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Guardiola: Dreamer, fanatic and artist

The things that the Manchester City manager is doing are so spectacular that his influence is steering soccer toward never-before-seen greatness

Jorge Valdano

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Pep Guardiola celebrates Manchester City winning its second Premier League in a row.
Pep Guardiola celebrates Manchester City winning its second Premier League in a row.TOBY MELVILLE (REUTERS)

The best.I will say it once and for all: what Pep Guardiola is doing is of such a high level and so spectacular that his influence is managing to steer soccer toward uncharted greatness. The opening lines of this article have three possible enemies: Real Madrid fans, Spain fans and results fans. In times of high emotions, it is easier to hate a person than it is to love a style of soccer. But it bothers me that a stunning career could be overlooked just because of the viewer's mistaken vantage point. Implicit within Guardiola’s achievements is the tremendous difficulty posed by the fact that his teams appear to make it look easy, as if it were all down to talent and not the result of hours of analysis, creativity, training and conviction. City is lifting trophies, but winning is within the reach of many. What is unique is to do so while revolutionizing the footballing culture of an entire country. And, along the way, the world.

City is revolutionizing the footballing culture of an entire country. And, along the way, the world

The team speaks to its manager. A dreamer, a fanatic and an artist all live within Guardiola. The dreamer is passionate, the fanatic stubborn, and the two of them are complemented by the wonderful artist who creates admirable works with different materials and in different countries. Works that are never the same, yet are always recognizable. The gameplay proposed by Guardiola is there to see three minutes after a game begins. Intelligent and generous teams who take on risks (95 goals in their favor) without weakening their defense (23 against). Guardiola’s statistics have been overwhelming since the day that he started to coach, but it would be in bad taste to recite them here. It’s more important to know that all soccer players are committed to the gameplay, moving the ball against all fronts of attack in search of the space that their rivals are trying to deny them. All of them are daring, all are generous in their efforts, all united when it’s time to defend, all of them moving in harmony. All of them are main actors in an unrivalled play.

Money buys players, not ideas. Money is all you need, you’ll tell me. But that’s not true. Because money can be spent in a thousand different ways. When Guardiola’s life was on the line at the last Premier League game, his three midfielders were: Bernardo Silva, Gündogan and David Silva. The strikers were Mahrez, Kun Agüero and Sterling. None of them are more than five feet 11 inches tall, even if they were using a stepladder. Some of them look like they’re melancholy, some of them have a reputation for being lazy, and others have a tendency for chaos. At City, they found the confidence and the complicity that gave them permission to play the way they dreamed they would when they were kids. I’m not saying that it’s impossible to play that well, but I must confess that I never thought that it was possible to do so on such a regular basis without a Messi in your arsenal. You need faith and courage to challenge prejudices that set alarm bells ringing with concepts such as “pragmatism,” “balance” and “physical strength.” And an encyclopedic knowledge to cause surprises every year with new nuances so that you continue to be unfathomable.

Uniting people and strengthening the culture of a club: that is leadership and Guardiola has the task in hand

In the best hands. Uniting people and strengthening the culture of a club: that is leadership, and Guardiola has the task in hand. City doesn’t have the historical pedigree of the big English clubs, and that means building something big without institutional and psychological foundations to shore it up. Winning two consecutive seasons in the Premier League, breaking point-scoring records and playing dazzling soccer defines his two major achievements as a great manager: taking thinking to the field, and always maintaining the competitive spirit. The soccer that he advances had admirable pioneers, who fought to impose their ideas within a less-welcoming cultural context than the current one. Because I believe that style was never better defended than in the current time. And now I must leave you. Because today City is playing another final, and I wouldn’t dream of missing it.

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