Pep Guardiola in 2021
Image: Wikimedia Commons/ Steffen Prößdorf

Opinion: Guardiola’s influence has silenced traditional English football

When Pep Guardiola arrived at Manchester City in 2016, he brought with him an aura of innovation and tactical genius that had already transformed football in both Spain and Germany. His impact on football strategy has been profound, but not without its complexities. Guardiola’s influence has reshaped the Premier League in ways that have rightly advanced English football, but for all of his passing triangles and tiki-taka play, I believe Guardiola has done more to damage the fabric of the game than improve it.

Guardiola, whilst being an exceptional manager, has undermined the traditional physical and direct nature of the game

Of course, one cannot deny Guardiola’s tactical acumen, which has guided Manchester City to four league titles in a row. His emphasis on possession-based football, quick passing, and high pressing has set a new standard in the Premier League, forcing other teams to elevate their tactical approaches. Opponents have rarely had a chance to develop counters against the reigning Premier League Champions, as their squad continues to grow and evolve each year. Guardiola’s insistence on ball control and building from the back has influenced many managers and teams, pushing the league towards a more technically demanding and visually appealing style of play.

However, what many might see as Guardiola’s tactical successes in influencing the football pyramid to adopt overlapping centre-backs, inverted fullbacks and other styles of play, I see as merely aesthetic. What football fans truly want, moreso than easy-on-the-eye tiki-taka, is victory. Three points on the table, trophies in club cabinets, and bragging rights against opposition fans are what really matter. I would argue that Guardiola, whilst being an exceptional manager, has undermined the traditional physical and direct nature of the game, removing the element of unpredictability and excitement that should come with a matchday.

It worries me when now former Brighton Head Coach, Roberto De Zerbi, claimed his club prioritised ‘soul’ and attractive football over winning games, a view he continued to hold throughout his Premier League tenure. What strikes me most is the seeming lack of obsession with winning that football traditionally entailed. Guardiola’s sides consistently win games, but those attempting to replicate his tactics have often lacked the skilled players required to achieve an upturn in results.

Clubs across Europe are prioritising aesthetics over results

To illustrate my point, let me compare the infamous Burnley Football Club under its two most recent managers: the now departed Vincent Kompany, and current Everton manager Sean Dyche.

Though many view Dyche’s time at Burnley as an attempt to cling on to survival with mediocre players, he himself claimed he never sent his players out with the idea to accept a draw – his game plan was always to win. Dyche managed, with a promising young squad including the likes of Ben Mee and Kieran Trippier, to sustain Burnley in the Premier League for six consecutive seasons. Top of his achievements was securing a 7th place finish in 2018, guaranteeing Europa League football. Dyche achieved this with something many seem ardent to attribute to more ‘modern’ managers like Guardiola – mentality.

Dyche built a squad based on hard work. A squad that would fight for the badge, week in, week out. His classic 4-4-2 and ‘longball’ tactics may not have been pretty, but one cannot deny the effectiveness of Dyche’s time at Burnley, and the moderate success he has now brought to Everton, guiding them to safety in the face of numerous point deductions this season.

When Dyche was sacked in 2022, he was replaced by former Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany, who of course won multiple Premier Leagues in his playing career under none other than Pep Guardiola. Kompany’s attractive style of play worked well for Burnley in the Championship, guiding them to the title with 101 points. Many praised him for his ‘revitalisation’ after the Dyche era and expected him to guide the Clarets to Premier League safety. In the end, a squad led by the likes of Sander Berge and Zeki Amdouni were unable to survive in the top flight, with even underdog minnows, Luton Town, finishing higher. Since then, Kompany has secured the prestigious title of head coach at Bayern Munich. How?

What is apparent here, and worrying in my opinion, is that clubs across Europe are prioritising aesthetics over results. Kompany may do well in Munich – his Guardiola-inspired style of play complements a club that traditionally dominates the Bundesliga and possesses the calibre of players needed to suit the system. But at a time when Bayern desperately need to make up ground on Xabi Alonso’s Leverkusen Invincibles and get results quick, the appointment of a completely unproven manager, seemingly for tactics alone, is bizarre.

It is worrying that this ‘modern’ style of play is being preferred over traditional game-winning tactics

For all Guardiola’s benefits and developments with regards to English football, serious questions must be raised around his impact on the wider football pyramid. It is naturally unfair on managers such as Dyche, who have a better track record than the likes of Kompany and the recently appointed Chelsea manager Enzo Maresca, to be snubbed for top jobs. I think that whilst a more attractive style of play is ideal, this should never be prioritised over seeking to win games.

It is worrying that this ‘modern’ style of play is being preferred over traditional game-winning tactics, which have given opportunities to many lower-league clubs in the past and earned them the finances to grow. For many of these lower league clubs, playing out from the back is simply not feasible and will inevitably harm them, not just in the table, but in terms of their revenue. Should clubs really be putting their financial situation on the line, already in dire straits, just in an attempt to play like Pep Guardiola? I argue not, and I’m sure most fans would agree.

Whilst no one can deny what Guardiola has achieved in his career, and in particular his achievements in England, I fear that if managers and head coaches continue to emulate the Spaniard’s style of play, the exhilarating unpredictability and raw excitement of the Premier League may disappear completely.


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