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Russell Berrisford

Russell Berrisford

Russell’s support of Derby County eventually led him to leave the country. He has lived in Canada since 2007 and currently writes about soccer for The Vancouver Sun.


TANGENTS

Pep Guardiola and the Gorilla on the Golf Course

Written by on April 28, 2012 | 8 Comments »
Posted in Barcelona, General

There is an old joke about a guy who devotes years of his life trying to train a gorilla to play golf.

His friends constantly make fun of his plan but then one day he arrives on the first tee with the gorilla beside him.

The huge animal takes a driver from the golf bag and smashes the ball 500 yards into the centre of the green of a tough par 5.

The chastened friends spend their time hacking their way to the flag and discussing how much money can be made from the remarkable beast.

When they finally get to the green the gorilla calmly selects a putter and, without even lining up the putt, promptly hits the ball another 500 yards into a neighbouring field.

The moral of the story is that not only is it foolish to try to teach a lower primate to play a technically challenging past-time but also that in any sport being good at only one thing will eventually expose your limitations.

Enter Pep Guardiola.

Arguably the best manager of the current generation he fashioned a team that was not only beautiful to watch but one that was also ruthlessly efficient in winning games and trophies.

For years the best tactical minds in the game tried in vain to figure out a way to stop Barcelona even though they knew exactly what kind of game-plan they would employ.

Even Guardiola himself found it impossible to improve on his creation.

Bringing in Zlatan Ibrahimovic to play as a traditional centre-forward didn’t increase Barcelona’s options, it simply limited their opportunities to play the game in the best way that they can.

And this season has revealed the limited options that he has available when a few crucial injuries take their toll.

These limits weren’t caused by Barcelona having a lack of good players filling up the bench they were caused by the fact that those squad players found it incredibly difficult to seamlessly slot into such a finely honed system.

Even Cesc Fabregas, who spent his youth playing for the club, has found it hard to settle into a rhythm that is simpatico with the players around him.

And so, in the last couple of weeks, the seemingly perfect system has finally been foiled and, in the wake of being eliminated from both the Champions League and the La Liga title race, Guardiola has announced that he is stepping down from his role as coach.

What he will do next is already the subject of countless newspaper articles and blog posts but what is certain is that he will never again coach a group of players who are so fully in tune with his methods and so innately understanding of his preferred style of play.

At first that will no doubt be the most difficult aspect of his new life; having to explain things that he has taken for granted for so long

Yet there may also be positives that accrue from that very problem.

Just as Arsene Wenger benefited from taking over an Arsenal side that was already defensively disciplined then so might Guardiola benefit from aspects of his new team (whoever they are) in ways that we can’t yet imagine.

He may never create another team that is the clone of his current one but that doesn’t mean that the team that he does create will necessarily be inferior.

It may even have the infamous “Plan B” that he obviously lacked at Barcelona and, for his rivals, that thought must be scarier than a gorilla with a golf club. 

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8 responses to “Pep Guardiola and the Gorilla on the Golf Course”

  1. John Bladen says:

    Interesting piece, Russell. While I appreciate Guardiola’s achievements at FCB, the fact is his tenure was a bit short to put him on the list of the greatest managers of his generation, in my view. He certainly may yet get there (presumably with another club), but as with naming Messi amongst the best ever, I think we would be foolhardy to make such pronouncements now. Both certainly appear to have the ability to be as good as anyone has ever been at their respective careers, but it takes more than four or five years to get demonstrate this conclusively.

    I take issue with the notion that FCB was “found out” in this year’s CL. The fact is, their style of play was not throttled by Chelsea. They created many chances and failed to convert enough of them to advance. They also played poor defensive football in those rare moments when CFC had the ball. I don’t wish to discredit Chelsea for a stirling defensive effort, but if those two ties were played over, it is likely that Alexis, Kuenka (sp?), Messi et al do not miss the all their chances again.

    Chelsea were deserving winners, but to suggest they provided a template for other clubs to use to beat Barcelona would be stretching it (if that is what you intended?)

    As you rightly point out, several changes for FCB this year. In particular Fabregas did not seamlessly fit back in. The questions some of us had a couple of years ago about an aging defender or two have also popped back into mind.

