Pep Guardiola: The Maverick Who Strolled to League Titles in Spain, Germany and England

Pep Guardiola is number 4 in 90min’s Top 50 Great Managers of All Time series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next week.

In a career overview of one of the greatest managers of all time and the supreme coach working in football today, where does one start when trying to surmise everything into a few thousand words?

Well, we can start with the facts.

In the 11 years since he took over at Barcelona, Guardiola has won eight top flight league titles in three different countries. With Barca, Bayern Munich and Manchester City, the Catalan has fought off teams like Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool to establish his side as the dominant force wherever he goes.

Josep Guardiola,Mikel Arteta

Has that whet the appetite sufficiently enough? Ok, let’s get into it.

At the start of his managerial career, Guardiola worked alongside assistant Tito Vilanova as Barcelona B manager. It was soon to be revealed that Guardiola, who had guided the B side to the Tercera Division title in 2007/08, was to replace the outgoing Frank Rijkaard at the end of that season. Two La Ligas, a Supercopa de Espana and a Champions League in the space of five years was impressive work from Rijkaard, who had to deal with strong Valencia and Real Madrid sides either side of consecutive league titles.

So how would Guardiola cope with the pressure of replacing an evidently capable manager after just a season of experience with the club’s B team?

By immediately winning a treble.

Yes. When you’re Pep Guardiola, it really does fall into place that easily, such is the man’s passion for the sport and tactical ingenuity.

?Career Honours
?Tercera Division (2007/08)
?La Liga (2008/09, 2009/10, 2010/11)
?Copa del Rey (2008/09, 2011/12)
?Supercopa de Espana (2009, 2010, 2011)
?Bundesliga (2013/14, 2014/15, 2015/16)
?DFB Pokal (2013/14, 2015/16)
?Premier League (2017/18, 2018/19)
?FA Cup (2018/19)
?EFL Cup (2017/18, 2018/19)
?Community Shield (2018, 2019)
?UEFA Champions League (2008/09, 2010/11)
?UEFA Super Cup (2009, 2011, 2013)
?FIFA Club World Cup (2009, 2011, 2013)

Barca finished that season seven nine points ahead of Real with a tally of 87, thumped Athletic Club 4-1 in the Copa del Rey final, and strolled past Manchester United in a Champions League final largely remembered for Lionel Messi’s iconic looping header past Edwin van der Sar.

The following season brings another La Liga title as well as UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup and Supercopa de Espana triumphs as Messi begins his transition into the club’s talisman with an alarming 47 goals in all competitions, but the Champions League semi final exit to Inter is a first major disappointment in Guardiola’s managerial career. It’s also the start of the much-talked about rivalry with Jose Mourinho, which well and truly kicks off when Mourinho takes the reins at the Bernabeu the following season.

Jose Mourinho,Josep Guardiola

It’s fair to say, as all the hips kids do in the modern age, that Mourinho took a big L in that first season against Guardiola. He may have won the Copa del Rey, but Mourinho saw his side comprehensively played off the Camp Nou turf in the first meeting between the two sides in November, Barca winning 5-0 to show the size of the task facing Mourinho should Los Blancos want to challenge for the La Liga title. That victory took them to the top of the Spanish top flight, where they remained for the rest of the season. 

A tally of 96 points made Barca surefire favourites in the Champions League final, again against Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United.

Again, Barcelona provided one of the all-time great performances, triumphing 3-1 at Wembley. Ferguson even concedes after the game that his side have faced the best team he’s encountered in his career and come out second best.

Messi is now at the peak of his powers, but Guardiola meets his match the following season as Mourinho leads Real Madrid to 100 points and the La Liga title, and in April that season Guardiola announces his departure and emotionally says goodbye with another Copa del Rey triumph, ending his Barca career with 13 trophies in four seasons, making him the club’s greatest ever boss.

FC Barcelona's Spanish coach Josep Guard

A sabbatical in New York follows as Guardiola begins life without Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, etc. The combination of Tiki-taka – a phrase Guardiola has distanced himself from – and Total Football can still be found at Camp Nou, though it’s now fronted by players like Messi and Busquets alongside Arthur and Gerard Pique.

