Pep "The Man" Guardiola: football's best coach of 2012 - David Ramos
Pep Guardiola is one of three men named by FIFA as candidates for the 2012 Coach of the Year award. While strong cases can be made for both Jose Mourinho and Vicente del Bosque, here's the case for Pep.
The case for Pep Guardiola is a tough one, as Barcelona failed to capture a major title in 2012. But surely there is case for Pep, one based on the style of play Barça exhibited, their success in the second half of 2012, and the overall effect Pep Guardiola had on world football.
If the FIFA Coach of the Year was awarded solely based on trophies won, Roberto di Matteo (who led Chelsea to the Champions League in 2012) or Roberto Mancini (who coached Manchester City to a Premier League title) would be in the final three, not Pep Guardiola. Both of these trophies are considered far more significant than the Copa del Rey-the only title won by Barcelona under Guardiola in 2012. What Pep Guardiola did in 2012 was exactly what he's been doing the previous four years: cultivate a culture of pure football at FC Barcelona, managing a team that plays the best football on the planet. For this, he well deserves to be FIFA's Coach of the Year in 2012.
FC Barcelona changed when Pep Guardiola took over in 2009. What was before a flashy team comprised of big stars and big egos became a true team that worked hard, played together, and won titles. Guardiola stepped in the year after "Los Cuatro Fantásticos" (Ronaldinho, Henry, Eto'o, and Messi) failed to win a single title, and barely challenged Real Madrid in La Liga. He brought his unparalleled work ethic, his humility, and he let go of any players that didn't fit in-even national icons like Ronaldinho. Instead of deferring to high-priced superstars, Guardiola asserted himself and his system, believing that a player who puts the team first is more valuable than even the most talented of those that put themselves first.
The system worked. Players that loved to play attacking, aggressive, stylish football bought in instantly, and were given the opportunity to succeed. Youngsters from the youth system were brought up, while superstars were let go. Veterans who had been overlooked were featured and played the best football of their career.
Most importantly, the team began to exude Guardiola's own ethos: hard work, self-confidence, and humility. No squad trained harder, was better organized, or more unified. There was a renewed sense of purpose, a belief in the success of a style, and for four years FC Barcelona set a new standard for excellence in football, hauling in an absurd 14 titles.
Pep Guardiola poured his heart and soul into his work, and the effect was more creative than managerial. While other managers may be applauded for nifty tactics or motivational speeches, Pep will be remembered for building a system of total football, for defining and exemplifying the values of an entire organization, and for the most beautiful football ever played.
Some may point to the immediate success of Tito Vilanova as evidence that Guardiola was perhaps not so important-that a monkey could manage this team to a few titles. On the contrary, Barcelona's continued excellence under Vilanova is proof of Pep's immense influence and importance to the club. Tito was Guardiola's right-hand man and pupil since 2007. When Pep left, Tito stepped in, and the FC Barcelona machine kept on going.
So complete was Guardiola's formation of the club that the man at the top of the ladder became, at least for a while, inconsequential. Pep may be gone, but his philosophy is carried on by his pupils-starting with Vilanova, and working down through the team captains. The footballing machine of FC Barcelona was engineered and constructed by Pep, and having flipped the switch and ensured that all systems were running smoothly, he stepped away. As Barcelona heads for possibly their best season ever, we watch as the machine continues to run.
Early 2012 was disappointing for FC Barcelona, as Real Madrid took back La Liga's title and Barça was bounced from the Champions League by an inspired and opportunistic Chelsea. Although Barcelona did finish strong and hoist the Copa del Rey, 2012 was in many ways the least successful year of Pep's reign.
Even so, a strong argument can be made that Guardiola deserves the award. 2012 was the year that Pep put the final touches on his project. Players like Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi solidified their standing as world-class players in the specific roles designed for them by Guardiola. A small rotation in personnel furthered the tradition of home-grown talent, as youngsters Thiago, Cuenca, and Tello came up big, and Cesc Fabregas made his triumphant return to the club. Most importantly, Barcelona continued to dominate ball possession, win games by wide margins, and delight fans around the world with their stylish, aggressive football. Barcelona ousted Real Madrid from the Copa del Rey, nearly pulled off a ridiculous comeback in La Liga, and came within a penalty kick of the Champions League final.
