FEATURE: Why Guardiola’s First Season Can Still Be Considered A Success

Monday 1 February 2016. The day that it was announced that Pep Guardiola would be the next manager of Manchester City Football Club. The announcement had been years in the making, and City fans across the globe were both relieved and excited to finally land the manager they so desperately longed for.

That was then, though. Here we are over a year later, and how has Guardiola fared thus far in his inaugural campaign in charge? City were eliminated from the League Cup by rivals Manchester United, and then slipped up in the Champions League Round of 16, losing to Monaco on the away goals rule. The Blues currently sit fourth in the Premier League table, and face Arsenal in the semifinals of the FA Cup. But the question needs to be asked: Can Guardiola’s first season be considered a success?

The answer has to be yes.

Many City fans had rather unrealistic expectations for the manager’s first season on the sidelines, and understandably so. The man who led Barcelona and Bayern Munich to multiple league titles and to European success was expected to arrive in Manchester and do the same with an aging Manchester City squad.

Unsurprisingly, the Catalan hasn’t been able to replicate that same success this year with City. But to judge Guardiola’s first campaign on the basis of silverware alone is a bit harsh. He inherited a squad from Manuel Pellegrini with many players well past their prime. Yaya Toure, Pablo Zabaleta, Gael Clichy, and Aleksandar Kolarov are just a few players that are on that list. Not only that, many of the players on the City roster weren’t necessarily good fits for the system and philosophy that the new boss has introduced to the club.

Keeping that in mind, it’s easy to understand why City are in the current position they’re in – fighting for a top four finish and the chance to lift the FA Cup, although neither of those are guarantees.

Not to mention Guardiola has, statistically speaking, endured his worst ever season as a manager —seemingly something that could only happen at a club like City. Ultimately, the Catalan has found life in England to be much more difficult than in Spain and Germany. Injuries to some of his main summer signings have certainly hampered the team’s progress, but there are still many positives to take out of his debut year in the Premier League.

The fans have already seen just what the “Pep Effect” can do when he was able to sign Gabriel Jesus, arguably one of the best young talents in the world, while fighting off interest from the giants of Europe. Jesus even said that the chance to work with the manager was one of the main factors in his decision to make the move to Manchester.

The much-maligned Raheem Sterling, coming off a poor season and an even poorer showing at Euro 2016, has been a revolution underneath Guardiola’s nurturing wing. Leroy Sane looks like he has the potential to become a world-beater. The Catalan has only just begun constructing a squad that will be capable of competing across four different competitions.

The style of play under Guardiola has certainly taken some getting used to among City supporters. At one moment, City are playing the most beautiful football imaginable, and then the next the risky passes have fans groaning out of nervousness. But when the Blues hit their stride, it’s a sight to behold, something the home fans witnessed when they were able to comfortably beat Barcelona 3-1 at the Etihad. Results like that were one of the main reasons Guardiola was brought in. He did something his predecessors, Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, could only dream of accomplishing.

Of course, City and Guardiola have faced several setbacks during the 2016-17 campaign, but they have largely been dealing with growing pains during the new manager’s first year in England. There are signs of what this team could be capable of under Guardiola.

After another summer to clear out the deadwood from the club and bring in fresh, new talent – especially on the defensive front – City will be in full contention in all four competitions, with justifiable expectations to hoist several trophies by next season’s end.

To judge Guardiola after one campaign would be harsh, and it’d be even harsher to call his first season a failure. It’s been just the opposite: a successful foundation has been laid for the years to come under his control.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will be Guardiola’s City empire. But once it’s finished, City will at last sit at the table amongst the European elite.

Written by Matt Foster

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5 comments on “FEATURE: Why Guardiola’s First Season Can Still Be Considered A Success
  1. Pretty much agree with all of this. Between all the young talent and the team’s fast start (which included some beautiful displays like the first half against United), it was easy in the early going to assume that Pep’s City project was much farther along than it really was. But getting City playing “Pep football” on a consistent basis was always going to take a long time. It was six months into his Bayern tenure before that happened, and many of Bayern’s players were familiar with Pep’s ideas after playing a variation on them under van Gaal. With a much less talented lineup that had little familiarity with his tactical ideas, this season was bound to be a learning experience.

