Pep Guardiola’s arrival an inflection point in Premier League history
Over 20,000 professional players deemed not one footballer from the English Premier League worthy of starring in the FIFA/FIFPro World XI 2015, as was revealed at the recent Ballon d’Or ceremony in Zurich's Kongresshaus.
Barring England, all European hotbeds – Spain, France, Italy and Germany – found representation in a team comprising football’s crème de la crème from the continent.
This has been a recurring theme at the gala in recent years. Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidic in 2012 was the last player, having played a full season for an English club, to make the cut.
Premier League’s elite clubs continue to struggle against their contemporaries from the La Liga, Bundesliga and Serie A on the grand stage of the world’s biggest club competition year on year.
The Football Association’s flagship brand is the oldest and most watched football league in the world. Sadly, it isn’t the best league in the world. While squad depths of all 20 clubs make for an exciting league, the gap between the best in England and Spain is only growing.
The Premier League’s top dogs come up a cropper against the likes of Bayern Munich and Real Madrid in the Champions League. If a list of the world’s top 20 players is compiled, not more than two players from England will be part of it at the moment.
From Cristiano Ronaldo to Gareth Bale, Premier League stars continue to be seduced by the prospect of playing in Madrid and Barcelona. Despite a gigantic television rights deal, English top-flight football has fallen out of favor with the very best in the business.
Barring Sergio Aguero, no players of genuine game-changing repute have moved the other way. Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Angel di Maria did, only because they were surplus to requirements at their respective La Liga clubs.
From the perspective of Premier League football fans, a heartening new trend has taken shape of late that could gradually help England regain its position as the ultimate club football destination.
Managers of pedigree – Jose Mourinho, Louis van Gaal and Jurgen Klopp – have jumped on the Premier League caravan in the last two years. This clearly is a positive development for the league’s brand. The best players want to work with the game’s best minds, which is why influential managers are pivotal. High-profile figures like these help elevate the stature of a league.
Come June 30, another name will join England’s managerial heavyweights. Manchester City gatecrashed transfer deadline day, announcing Manuel Pellegrini’s summer replacement as the irrepressible Pep Guardiola.
Pep’s credentials are mighty but not spotless. While he ticked all the boxes with the Catalan giants, the missing Champions League trophy with the Bavarians should count as a major miss.
Sheik Mansour has signed the best-paid manager in world football with the singular motive of winning a Champions League. Some believe the Spaniard will make City serial winners, while other feel he could build a dynasty rivaling Sir Alex Ferguson.
Guardiola inherited winning teams at Barcelona and Bayern Munich. This City side is not on the same level as both of Pep’s previous employers. Hence whether Pep can bring transformational
change to the blue half of Manchester remains debatable at this juncture.
However, what is not a matter of debate is the value the 45-year-old brings to City and the Premier League in general.
While Lionel Messi, may still be out of bounds for City, Pep will use his pulling power to sign some of the best players in the world. With him in charge, the club will automatically become a popular destination for all the big names. Considering the resources at his disposal, Guardiola will inject City’s already formidable squad with more world-class talent. The opportunity of working under him will be hard for any player to resist.
Play, possession and position
With the Spaniard at the helm, City fans can expect their team to play way better next season. As the great Thierry Henry revealed on Sky Sports’ Monday Night Football, Pep orders his players to stick to a rigid positional system, allowing ‘freedom’ in the final third. No player from the right can move over to the left and vice-versa in Pep’s system. His obsessive approach will help City operate at an extremely high level of efficiency.
Added focus on youth
There is no doubt Pep’s arrival will lead to a rejig of City’s squad. The club’s new youth academy will be the biggest beneficiary of life under the new manager. Guardiola is known to spend considerable time in supervising the development of young players. From nurturing La Masia’s golden generation, to ushering Kingsley Coman and Joshua Kimmich into Bayern’s first team, Pep pays special attention to young talent.
Guardiola’s teams play with a distinct style. His system is a cross between thrilling attacking football and organizational discipline in defense. Pep’s drills his philosophy of fierce pressing and speedy attack into the entire squad. He is no advocate of one particular style. The intelligence of his plan lies in its flexibility. At heart, Pep is a pragmatist, which is why his approach will be wedded to City’s strengths.
With 19 trophies in six-and-a-half seasons, Pep’s arrival at the Etihad Stadium marks a definitive moment in Premier League’s history. His unrelenting pursuit of perfection and meticulous attention to detail will not just bolster City but also raise the benchmark of excellence in the league. More importantly, the hallmark of brand Pep, its credibility, will help England’s top-flight football regain its importance and influence in Europe.
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