In a rather disappointing winter transfer window in terms of big signings, the real news was the confirmation of Pep Guardiola as coach of Manchester City. Immediately, columnists from around the world predicted a new era of dominance for the Citizens. And they are probably right, but it will not be as easy as Pep had it in the past.
Pep Guardiola’s system is complex and its application takes time. To effectively develop his "positional play" he will require a certain type of players, clever with the ball and tactically adaptable. It will not be just about opening the chequebook and signing right and left, the right footballers will be required but also enough training time to acquire familiarity with concepts that are very different from those normally used in any club.
Guardiola had all of that in Barcelona, the club where the system was invented and has been applied in various degrees over the past 20 years. Not only Xavi, Iniesta and company were great players but they knew what to do on the pitch to maximize the advantages of the system. Pep gave them the tools and confidence, but the potential was already there.
At Bayern, he had the huge advantage of receiving a much more powerful squad than all of their rivals, Dortmund included, and that allowed the players to have enough time to adapt to the system without affecting the results of the team. Even without playing to their maximum potential, the Bavarians remained at the top of the table, and when the players finally understood what the coach wanted, they never looked back.
In Manchester, Guardiola won’t find players who immediately know what he wants and neither he will have the competitive advantage he had in Germany. City has one of the best squads of the Premier and money to buy players, but the same can be said of Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Tottenham and even Liverpool.
Consequently, the success of Pep, at least at the beginning, will be to the find the right signings, define who stays and who goes of the current squad and start working with his players (old or new) as fast as possible. And consequently, several questions arise.
Does Yaya Toure, the great star of the Citizen midfield, have the style that Pep needs? Let’s not forget that it was Guardiola who first decided to relegate him to the bench and then sell him in his time at Barcelona. (His agent seems to think that he doesn’t)
What will be the role of Kun Agüero in the scheme of the new coach? Without denying his sheer quality, the Argentinean is amongst a kind of strikers with whom Guardiola never felt too comfortable when he managed Barcelona and he never sought them when he moved to Bayern.
Who, among the central defenders feel comfortable enough with the ball as required by Guardiola? Kompany, Otamendi and Mangala are quite good, but I'm not too convinced that they fit with what the new coach wants from his backline.
Of course, we must not ignore Pep’s intelligence and how he could adapt to what we has. After all, he already showed his adaptation qualities at Bayern by using classical wingers (Ribery, Robben) and even pure number nines (Mandzukic, Lewandowski) both of which were no-gos at Barça.
Undoubtedly, he will find a way to capitalize on the players he has and accommodate his new signings. The question is simply whether he will do so in time to get immediate success in an environment that seems much more demanding than the previous ones in which he had to work.