In January 2013, it’s revealed Pep will take over at German giants Bayer Munich, replacing the legendary Jupp Heynckes. Again, it’s a tough act to follow, but he spends four to five hours a day practicing the language and speaks with ease at his first press conference.

Guardiola gives it his usual gusto and passion and delivers three consecutive Bundesliga titles, but a struggle with the Champions League begins to emerge, a struggle that Guardiola is yet to suss out during his post-Barcelona career.

If the years at Barcelona were formative, Guardiola’s spell at Bayern showed his philosophy and style of play can translate across leagues. The dynamic pressing remains, instead this time the forwards benefitting are Arjen Robben, Robert Lewandowski and Franck Ribery.

In his three seasons at Bayern, Der FCB are knocked out of the Champions League by Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid – teams Guardiola knew from his time at in Spain and Catalonia. Despite the constant domestic success, a twinge of disappointment remains in not bringing the most coveted trophy in Europe to the Allianz Arena.

Teams Managed
Barcelona B (2007-08)
Barcelona (2008-12)
Bayern Munich (2013-16)
Manchester City (2016-)

In December 2015, it’s revealed Guardiola will leave Bayern at the end of the season, and the following February he signs a three-year contract with Premier League side Manchester City, a side at a crossroads after performing well below par during the 2014/15 and 2015/16 seasons.

While we understand Guardiola’s City are now one of the best teams in Europe, it didn’t start out so perfectly for him at the Etihad. Sure, he won his first ten games with the club, but a 2-0 loss at Tottenham shows some chinks in City’s armour. Soon after City had gone five games without a win following the home draw with Southampton, and it was clear some surgery was needed, with a creaking squad clearly hampering Guardiola.

Thankfully for Pep, that’s exactly what he got before the 2017/18 season. Ageing full backs Pablo Zabaleta, Bacary Sagna, Aleksandar Kolorov and Gael Clichy were all shipped out, with Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy brought in as replacements.

By loading each wing with pace, City had more options in attack and were able to break down the strongest defences in the league thanks to the full backs getting forward to support wingers like Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling.


Suddenly, there were threats coming from all over the pitch. Kevin De Bruyne had more options to gauge before making that killer pass, and David and Bernardo Silva were able to occupy defenders in tight spots before finding free teammates, resulting in back post finishes for Sterling and easy one-v-ones for Sergio Aguero.

Their relenting attack saw them reach 100 points by the end of the 2017/18 season, finishing 19 ahead of closest competitors Manchester United. If the feat of becoming the first team to reach 100 points in the Premier League was impressive, defending the title against one of the best Liverpool teams ever the following year was arguably even more so.

They ended up pipping the Reds by a single point, with their head-to-head record of a draw at Anfield – which could have been a win had Riyad Mahrez not skied a penalty into oblivion – and a dramatic 2-1 triumph at the Etihad, helping to tip the balance in the Citizens’ favour.

A victory over West Ham took them to the top of the table in February, and that’s where they stayed until the end of the campaign, with a 5-1 victory at Brighton on the final day completing a run of 14 consecutive wins to hold off Liverpool and retain their title. They also won the FA Cup and Carabao Cup that season, but just don’t mention the Champions League. Or VAR. 

Unfortunately for the rest of England’s so-called big teams, Guardiola has raised the bar to an unbelievable height. If teams want to topple the Catalan’s side, they know a target of 100 points has to be the aim before a ball has been kicked. Long gone are the days where 81 points could win you the title.

Josep Guardiola

Wherever he has gone, Guardiola has raised the bar. His teams now don’t revolve around the best players in the world, but around stars who he improves year on year until they are considered world class, Sterling, Ederson and De Bruyne being just a few examples.

Fans of ?Liverpool, ?United, ?Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham may not be happy right now, but what Pep has done at ?City, as well as Barcelona and Bayern, will go down in football history. We just need to be wise enough to watch and enjoy it while it happens.

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