    The other big piece of the puzzle is personnel: City pre-Guardiola were an aging team that was overly dependent on star players who were either in decline (Yaya, Hart) or increasingly unable to stay on the pitch (Aguero, Kompany, Silva), and their back line has been a disaster in the making for a while, between the bad CB signings and the inattention to recruiting fullbacks. Even with all the players signed last summer, we had more needs than could realistically be addressed in a single window. And while I’m optimistic about John Stones’ long-term prospects, and I’m not unhappy with the season he’s had, asking a raw 22-year-old CB to solve all these problems wasn’t realistic. But assuming that Pep can recruit fresh blood at the back, and add a holding midfielder to replace Yaya, I think next year can be better.

    • One more thing, regarding expectations: part of the story of City’s season has been the learning curve of Pep’s tactics and discipline, but part of it might be that, honestly, sometimes it’s just not your year. Last I checked, the list of teams that might not win anything more than a domestic cup this season also includes Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, PSG, and, of course, Liverpool, United, Arsenal, and Spurs. And, apart from Arsenal, no one is seriously suggesting that any of these clubs needs to dramatically rethink their direction. Because sometimes you just have a down season, where a lot of things don’t go your way.

  2. On balance this has been a decent enough season.The failure of Pep to meet the unrealistic expectations of the fans and media is no faiture in real terms. “Rome wasn’t built in a day” is a decent adage to use, but “you can’t make decent bricks without straw” is a better one.

    Given the ageing squad that Pep inherited, what he was able to add to this, the style of play that he was brought in to replicate and the unfortunate injuries to two of his most influential players [Gundogan and Kompany], maintaining a Champions League place and an FA Cup Final should be considered better than accceptale. Most of the bricks are now in place and some 4/5 good signings of Guardiola style players this summer should make the those unrealistic expectations achievable.

  3. The last bit of this article is a bit OTT.

    Fine. Guardiola’s 1st season was widely touted to be a season of rebuilding and he was not helped by the fact that we set off like a train with 10 straight wins, which put expectations into the stratosphere.

    Take away that start and the season has been mixed. Bad fortune has certainly played a part. Injuries to VK, Gundogan and GJ have certainly impacted negatively.

    There have been some decisions which have been difficult for us mere mortals to understand (does anyone believe that we would have been weaker in defence if Joe was in goals rather than Bravo or WC?). The constant messing with the back 4 has also added to the general confusion displayed at the back. Also, brilliant as GJ was when he came in, I cannot see that it is sensible to risk losing Aguero (possibly City’s best ever player, and a player who would get into just about any team in the world) on the basis of 3 or 4 brilliant cameos by GJ. Aguero has proved his value over years and years. GJ would rightly expect to have to wait in the wings and prove his worth over time.

    PG was brought in to progress in the CL and City, for once, got a favourable draw in the last 16. Having got on top in a helter skelter match, it was really disappointing to lose out to Monaco in a game that was seeming won. The football was just as kamikazee as we saw in Pellegrini.

    In summary, in my opinion, the season has not been a success. IF City finish top 4 it will just about qualify as a par result. Winning the FA Cup – a tough task – would definitely add a dash of decoration.

    Currently Pep, and City, are pointing to potential and there is a huge difference between potential and trophies won. You cannot point to increased potential and call it success. Wenger has been living like that for years (“two more players”, “this squad will mature next year” etc. etc) and it’s not finishing well is it? Football is about the here and now – What can you do today to win? – and the currency is matches win, and the trophies.

    Hopefully Pep IS on a different plane from the rest, but it is not proven yet.

    • And after 9 months who could possibly know? I don’t agree with some of the fans view that this has been a disappointing season! Every other manager in football gets a transient period? This poor bugger arrives at ( almost) the start of the season), he inherited a not so good squad and the ones he’s added have mostly been out injured!
      I’ve found it really embarrassing the way he’s been treated by some if the fans! We never have or expected to have everything dropped in our lap, and also hope we don’t turn into the scum over the city, feeling entitled to expect it all and expect it now! That’s not who we are.
      Exciting times ahead, when you get things too easily and quickly your left with an empty feeling of it not being as exciting to get as the expectancy was!

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