The other candidates-Jose Mourinho and Vicente del Bosque-also achieved great success in 2012, but were either a better manager than Pep?
Mourinho led Real Madrid to their first La Liga title since 2008, setting a record with 100 points in 38 games, scoring a record 121 goals, and finally defeating Barcelona at the Camp Nou. Madrid also beat Barcelona to win the Spanish Supercup-albeit after Guardiola had left Barcelona. Without a doubt, Mourinho managed Madrid to a superb season, and is a worthy candidate for coach of the year, but let's consider the context.
Real Madrid's current side is the most expensive ever assembled, with mega-signings Ronaldo, Benzema, and Kaka making up a second coming of "Los Galácticos" in Madrid. With the inclusion of Mourinho-fresh off a treble with Inter Milan-expectations were stratospheric in Spain's capital. Above all, Real Madrid and Mourinho were after a 10th European Title, but after two seasons in charge, Madrid has only gotten as far as the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
The second half of 2012 saw Madrid fall sixteen points behind Barcelona in La Liga, with chances of European success shaky at best ( an upcoming tie against Premiership leaders Manchester United looms). There is general unrest in the Madrid Camp, Kaka looks to be on his way out, Cristiano Ronaldo doesn't want to sign a new contract, and Mourinho himself seems likely to move on. So after hundreds of millions spent and just over two years of Mourinho's management, Real Madrid is on the brink of a catastrophic season, faced with the loss of its best player and yet another rebuilding effort. This precarious position most certainly is related to Jose Mourinho, his style of management, and his actions in 2012.
Aside from a fantastic league campaign, Mourinho brought Madrid no closer to their coveted "décima", and in the latter stages of 2012, quickly found himself conceding La Liga back to Barcelona and Pep Guardiola's pupil. If one considers the overall effect Mourinho had on his club in 2012, it's clearly a mixed bag.
Vicente del Bosque is the third candidate for FIFA's Coach of the Year award, based on his management of Spain's national side and an unprecedented run of international success. In 2012, Del Bosque led "La Roja" to their second consecutive Eurocup title. Among the challenges faced by Del Bosque was unifying a team composed largely of fierce rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona. He deserves great credit for the work he's done and the incredible success Spain has enjoyed, but there are two major points against his candidacy for Coach of the Year:
First, managing a national team is nothing like managing a top European squad. This is not to say it's an easy job, but the sheer number of games played, hours of training, and hectic travel schedule make managing a club like Barcelona or Madrid a much greater task. Del Bosque is perfect for Spain's coaching position, but his days of running a massive European club are most likely over.
Secondly, much of Spain's success in 2012 has to be credited to FC Barcelona and Pep Guardiola himself. Throughout the Eurocup, more than half of Spain's lineup was composed of Barcelona players, and their style of play was virtually identical to that of Barça, thanks largely to Xavi, Iniesta, and Cesc calling the shots in midfield. It's no coincidence that Spain's ridiculous run of international success mirrors FC Barcelona's dominance under Pep Guardiola.
While Del Bosque has done a fine job of managing Spain's talent, the cohesive, aggressive, possession football that won the Eurocup in 2012 was born in Barcelona under Pep Guardiola.
In the end, all three managers are worthy winners. On paper, Mourinho's fabulous title run of 2012 and Del Bosque's Eurocup win easily outweigh Guardiola's Copa del Rey. However, FIFA's award is about more than just titles, and takes into account the overall effect each candidate has had on their club or country, and the entire calendar year. Pep Guardiola has almost single-handedly created a total-football machine called FC Barcelona, a team that is often regarded as the best ever. While the results of 2012 didn't fall his way, a vote for Pep in this gala is a nod to the tremendously positive effect he's had on his club and on the entire sport of football. Guardiola showed that beautiful, stylish, technical football can be winning football, and Spanish, European, and World Football will never be the same again. The odds are against him, but a second straight Coach of the Year award would be well deserved by Pep Guardiola.