Guardiola era heralds radical change but will it be sustainable?

For Manchester City, it feels as though the announcement that Pep Guardiola will take charge in the summer is the culmination of a four-year process.

From the moment Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano arrived as director of football and chief executive respectively, their aim was to appoint the man with whom they had achieved such success at Barcelona.

While Manchester United flounder in the post-Ferguson, post-Gill world, with a manager - Louis van Gaal - who was the most sought-after in the world 20 years ago and an expensive and largely incomprehensible transfer policy, City can congratulate themselves on their long-term planning. Or at least they can if it works.

A four-year battle to get a manager to sign a three-year contract will have been worth it if it establishes City as part of the European elite, whether through consistent success or because of the style of football they play - or, ideally, both.

And Guardiola, at the very least, will guarantee interesting football with his radical tactical approach and his meticulous manipulation of his side from the touchline.

Guardiola, though, has shown at Bayern that he is capable of adapting the purist passing style he oversaw at Barca; although he has won less at Bayern, he has probably proved himself a more rounded coach there.

But there is something more. In their statement when Robert Mancini was ousted in 2013, City spoke of their desire for a "holistic approach".

That remains the goal and that is why so much money has been spent on the academy.

On the most practical footballing level, that means having youth players learning a style of play that is practised by the first team, facilitating their progress through the ranks.

It was partly because of his perceived willingness to promote youth that Guardiola was appointed ahead of Jose Mourinho to the Barcelona job in 2008.

When it works, when a great generation emerges together as happened at Barca, a mutual understanding honed over years means that the level reached is arguably higher than anything that can be achieved by off-the-shelf purchases.

The danger is that the environment becomes so rarefied that outsiders struggle to adapt, something that happened most obviously with Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Barca.

Guardiola, though, has shown at Bayern that he is capable of adapting the purist passing style he oversaw at Barca; although he has won less at Bayern, he has probably proved himself a more rounded coach there.

It might also be asked quite how a personality as driven and domineering as Guardiola's fits into Soriano's holistic vision.

His demand for control, which is something reflected in his touchline persona, has been a major issue at Bayern, with constant spats with various club functionaries, most notably the doctors.

City, it is true, are a club with fewer established interests than Bayern but if their planning is as careful and as predicated long-term as it appears, it makes no sense to fall under a cult of personality.

Even if Guardiola does bring the Champions League, the thought will always be that success at Bayern could have been achieved by far lesser managers.

Bayern's dominance - and the latest Deloitte report into football finance shows their revenues for 2014-15 were 69 per cent higher than the next wealthiest German side, Borussia Dortmund - has slightly masked the rebuilding job Guardiola had to do when he succeeded Frank Rijkaard at Barcelona in 2008.

Managing City is a far greater examination; there are far fewer guarantees of success.

It may be true that, with the backing of Sheikh Mansour, City have greater resources to draw on than any other English Premier League club, but in terms of revenue, they lag behind Man United with three other English sides in the top nine.

When van Gaal described the Premier League as a "rat race", this is what he meant.

This season has suggested that the middle classes have risen (17 of the 30 sides with the highest revenues in the world in 2014-15 are in the Premier League) and that may make the league even more relentless than before.

The biggest question is whether Guardiola can sustain the intensity of his football over a full English season.

That is a concern not only for players asked to press, but also, given his ferocity on the touchline, for Guardiola.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2016, with the headline 'Guardiola era heralds radical change but will it be sustainable?'. Print Edition | Subscribe