The start of the 2020/21 season saw Pep Guardiola pass a significant milestone. Not in the Catalan’s career as a manager had he embarked on a fifth season at a club before. At Barcelona, he lasted four seasons in charge before departing due to exhaustion. At Bayern Munich, he enjoyed three successful season before making the move to Manchester City. Following the news that Guardiola has signed a new contract, it seems that he will remain in the Premier League until 2023. However, that won’t stop speculation on the eventual replacement for Pep Guardiola once he does finally move on.
When Guardiola pitched up at the Etihad Stadium, he found a club that had been shaped in his image before he’d even been hired. Indeed, City spent years preparing for the arrival of the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss, hiring former colleagues Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano and building out the youth academy and training facilities. Guardiola didn’t need to overhaul Manchester City because a platform had already been built for him.
Recently, though, some deterioration has happened at the Etihad Stadium. The City team which Guardiola inherited, and adapted slightly over the first two years of his tenure, is coming to the end of a cycle. Last year, Vincent Kompany left the club. This year, David Silva departed. Next year, Sergio Aguero is out of contract, with Fernandinho also fading as a physical force.
Guardiola has never had to rebuild a team from the ground up but this is the challenge he now faces over the next few years at Manchester City. The process may have already started, with Nathan Ake, Ruben Dias and Ferran Torres signed in the summer transfer window but there’s a load road ahead for the Etihad Stadium outfit to reach a generational peak again.
Despite Pep Guardiola committing himself for an extra two years, it would be understandable if City used that period to begin sounding out a potential long term replacement for the Spaniard who is in uncharted waters with this length of contract.
City are taking an almighty risk by handing Guardiola a new contract. There is a growing sense that the Catalan’s methods and ideas are reaching saturation point. This happened towards the end of Guardiola’s tenure at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich, where he left before he could reverse any downward trends.
It’s not as if Manchester City don’t have other options, with some arguing that there are even better options available. Mauricio Pochettino has been put forward more than once as a potential successor to Guardiola, with the Argentine still out of work since being sacked at Tottenham Hotspur midway through last season.
Pochettino, of course, has experience of building a team almost from scratch, taking Spurs from top six hopefuls to Champions League regulars, even finalists, within just a few years. The Argentine is a maximiser of talent. He gets the best out of the players at his disposal and favours a style of football that wouldn’t be too different from what Guardiola has professed at City.
Julian Nagelsmann is widely regarded as European football’s next great coach, leading RB Leipzig to the semi finals of last season’s Champions League. The German is a modern thinker who favours an expansive style of play, just like Guardiola, but Nagelsmann takes the concept of fluidity and interchangeability to another level. His appointment could future proof City for the next few years at least.
If and when the decision is taken to bring the Pep Guardiola era to an end, it’s unlikely Manchester City would wish to rip up everything the Catalan has achieved at the club and start again by hiring a replacement with a completely different style. Guardiola has instilled principles and values at the Etihad Stadium that should sustain City for a long time to come. Diego Simeone, for instance, would not be the right man to carry that on.
Regardless of when he vacates the Etihad, Guardiola is approaching a juncture in his managerial career and City are approaching a juncture in this phase of their recent history under Guardiola. While there was plenty evidence to suggest the Catalan was the right man for them back in 2016 when they first hired him, there’s no evidence to support the notion he’s still the right man for them now.
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