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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I read somewhere that a regular wage earner on average gets fired once per lifetime. Some never gets fired, others several times, but the average is once per person and lifetime. Within football, this number is definitely a low one. In particular, at higher levels, it is more common to have a couple of severance pay in their back pocket.

It is not rare to hear people say that the football / soccer world has become too cynical. Everything is about results and when they are not enough, a coach gets fired (let’s face it, it’s easier and cheaper to kick a coach than a whole team). Sometimes the results are not enough. Ask Fabio Capello who was fired from Real Madrid despite winning the Spanish league. The reason? They played dull football, the board said.

Now, when coach icons like Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have put the bag on the shelf, it has in some way become a kind of pink skimmer of the times that has gone by. That it was better before when coaches actually got the chance and the clubs dared to invest in them in the long run. Note that it took a while before Sir Alex actually started winning titles. It is not rarely described that Manchester United’s patience and belief in long-term and continuity were crucial to laying the foundations for the success that would later symbolize the club.

Of course, it’s not hard to dream back to these times, not at least for us coaches. We would like to keep our jobs by writing long contracts and then praying and asking for patience. At the same time, I can not help thinking we have become a bit too nostalgic here. That football + continuity does not always lead to success. Wenger, who certainly had a couple of really good seasons, can anyone honestly say he has been succesful in recent years?

Misunderstand me right here. I think of course everyone should get a chance to do their job. My coach god, Brian Clough, got 44 days in Leeds United before he got sacked. Obviously, it was a strange employment and nothing I recommend, but what says that long-term always leads to success?

I recently read an article about AC Milan, describing their recent majesty era in the mid-2000s. When they won the Champions League in 007, the players were Paolo Maldini, Gennaro Gattuso and Clarence Seedorf. Then, the explanation for the success was the club’s continuity, that these experienced players stood for stability and long-term. When they left the same tournament less than a year later against Arsenal, the excuse was that Milan had not renewed. This despite the fact that it was basically the same team that as less than a year earlier lifted the same cup. What was previously shouted was now what was criticized. Can not make up your mind, eh? 

This issue becomes extra important at the lower levels of football. Not rarely, the squads changes radically from year to year. The core of the group usually consists, but in Sweden, in many cases it is a whole new team that will be gathered in January versus January the year before. Some players move, others test the wings in a new club, a third will have children, a fourth will study and so on. Trying to work on the same methods as the year before, despite the fact that the group is basically completely changed, would be a sort of suicide mission.

Even at higher levels, this is a problem. Attractive players move to larger clubs, the bad ones got sold or the contract expires, long-term injuries forces the club to panic signings. And then the coach is there with a whole new group of players. Then it’s not easy to be long-term.

My point here is that this thing with long term is certainly a good thing, but also a kind of football utopia. Why do we dream of something that is impossible to get? Of course, we will not make changes just because we can, but I think the key to being successful as a football coach is rather about daring to innovate, finding new approaches and always wanting to develop. Wenger ran on with the same old ideas year after year, finally the reality caught him. Just as it now seems to make for José Mourinho.

Sir Alex is an interesting example. Although he lasted for a long time, he dared to constantly develop his ideas and methods. United really did not play the same from when he took over to what he left. He also had no problems eliminating players who no longer delivered. In most cases, coaches usually become nostalgic and refuse to abandon a winning concept, but not Ferguson. It honors him and shows somewhere that long-term is not a worthy goal in itself. It is rather about developing.

Somewhere, I believe that long-term and continuity are needed to some extent, but there is a limit to it. Development is much more important than continuity. Otherwise, we stagnate as a coaches and get worse, or others get better. Where this limit is, I do not know. Expecting large-scale works during a season may be too demanding, but adhering to the same method when no major results or improvements have been seen in 4-5 years may be dumbfounded.

I am tired of talking about long-term.
Let’s talk about development instead, shall we?