Written during the summer, Elijah aka Mr Scripto pondered how useful it would be to appoint Pep Guardiola as Manchester United’s next manager.
At the time it was merely a thought, fantasy even but today news has emerged that the former Barcelona coach is Sir Alex Ferguson’s favourite to follow him into the hot seat at Old Trafford. Some news agencies have even reported that Sir Alex, David Gill as well as someone from the Glazer family met with Pep in New York to informally discuss him taking over.
So with that in mind, here is what Mr. Scripto felt Pep would bring to Old Trafford:
Time creeps closer to the moment when Manchester United’s most legendary manager decides it is time to hang up his tactical board and the Old Trafford faithful enter into a post apocalyptic nightmare.
A whole hosts of names have already been banded around, when the discussion for the Scotsman’s retirement arises.
These range from the conservative David Moyes, to internal appointments, like Rene Meulensteen and Warren Joyce, and the continental managers, Jose Mourinho, to be more precise.
However, since he announced he was quitting Barcelona, Pep Guardiola has been the man on United fan’s lips as the potential and best heir to the Ferguson throne.
The bane of the Manchester club in two Champions League finals, Guardiola has guided Barcelona to an illustrious period in their history and won an unprecedented sextuple in his 2nd season as Barcelona manager. The Spaniard’s achievements should not be baulked at but it would be a serious and ultimately, silly appointment to decide that Pep Guardiola is the man to lead us to glory after Ferguson.
How special is Guardiola?
Once Guardiola decided it was the right time to call an end to his career, doing so after finishing his first season with Mexican club Dorados de Sinaloa, he went back to the club he spent 18 years with as a player, Barcelona, to do some coaching.
He was appointed manager of Barcelona B on 21st June 2007, with his eventual successor to the Barcelona first team, Francesc Vilanova, as the assistant manager. He led them through the fourth tier of Spanish football, eventually gaining promotion to the Liga Segunda B in his first year of coaching. Seemingly, it was enough for Joan Laporta and Txiki Begiristain to have him promoted to first team manager of the Catalan club after Frank Rijkaard was relieved of his duties as Barcelona manager.
The story from there has been played out in front of our eyes: 14 titles in 4 years, making him the most successful Barcelona manager in the club’s history. So how did Guardiola make this team turn into the most attractive club in the world?
Under Josep, Barcelona stuck to a strict 4-3-3 formation, which compliments their possession philosophy. The 3 attackers, mainly act as strikers and not as wingers, like other teams that employ the 4-3-3 do. The width is provided by the two full backs, who rage down the wings all game. Busquets drops back into the defensive to provide cover with the two CBs. So essentially, Barcelona’s form changes from a 4-3-3 while they defend to a 3-4-3 to when they make the transition to attack.
When a team attacks Barcelona, which is not often, they take up a stout defensive position that makes it harder for the team to find a way through. However, this task is made distinctly easier once the team manages to get past the first block of zonal defence. Messi, Sanchez, Villa/Pedro and Iniesta would close the opposition high up the pitch so as to make it difficult for them to get out of their own half.
This is what would prove the stumbling block for most teams and this is what allowed Barcelona to win so comfortably. The few teams that managed to get past these four players would finally have space to pass the ball and Barcelona’s pressing would often be shown up by teams getting in behind the defence if the opponents linked up well enough with each other.
When Barcelona attacked their opponents, they changed into a 3-4-3/3-4-1-2 formation. Busquets played as a makeshift CB to allow Abidal and Alves to express themselves further up the field and give the width that had been lost with Sanchez and Villa/Pedro coming inside to become strikers. Messi notoriously played the ‘false nine’ role, dropping deep and providing the link play with the midfielder to either run at the defence or feed in the strikers or the runners from midfielder.
When Real Madrid beat Barcelona at the Nou Camp 2-1, effectively confirming the title moving to Madrid, you could see how they transitioned from their defensive form to their attacking form in a matter of seconds because it would have been drilled into them to change to formation when the ball was further up the pitch.
So we’ve seen how Guardiola’s team are very aggressive in their pressing but it leaves them very vulnerable to the counter attack and against teams that use a very direct form of attacking in the Premier League, how should Guardiola change it to accommodate the best of Manchester United and the best of the Tiki Taka Philosophy.
Manchester United + Guardiola = Direct Tiki Taka?
Sir Alex Ferguson has built Manchester United on the old English ideology of football where the wingers whip balls in the box for the strikers to feed off of and score goals into the back of the opposition’s goals net. The full backs venture forward every so often to provide support for the wingers. The CMs will run up and down, scoring goals and stopping the opposition from scoring goals. They would be tall men with immense physique.
However, football has changed since the 80s.
Fans aren’t hooligans but are instead fighting for places in line to get the much maligned prawn sandwiches. Also, the traditional winger has become old fashioned, being replaced by the inverted winger, who scores goals, gives through balls, crosses the ball and some of them may even track back. Smaller CMs, with more technique, are favoured by managers in this day and age, so if Guardiola were to take over Manchester United as of tomorrow, then this is what I’d expect of him to put out as a starting XI.
De Gea would be encouraged to play the ball out to the CBs, who would split to the edge of the penalty box and Carrick coming deep to provide another option for the keeper. Nani and Welbeck would have to track back a lot more considering that in England, full backs attack much more than in Spain.
Rooney would play the false 9 role that Messi plays for Barcelona. Welbeck and Nani would come inside to give options for Rooney to slide through the players. Evra and Rafael would be in support and give the width to the team, like Alves and Abidal did for Barcelona. Kagawa will run forward from the midfield but will have to run back to give cover, along with Scholes.
Is this what we want?
A Manchester United under Guardiola wouldn’t play direct football. A Manchester United under Guardiola would have a very aggressive press in play and we’ve seen how bad that could be in the Premier League, after the mauling at the hands of our rivals, Manchester City. Pockets of space will pop up all across the field. Of course, there are some positives to having Guardiola in control of the cub.
He would give a chance to the youngsters, such as Ryan Tunnicliffe, Will Keane and Davide Petrucci. He would allow a Director of Football to be in control of the transfers or even designate those responsibilities to our chief scout, Martin Ferguson and our chief executive, David Gill.
But, in my eyes, we shouldn’t allow Guardiola to change our club’s philosophy, simply because a continental team has played some nice football and succeeded with it. We have an identity and we shouldn’t rip it up and start again. We should build on it.
And if Guardiola does so, then maybe United fans won’t be in for such an ordeal when Ferguson does in fact call it a day.