Imagining an England Team Managed by Pep Guardiola
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Josep Guardiola i Sala was a player that oozed class, elegance and style and was an inspirational leader on the pitch for his club, Barcelona.
A real student of the game, he epitomized the Catalan's "Dream Team" era and was always destined to follow his mentor, Johan Cruyff, into management. Former Barcelona room-mate Ronald Koeman noted as much back in 2011, according to Rob Draper of the Daily Mail:
Pep was a fantastic guy. He was eager to learn and he wanted to know everything. From the very beginning he was asking me everything about the Ajax youth academy.
He would say, “Ronald, how do they train? What do they do? How do they play?” He wanted to know about the Dutch school of football. More than any other player he wanted to know about one-touch football, about positional play.
He had an insatiable hunger for information and a massive interest in the game. We spent hours talking football.
It was no surprise, then, when the man from Santpedor routinely set about taking Cruyff's "Total Football" dynamic and reworking it into the "tiki-taka" style we see Lionel Messi and Co. playing today.
That he left the club of his life as their most successful manager ever—a feat he achieved in just four years—says much about Pep's footballing philosophy.
After a one-year sabbatical, Guardiola resurfaced at Bayern Munich, yet things could've been so much different.
Pep Guardiola sought an interview for the England manager's job last year but the Football Association did not take up the opportunity. Instead they gave the job to Roy Hodgson because they were determined to appoint an Englishman.
If FA Chairman David Bernstein had taken the opportunity to hire the Catalan, what sort of set up might we have seen?
Clearly, Pep likes ball players. The type of footballer who is comfortable in possession, who doesn't panic under pressure and who always makes the right choice. Not for him the row z hoofer. Even the goalkeeper needs to use his feet as much as his hands.
Joe Hart is England's current No. 1, in reality because he has no real challenger to his position at the moment. Gone are the Peter Shilton/Ray Clemence days, where two world-class stoppers pushed each other to the maximum.
Hart generally brings a confidence and presence to the position and is equally as comfortable with the ball at his feet. However his shot-stopping and movement off of his line has been flaky recently—as his poor showing against Pep's Bayern proved.
Known for his trust in the youngsters, Guardiola may therefore cast more than a cursory eye over up-and-coming Jack Butland of Stoke City, a player who knows the England set-up well having been capped at every level.
In terms of playing style, Guardiola has often gone with a 4-3-3 but importantly has always had the playing staff on hand to fulfil that obligation. England tend to play a fairly rigid 4-4-2, but there is no way Pep would countenance playing a system many see as outdated.
So for this exercise, let's say bye-bye to the traditional English 4-4-2 and hello to a workable and modern 4-2-3-1.
Defensively, Guardiola would most likely stick with two marauding wing-backs who are as good offensively as they are defensively. Oh, if only Gary Neville were 20 years younger...
Kyle Walker of Tottenham Hotspur has been preferred in the right back position, however as these stats from EPLIndex.com show, Liverpool's Glen Johnson is better in all aspects of play than his contemporary. On the left side, despite his advancing years, Ashley Cole is still worthy of national recognition, however Guardiola will always go with the man in form.
Therefore, Everton's Leighton Baines gets the nod ahead of England's century maker.
Phil Jones of Manchester United is the perfect example of the type of central defender that Guardiola adores. Physically imposing, Jones is strong in the tackle, and more than adept at bringing the ball out from the back to build an attack.
Jones, arguably the way he is looking, could be our best ever player. I think Jones may be one of the best players we have ever had, not matter where we play him.
At 21 years of age, he is going to be a phenomenal player. I think he can play anywhere on the pitch.
He has such a massive influence, with his instinct and reading of the game. He has a drive about him.
High praise indeed.
Partnering, and complementary to Jones in the middle, is Gary Cahill. The Chelsea man is aerially superb, has a high level of successful pass completion and just edges out Phil Jagielka, Baines' colleague. Both Cahill and Jones can provide a necessary presence from dead-ball situations, giving Guardiola another option in an attacking sense if required.
As we move into the midfield, Pep could look to the double pivot that Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez play so successfully for Bayern.
His first choice in the role would surely be the outstanding Jack Wilshere. Despite being hampered by injury over the last couple of seasons, Wilshere has the engine to run all day long and the necessary "bite" in the tackle to protect the back four from the left side.
Move across London to Upton Park and here we find symmetry with Wilshere in the shape of West Ham's lively Mark Noble. The effervescent Londoner has very little weakness in his all-round game and both he and Wilshere are as effective offensively as they are sitting just in front of the back four.
With such a strong defensive base to build upon, it's essential that the front four are mobile, quick and, in an ideal world, have the intelligence to move around the attacking areas with ease.
Not for Guardiola the big man up front or a definitive left or right winger. As we saw with the Lionel Messi-Pedro Rodriguez-David Villa triumvirate at Barca, the Catalan likes his forwards to be comfortable in all attacking positions.
Raheem Sterling has seen a stop-start beginning to his Liverpool career, but there is no doubting the qualities that the 18-year-old could bring to the left-sided position. Superlative dribbling skills allied to lightning-quick speed and a mature appreciation of the football pitch make Sterling a natural choice in the position.
Since converting to a slightly deeper attacking role, Wayne Rooney has been a revelation. Dubbed the "White Pele" by Sir Alex Ferguson, as reported by Neil Custis of The Sun, Rooney might not have hit the heights of Edson Arantes Do Nascimento, but his contributions at club and national level have been masterful.
Robin van Persie has been the chief beneficiary of Rooney's excellent passing range.
Wayne Rooney is one the best passers in world football. In league play, he has a long passing completion percentage of 82.1 percent—better than Andrea Pirlo.
He has scored 30+ goals in two seasons. Now he is showing what a great passer he is.
This just reinforces what a complete footballer Rooney is.
Arsenal's Theo Walcott would, for some, be the natural choice for the right-sided berth, but the Gunners' wide man offers little other than a wonderful turn of pace. His (currently injured) colleague Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain gets the nod here by virtue of his better all-round game.
He has the directness of Walcott, but with the shooting power and accuracy of Lampard. He's not afraid to have a go from distance, and we know Guardiola also values players that play with no fear. Oxlade-Chamberlain's unshakeable confidence and belief is in stark contrast to the often fragile Walcott.
Importantly in this set-up, both Sterling and Oxlade-Chamberlain are adept on either wing giving up top as a front man, which gives Guardiola the alternative dynamic he requires if necessary.
That just leaves the striker. An easy one this. Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool is in the goalscoring form of his life and how Chelsea must regret letting him leave for Merseyside.
Not just a goal-poacher, Sturridge's intelligent movement and appreciation of the space and players around him mark him out as a special talent.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers is in no doubt what his main man brings to the party, according to David Maddock of the Mirror:
If Daniel maintains the form he is in, he’s going to be a real asset, and if you look at him and Rooney as a combination, that would be brilliant for England.
You have him and his cleverness, Rooney in behind him with and his movement between spaces and his exceptional quality.
Dan can move but has also got that pace to really hurt teams in behind them. At that level it’s so important.
He’s 24, scoring goals and playing well and that bodes well for him.
So there we have it. Pep Guardiola's England squad.
An XI that is defensively solid, has attacking threat aplenty, and a wonderful spine through the centre of the team. What do you think?
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