Pep talk: A commitment to the beautiful game

By Rituraj Borkakoty

At a time when the world is littered with hate and anger, Pep Guardiola has taken matters into his own hands by helping us escape the gloom, albeit momentarily. For 90 minutes, he brings that smile back to our faces by sending football teams that don’t really make the world a fairyland, but they turn their playground into a canvas with their exhilarating passing game.

His obsession with ‘Joga Bonito’ — beautiful football — has seen myriad aficionados attain footballing nirvana.

But the Manchester City boss hasn’t become the most sought-after coach for his never-ending desire to serve up a delicious treat: It’s rather his ability to produce champions with unmatched regularity that has put him on track to become the greatest manager the game has ever seen.

It’s hard to pick holes in Guardiola’s managerial career. Having become only the third coach in the Premier League era to win back-to-back titles, he has warned that his dazzling Manchester City team could only get better next season.

It’s not surprising that the Catalan exudes such confidence. Here’s is a man who never compromised on his footballing principles even as Liverpool produced Jurgen Klopp’s famous ‘Heavy Metal’ football to stifle City, building a seven-point lead in January to raise hopes of ending their 29-year-wait for the league title.

But City hit back at the Etihad Stadium when the two top guns clashed on January 3, handing Liverpool their only defeat of the season as they went on to stage a stirring comeback to win the most dramatic title race in Premier League history.

“Winning is so addictive,” a smiling Guardiola said as his players jumped for joy after that final-day triumph. What else did you expect him to say after winning his eighth league title — three each with Barcelona and Bayern Munich and two with Man City — in just 10 years since making his debut as a top-flight manager in 2008?

Of course, the pundits would argue that Guardiola has always been pampered with marquee names — Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, David Silva and Sergio Aguero — in the clubs that he has managed.

And that he has never faced the challenge of leading an underdog to a David-versus-Goliath-like epic. His critics would also target his failure to take the star-studded Man City to Champions League glory. Despite showing that ability to get the best out of his players, Guardiola has stunningly failed to guide City even to the semifinals of the Champions League — the most prestigious club competition in the world.

But the man who warmed the heart of a certain Johan Cruyff as a deep-lying playmaker for Barcelona back in the 1990s is unlikely to change his football philosophy.

As Manchester City CEO Ferran Soriano said at the 13th Dubai International Sports Conference in January, Guardiola’s Man City “is committed to playing beautiful football. We know that by playing this way, we will win a lot of trophies in the next 10 years”.

Which means Josep Pep Guardiola will continue to give us reasons to smile.

rituraj@khaleejtimes.com

Rituraj believes Pep’s 2008-09  Barcelona was better than Brazil’s legendary 1970 World Cup team

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