have plenty of other Premier League managers.

What differentiates Guardiola from the rest is; the combination of his intensity and philosophy, the execution of his vision, and his iron will to win. The Spaniard is the managerial composer who has transformed Manchester City into one of The Great Teams in English history, through the orchestration of his own spin on ‘Total Football’: the mesmerizing patterns of play, the spellbinding transitions, the control of space and the fluidity of movement.

Like his former manager and mentor Johan Cruyff, football for Guardiola is not just about winning but the way you win. “Johan built the cathedral, and it’s up to us to maintain it,” Guardiola famously once said.

Guardiola only arrived on English soil in 2016, but since then he’s accumulated seven trophies at Man City, including two Premier League titles - Sir Alex Ferguson is his only equal when it comes to titles this decade. Guardiola smashed records en route to his first league triumph, then became the first manager of the decade to retain it in that outstanding domestic treble triumph. 

In just three full seasons in England he has racked up 276 points, and in the process recorded the two highest points totals in Premier League history. Guardiola now ends the decade with a Premier League win rate of 74.63% - the best of any boss in that 10-year period - while his final match of 2019 brought his 100th Premier League victory.

You won’t be surprised to hear that he’s reached that milestone in fewer games (134) than any manager in the history of the competition.

No.2: Pep Guardiola
No.2: Pep Guardiola

Guardiola’s appointment at Man City created much fanfare as it followed a sensational seven years in management - four years at Barcelona, then three years at Bayern Munich after a sabbatical - that had wielded 21 trophies, including six out of a possible seven league titles, and a couple of prized Champions Leagues.

It’s therefore fair to say that eyebrows were raised when he endured the first trophyless season of his managerial career (2016/17) in which he was cast into the shadows by the excellent Antonio Conte, who tasted title success with Chelsea. But despite the initial disappointment, Guardiola had laid the foundations for future success.

“The very first day Pep took training, he got the whole squad out on the pitch and told them: ‘Man City does this when they have the ball and we do that when we don’t have it,’” revealed Mikel Arteta in Pep’s City: The Making of a Superteam.

“And all them understood exactly how we were going to play. It was non-negotiable. That talk lasted just 15 minutes, but in those 15 minutes City was born.”

The greatest managers adapt to different leagues and in turn achieve success. So, unperturbed and a year wiser, Guardiola learnt valuable lessons from his maiden campaign on English soil, as did his players who had taken time to adjust to his unique system.

Come his second season, Guardiola’s principles were second nature to City’s squad, and the club responded by conjuring up the most dominant and dazzling title win the Premier League has ever seen. 

City didn’t just win the title, they stormed to the finish line in record-breaking fashion. A landmark 100 points were stamped on the board - 19 more than any other side - 32 games were won, and a gargantuan 106 goals scored. Such was their dominance that the Citizens trailed for a total of just 153 minutes in league games. Winning the League Cup - Guardiola’s first trophy in England - became a mere footnote.

Guardiola’s third season was the cherry on the cake, as he became the first manager in English football to win the league, FA Cup and league cup.

City came from behind to edge out Klopp’s valiant Liverpool by all of one point thanks to a nerveless 14 game winning streak from February through to the end of the campaign. "It's the toughest title I have won in all my career, by far," revealed Pep after he became only the third manager to successfully retain the title in the Premier League era.

Critical eyes hone in on the abundance of resources Guardiola has had at his disposal, yet under his watch City have managed to combine individualism and collectivism, whereby talented individuals thrive in a cohesive, disciplined unit. And when they thrive, they thrive.

Just look at how the likes of Raheem Sterling and Kevin de Bruyne have elevated their status to ‘world class’ over the last few years thanks to Guardiola, while Sergio Aguero also altered his game, and in turn flourished. “Pep makes sure all his players improve,” explained Aguero in Pep’s City.

“He makes the best even better. It’s just what he does. He won’t leave you alone for a second - there are no off days.”

Managers are not only judged by trophies, but by their influence and impact upon the game itself, and with that said Guardiola has played his part in revolutionising English football. Goalkeepers and defenders have developed into the first line of attack.

Take Ederson for example. He was signed in 2017 not just for his prowess between the sticks, but because of his technical skills and composure under pressure. In other words he could be utilized as an auxiliary outside player. It then didn’t take long for ball-playing shot-stoppers to become all the rage in English football.

Guardiola’s tactical ideals have inspired a cultural shift on this island. More and more teams at lower levels - grassroots too - are drinking in and in turn imitating his concepts, such as playing it out from the back and the employment of a more possession-based style of play. A concoction of geometry, movement and space is now evident around the country as England moves far away from his traditional ‘punt it forward’ tag.

“He’s been an innovator,” stated England manager Gareth Southgate. “When I watch kids’ football now, when they can get on pitches that aren’t flooded or frozen, I see them playing out from the back. I don’t see (coaches) with heads in their hands saying ‘get it forward’.”

Over the past three-and-a-half-years Guardiola has been a superstar managerial presence in the Premier League, and one that Man City will hope prolongs his stay at the Etihad as the club enters into the new decade.

Decade CV

1x English domestic treble

2x Premier League titles

2x League Cup

1x FA Cup

1x LMA Manager of the Year

2x Premier League LMA Manager of the Year

2x Premier League Manager of the Season

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