    I don’t take this as a “sea change” in european football that will see everyone adopting the “Chelsea model”. Barca were not at their best this spring (not only in CL), and Chelsea played very well and defeated them. I don’t think it’s any more revealing than that, honestly.

    Do you disagree?

  2. Russell Berrisford says:

    John- I doubt that even Chelsea will adopt the “Chelsea model”. it was just a very effective way of playing against a team that weren’t functioning at their full potential.

    I do think Guardiola leaving is a sea change of sorts though for Barcelona and it’s hard (but not impossible) to imagine them hitting the same heights again.

    The interesting thing for me though will be to see how Guardiola will fare at a club that isn’t so immersed in his style of play and, as I try to say, it will be difficult for him but could also have advantages that we have yet to think of.

  3. Astronomer says:

    Russell,
    I take strong exception to your comment:
    “Enter Pep Guardiola. Arguably the best manager of the current generation……”

    What Guardiola did was definitely remarkable, but all that was done at one club (only — at least so far) and over a four year period. That is not enough to elevate him to the status of the “best manager of the current generation.”

    In my opinion, as of the present moment, Jose Mourinho has far greater claims to that honor. What he has done at four different clubs (in four different countries !) and over nearly a decade-long span is, in my reckoning, more deserving of the above honor.
    _______________________________________

  4. Russell Berrisford says:

    Astronomer- well I did say “arguably” which means that the statement is up for debate but one issue that some have with Mourinho is that he gives clubs short amounts of success and then leaves them in a less than healthy state.

    I think that both coaches have their merits and their flaws.

  5. Ed Gomes says:

    I don’t think that Mourinho leaves clubs in unhealthy states.
    Porto is a selling club do players were going to leave anyways.
    Chelsea had a nice core of vets, that are still playing well.
    You can say the same for Inter.
    It might be perceived,, but its the incoming managers that are unable to bring out the quality.

    As for Pep,he has done a tremendous job, especially starting at the academy.
    We’ll see what he goes onto once he comes back.
    Let me say here that I could see him at PSG after taking a year off.

  6. Ed Gomes says:

    I disagree with the thought that Mourinho left clubs in dire straits.
    Porto is a selling club so players were going to leave anyways.
    Chelsea was left with a veteran core that’s still producing.
    You can say the same for Inter, albeit an older bunch.
    The problem is that the incoming managers have not been able to produce at the same level.

    As for Pep, he’s done a tremendous job, especially starting at the academy.
    We’ll see what he goes on to do once he decides to come back.
    I could also see him at PSG should they falter next campaign.

  7. Astronomer says:

    Russell,
    You wrote: “……but one issue that some have with Mourinho is that he gives clubs short amounts of success and then leaves them in a less than healthy state.”

    You are using the above statement as a negative aspect of Jose Mourinho’s management. Well, let me turn it around and use it to eulogize Mourinho.

    Maybe what Mourinho does is to either make a team play to their real (or true) potential or make a team overachieve in relation to the players’ existing talents.

    At Porto, one can make a strong case that it was the latter — that the team overachieved under Mourinho. With Chelsea, Inter, and now Real Madrid, it probably is the former — that is, the teams played to their true potential.

    So, after Mourinho left Porto, Chelsea, and Inter, the teams’ performances went down — but why would you blame Mourinho for that?

    The faults lie with his successors at each of those three clubs: Jesualdo Ferreira at Porto, Grant/Scolari at Chelsea (Grant to his credit did reach the CL final), and Rafael Benitez at Inter.

    So, in a way, it is a testament to Mourinho’s exceptional talent as a manager that his successors have such a difficult time emulating him in terms of on-the-field achievements.

    ______________________________________

  8. Russell Berrisford says:

    Both Mourinho and Guardiola are great managers with positives and negatives.

    One negative of Mourinho is that he doesn’t think about the long term future of a club, and who can blame him if he is paid to get success straight away.

    But it is fairly common knowledge that he stays very much in touch with his former players and while that may not be a deliberate attempt to weaken the authority of his successor that can often be the outcome.

    He is far more pragmatic than Guardiola when it comes to adopting a style of play and it will be fascinating to see how the latter deals with that new challenge.

    It will also be interesting to see if Mourinho can build a long term legacy at a single club, and maybe Real Madrid will turn out to be that club.

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