Guardiola is England’s ‘dream appointment’ but Manchester City struggles are revealing

Matt Stead
England player Phil Foden, Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola and Belgium forward Jeremy Doku
Pep Guardiola would not make a good international manager

Pep Guardiola is perhaps the greatest manager ever, earning the international post he so desires. But these Euros have been miserable for Manchester City.

 

There are two prevailing accepted truths surrounding the managerial career of Pep Guardiola.

The first is simple: he could not coach a lesser team with players outside the physical and technical elite. That idea has persisted for about a decade, if not longer, and remains one of the stranger sticks with which to beat someone and dismiss their credentials, particularly with the proliferation of lower-league teams vaguely mimicking his style to increasingly hilarious results.

In December 2015, Harry Redknapp sniffily said he’d rather “see him go to Dagenham and Redbridge” instead of Manchester City as “that would be a challenge for him”. The ‘chequebook manager’ implication was both obvious and humorous, considering the source.

The second is perhaps even more straightforward: that Guardiola would elevate England to trophies. “I think if we had him as England manager, we would win tournaments,” said Ben Foster in November, albeit while touting Jason Steele and James Trafford for call-ups. Darren Bent did not tip Danny Welbeck or Jay Rodriguez for squad places in September but did say: “I believe with this squad of players we’ve got, if you get him in charge England win something.”

Both were echoing that widely-held sentiment ahead of Euro 2024, a tournament England would be “failures” for not winning, and one in which Guardiola’s own players have been middling to poor so far.

Neither Kevin De Bruyne nor Jeremy Doku could sufficiently inspire Belgium against Slovakia. Josko Gvardiol and Mateo Kovacic were powerless against Spain, whose worst player in a 3-0 win over Croatia was Rodri. Manuel Akanji, John Stones and Kyle Walker did well enough for Swiss and English wins, while Nathan Ake was a clear exception to the rule for the Netherlands.

That evidence might not be overwhelmingly compelling but the continued plight of Phil Foden for England captures a general sense that these brilliant cogs in the Manchester City machine are nowhere near as effective for their countries. Guardiola’s system players appear to have been restored to factory settings before being handed over.

Any drop-off is understandable. Guardiola’s meticulous methods and intricate tactics cannot be replicated at international level for a variety of reasons, time constraints, an ever-changing cast of teammates and sheer fatigue among them.

There is a quality issue, underlined, emboldened and italicised by De Bruyne chucking deliveries in the general area of Romelu Lukaku and not Erling Haaland. And it turns out Domenico Tedesco, Zlatko Dalic and Gareth Southgate might simply not be as good as one of the greatest managers of all time.

But perhaps at least the Guardiola myth can finally be retired, because while the Spaniard “would like” to coach at a major international tournament, it is difficult to think of a manager – or at least a manager’s approach, ethos and practices – less suited to the challenge.

“A national team. I would like to train a national team for a World Cup or a European Championship. I would like that,” he said when asked about his next career move in February.

“I would like to have the experience of living through a World Cup, or a Euro or a Copa America, or whatever it is. I would like that. I don’t know when that would be, if that is five, 10, 15 years from now but I would like to have the experience of being a manager in a World Cup.”

Guardiola has earned the right and would not be short of fawning suitors. Spain is an obvious option but Brazil have been linked and many in the England set-up view him as a ‘dream appointment’ worth ‘exploring’.

It would undeniably be fun, too, to see Guardiola accosting a Macedonian playmaker to aggressively praise them at full-time, to hear him describe San Marino as “so good, guys, so good” after battering them 115-0 in qualifying, and to witness him overthink a World Cup last-16 defeat to Turkey, presumably at that point being managed by Jose Mourinho.

But there is little to suggest it would actually work. Just like Southgate’s relative success with and suitability to England has in no way boosted his credentials and compatibility to a purported Premier League post, Guardiola dominating three countries domestically makes it no more likely he could transpose that to the idiosyncrasies of the international scene. His current players already look ordinary enough at that level when removed from the bubble.