The Philosophy Coach

2019-03-24

As some of you know, recently I was a guest at the “Rasta Möter” (a swedish podcast with focus on the local football / soccer of Gothenburg). One of the topics was about Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp. The host, Fredrik Airosto, asked me which of them I liked the most, which was really a tough one for me.

To be frank, I don’t like any of them. Which in one sense is strange because their football / soccer philosophies are their opposites, surely there would be one of them I like more than the other?

In the show, I mocked Guardiola a bit, in a way that made rings on the water. I’ve got lots of mails and comments about this matter. As always, some think I have good point, some think I am a complete idiot. I find it amusing that is usually one way or the other, so in this post I am about to balance my opinion.

First of all, I have lots of respect for both Guardiola and Klopp. Of course they are both great football / soccer coaches. There is no doubt about that. Guardiola wouldn’t have won as many trophies as he had without being good in his man-management and Klopp is, by record, good at spotting talents and mold them into shape.

But (because there is always a but), I think they are too narrow-minded and that one big part of at least Guardiola’s success is spelled money.

I have a term I use to describe Guardiola (and many other coaches too of course, but he is target here) – “Philosophy Coach”. By that I mean he is a coach that has his own view of how football / soccer should be played and sticks to it, no matter what players he has in his squad.

When I studied football / soccer coaching, our teacher asked us if we thought Guardiola would change his tactics regarding his new material (he was announced new manager of Bayern München at the time). Most of said no, and we were right. Instead of adjusting his game idea according to his players abilities, he simply bought players that would fit into his philosophy. Of course there was some minor adjustments, but the big picture was the same as it was in Barcelona – A team that had a lot of ball possession.

The same thing happened in Manchester City. Did we really think he would change his approach into football / soccer just because he switched team and country? Of course not. He wanted his team to have a lot of possession and so he bought the players needed to complete that task.

I don’t say that Guardiola isn’t a good instructor or that he is poor in his social skills. It is absolutely necessary to be good at both, especially when you are dealing with super stars on a daily basis, but that doesn’t change the fact that the money got him the players he wanted in order to execute his ideas. He hasn’t really changed his philosophy, not in any major way at least, since he became coach in Barcelona. The only thing that has changed is the amount of trophies and his status.

For me, a good football / soccer coach understands that he needs to adjust his philosophy. Of all the teams I have managed, none has been the same. One of them had good short-passing players, one of the teams were good at positional defense and so on. They all had weaknesses too. I understood that I cannot squeeze the player into a box that doesn’t fit them. Instead, I needed to build a new box that was more accurate to their skills.

It would be interesting to see Guardiola in a less skilled team, with a club with less money than Barcelona, Bayern München and Manchester City. Imagine Guardiola in Frosinone, Huddersfield or Real Betis? Or why not a national team, where you can’t buy players, like Switzerland? That would be interesting, to see how he would tackle such a challenge. How his approach to football / soccer would change if he didn’t have the best players. I mean, how many times during the past ten years has his teams been since as the underdogs?

Really the same thing could be said about Jürgen Klopp, even though in lesser degree than Guardiola. He has his ideas about “gegenpressing” which all of his teams has used. The thing I like with Klopp though is that he rarely buys top of the line players. It is usually young players that he molds into shape. Guardiola does that to some degree too, but where Guardiola only does it because he can, for Klopp it is a necessity since he doesn’t have near as much money as him.

The same thing could be said about coaches like Lars Lagerbäck, Otto Rehhagel and José Mourinho. These three men are primarily known for their defensive tactics. They often have teams that are seen is underdogs and therefore they deploy a very defensive structure in order to get success on the pitch.

It would be interesting to see them in teams where they are supposed to have the ball more than their opponents. Mourinho didn’t exactly fail in his missions at Manchester United and Real Madrid, was no success story either when he had teams that was supposed to control the events of the game. He has always been at his best when he has managed teams who has nothing to lose. The same thing could be said about Lars Lagerbäck. Imagine him in a club like Barcelona. Would he play so defensively with such a great collection of footballers?

When I say that I am a football / soccer coach, I am often asked to describe my football / soccer philosophy. This is in many ways a dumb question. I haven’t meet a single coach that doesn’t want to have lots of ball possession, lots of short passing and a team that uses the “gegenpressing” technique.

All of us wants to do that.
My point is that isn’t always possible.

Maybe I don’t have the money, maybe I don’t have the patience from the board, maybe I have too old players. The list goes on.

A good coach is a coach who understands this and that can adjust his ideas to the players he or she has. Who have many tools in the box and can use many styles of playing football / soccer. The beauty in football / soccer is not about short passing, it is about using the right tool at the right time. Or as Bob Paisley, the legendary Liverpool Manager once said – “It is not about the short ball or the long ball, it is about the right ball”.

There is a lot of things to be said about Sir Alex Ferguson (no, I am not a Manchester United fan), but he was a coach that changed his philosophy through time. He didn’t have the same tactics from the 80’s to the 2010’s. He developed and understood that he needed to change in order to gain success. In that way, he was an excellent football manager.

Finally: 
Keep in mind that this is not a post about me disliking Manchester City or Liverpool.
It is about two managers who are too narrow-minded for my own taste.

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