The Spanish club preferred to attract big names… and ignore the balance sheet
The greatest trick ever played by Spanish coach Josep Guardiola was to convince the world that there is what we can call the DNA of clubs! Football as a whole changed when Guardiola was appointed coach of Barcelona in 2008. It was not just that the eyes of the world were opened to the full potential of possession, or those goals being scored in the knockout stages of the Champions League – despite the fact that Both – but it was about providing a certain model of what things could be.
We are talking here about a technical manager who had no experience working with the first team, and then immediately excluded the two most prominent foreign stars in the team, the Brazilian star Ronaldinho and the Portuguese Deco, and won in his first season the European Champions League, the Spanish Premier League and the King’s Cup with a team It has seven players who came from the same youth team that he personally came from. Guardiola has managed to achieve great success and provide beautiful football at a low cost. So, the question now is: Why wouldn’t any CEO want to follow the same path and model?
Obviously some don’t want that, some CEOs care more about branding and marketing, thinking about signing big names and being portrayed as geniuses by a certain kind of fan who lives on transfer news rather than actually winning matches. .
But for those who are already prioritizing sport, the message seemed very clear: Clubs should be more like Barcelona. Clubs must have a clear philosophy that is taught through the youth academies and then applied to the first team, which facilitates the promotion of young players, which saves the huge money spent on new deals. Young talents emerging from the youth academies are likely to be more loyal to the club, and the public will be more receptive and tolerant of any mistakes these players may make. The kind of bonding that characterized Barcelona might just have been the result of years of learning the system and playing together.
Manchester City’s owners – after generous spending at the beginning – were smart enough to realize this and create all the atmosphere needed for Guardiola’s success, even before his arrival, by building a Barcelona-style club and hiring two of Barcelona’s former senior managers.
But what makes it so confusing is that Barcelona themselves have abandoned those principles. The Catalan club owes 1.3 billion euros (£1.1 billion) and has great young players such as Gavi, Pedri and Ansu Fati, as well as Sergino Dest and Ricky Puig, players who could form the core of a strong young team who could have been helped and patient during the dissolution of the club. for his financial problems. The fans could have been persuaded to be patient to build a strong team in three years, during which Juan Laporta says to fix the mess left by his predecessor, Josep Bartomeu. Moreover, the one who takes over the technical leadership of the team now is Xavi, who also comes from the youth academy and embodies the values of the Catalan club.
If the club had managed to win any championship under these difficult circumstances, it would have been a wonderful romance. And if he doesn’t win anything, there is no problem, because rebuilding takes time. The absence from the Champions League and the loss of revenue that the team gets from participating was a real concern, but Barcelona preferred to spend large sums of money by signing Rafinha and Robert Lewandowski and mortgaging his future, believing that the best course of action is to sign players with names. The big and ignoring the balance sheet, and the hope of the start of the European Super League sooner rather than later!
It turns out that even Barcelona themselves can walk away from the DNA that once set them apart from other clubs. But in truth, most clubs don’t have DNA, or at least not in the way the term is used. DNA is the excuse used to offer a former player with limited experience the job of first-team coach in the hope that he “knows the club well” and will somehow be able to replicate Guardiola’s success. That is why Chelsea appointed Frank Lampard, Manchester United appointed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and Juventus appointed Andrea Pirlo.
DNA is also the excuse that fans use to turn on managers they don’t like, like Sam Allardyce. Louis van Gaal has been accused of disrespecting the way Manchester United operate, Steve Bruce has been accused of failing to understand the spirit of Newcastle, and Marco Silva has been accused of being unsuitable for Everton. But for the most part, the different identities of the clubs are indistinguishable in terms of how they play. Each team likes to portray itself as playing attacking football. “Well, we can’t sign this manager because he doesn’t make us play the fun football that we have,” he says. We are used to it!”
But it is nonsense to say that there is a distinctive acid for any club, other than Ajax and Barcelona, which of course adopted the Ajax model thanks to the influence of Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff. Arguably the most successful managers and the true greats of English football have broken the club stereotype and created something entirely new, such as Herbert Chapman, Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, Don Reeve, Brian Clough, Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger.
Liverpool F.C. is a rare counterexample, with the know-how passed from Shankly to Bob Paisley to Joe Fagan to Kenny Dalglish, but that disappeared in the mid-1980s. Although Liverpool, led by German coach Jurgen Klopp, is constantly pressing opponents, it is difficult to find any significant continuity between the current team and the Liverpool team three decades ago. Manchester City, having built a Barcelona-style model, may be looking to maintain this approach after Guardiola’s departure – even if the financial benefits of producing players domestically are less relevant to them than traditionally funded clubs.
When some laughed at Manchester City for talking about looking for a more ‘holistic’ approach when sacking Roberto Mancini, of course it made sense if the manager’s selection, new signings process, scouting and youth development all worked out the same way – provided the model was flexible. Enough to evolve with the development of football as a whole. That’s why Todd Boehle said he wanted Chelsea to be like Liverpool, whose efficiency in the transfer market has been one of the main reasons he has been able to keep pace with Manchester City in recent years. The same is true at lower levels too. Swansea City, for example, got over its financial troubles under Roberto Martinez, Paulo Sousa, Brendan Rodgers and Michael Laudrup, before new investors arrived and changed approach.
Perhaps in time, this coherence of approach could become, as happened with Ajax, an integral part of the club’s identity. But the idea that clubs, other than a very few, have a certain style of play they can’t give up, is very much their own myths without it being real.
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