Purist Pep gets his prize at last

While Guardiola has admitted to doubts over his future last season, he never wavered in the way he wanted his side to play.
While Guardiola has admitted to doubts over his future last season, he never wavered in the way he wanted his side to play. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Guardiola's style of play, hard work and huge demands pay off as he wins his first EPL title

LONDON • Less than 12 months ago, Pep Guardiola feared he could be facing the sack at Manchester City after his first trophyless season in an almost impeccable coaching career.

Now he has added to his three league titles each in both Spain and Germany by conquering England in a style that has provoked comparisons with the greatest sides ever seen in the Premier League.

Used to the highest of demands from his spells at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Guardiola believed other clubs may have been more ruthless after City finished 15 points behind champions Chelsea and in third place last season.

But City were never likely to cut Guardiola adrift, having waited so long to land him in the first place.

That patience has been rewarded in spectacular fashion as City wrapped up the title with five games to spare to match Manchester United's record for the earliest league title win in 2000-01.

While Guardiola has admitted to doubts over his future last season, he never wavered in the way he wanted his side to play.

"Last season, many times when I was asked (if) it works to play my way and I said, 'I am going to insist'," Guardiola said recently.

Questions were also raised in the British media whether the Spaniard's possession-based style was compatible with the more physical approach in England.

He has proven his point, and he is not been afraid to make some hard decisions along the way, notably replacing goalkeeper Claudio Bravo with Ederson.

Critics point to the enormous sums City have splashed on players before and during Guardiola's reign, with nearly £500 million (S$937.8 million) spent on transfer fees in the past two seasons alone.

But the secret to his success is also taking the raw talent at his disposal and harnessing it into something even more special.

"A manager like that brings the best out of you, he makes sure to tell you when you're in the wrong," said Raheem Sterling, who has finally delivered on his abundant potential, scoring 22 goals this season.

While moulding the talents of Sterling, Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane, Guardiola has also kept City's old guard - including Vincent Kompany, 32, and Sergio Aguero, 29.

His magic comes from relentless work on the training ground and the intensive study of opponents.

In the book "Pep Confidential", Catalan author Marti Perarnau describes Guardiola's process of burying himself in his study for hours until he finds his "eureka" moment of how to defeat the opposition.

"He demands so much from himself. And those demands are contagious - it spreads to everyone. He wants everything to be perfect," said former Barcelona great Xavi.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2018, with the headline 'Purist Pep gets his prize at last'. Print Edition | Subscribe