Since arriving at Manchester City in the summer, Pep Guardiola has barely shifted from the centre of the footballing world’s attention. This weekend will be no different. City welcome Everton to the Etihad and Guardiola will be reunited with Ronald Koeman, a fellow friend and Barcelona legend for the first time as opposing managers.
Saturday not only offers both men a chance to get the upper hand in what is sure to become a friendly rivalry, but also to get their respective campaigns back on track after brief stumbles. Celtic halted Man City’s perfect start, before Tottenham overcame them in a 2-0 win. Meanwhile, Everton slumped to a 1-0 loss at Bournemouth and then were held to a draw by Crystal Palace.
The similarities in Guardiola’s and Koeman’s situations do not end there. Both may be out without their Belgian superstars, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku, and both will have meticulously calculated a strategy to outdo their opposite number, such is their character. That shared character was birthed in 1990’s Catalonia, in a Barcelona squad that triumphed at home and in Europe. These achievements at Barcelona set the standard and their subsequent managerial careers since have continuously met these lofty expectations.
Guardiola And Koeman: The Barca Days
Earlier this week, Koeman suggested that he taught Guardiola everything he knows. In reality, the Dutchman taught Guardiola some of what he knows, for this fascinated, and fascinating, Spaniard was likely picking the brains of other wise and intelligent football people within Barcelona as well. The late Johan Cruyff is an example, whom Guardiola describes as his mentor.
But what is 100% factual is that Guardiola was keen to absorb the knowledge of Koeman. When he broke into the Barcelona first team in 1990, Koeman was 27, with Dutch Eredevise titles, KNVB Cups and even a European Cup to his name. Cruyff proving as intuitive with other people as he was with a ball at his feet, paired the two together as roommates. Koeman was instructed to tutor his apprentice, teaching him the “Dutch style of playing”.
The records suggest Guardiola picked up this Dutch style as well as his teammates. Once making the breakthrough, he nailed down his position in the centre of Barcelona’s midfield into the late 90’s. A succession of long-term injuries was the only element to displace him and eventually take him to Serie A.
Koeman, meanwhile, had returned to the Netherlands in 1995 having made 264 appearances for the Catalan giants. Together, Guardiola and Koeman won four successive league titles and a European Cup. Perhaps more significant, at least for one of these players, was the knowledge consumed in their five years together in the Barcelona first team.
As injury started to hamper Guardiola’s career, Koeman was making the next steps in his. Assistant manager roles with the Netherlands and then Barcelona preceded the start of his managerial vocation that has so far spanned 16 years. Guardiola, meanwhile, stuttered to retirement. He made just over 50 league appearances in the five years that followed his Barcelona spell.
From Boys To Men
As players it was Guardiola, though himself talented and successful, looking up to Koeman. Now it is vice versa.
When the Spaniard took his first managerial job with Barcelona B in 2007, Koeman had already established a strong reputation as a manager, and suffered his first fall too. The Dutchman had won two Eredevisie titles with Ajax, as well as the KNVB Cup. With Benfica he won a Portuguese Super Cup, before winning his third Eredevisie as manager with PSV Eindhoven.
Valencia was his next destination. And he arrived just as his former Barcelona teammate was settling into his position as Barcelona B boss.
The 2007-08 season marks a significant reference point in the managerial careers of both men. Despite both winning silverware at their respective levels, neither would stay on in their current role. Koeman was sacked after winning the Copa Del Rey but failing to match that performance in the league. In contrast, Guardiola was promoted to head coach of Barcelona’s senior squad after earning promotion with the B team.
Making the step up, Guardiola had some catching up to do to match Koeman’s success. He wasted no time. Guardiola won the treble with Barcelona in his first season, becoming the first man to do so with a Spanish club. He won the league twice more, both the Copa Del Rey and Champions League once and also lifted the FIFA Club World Cup in 2009 and 2011.
Moving on to Bayern Munich, he won the Bundesliga three times and the DFB-Pokal twice. In eight years of management, the man who learnt all he knows from Ronald Koeman, had surpassed him and everybody else. Using a formidable brand of football, consisting of sharp passing, high tempo and rigorous pressing, Guardiola rose to the top of football management.
Finally, some 25 years since they started rooming together, the pair will shake hands and face off on the touchline.
As old friends reconvene, there has been a significant tip of the scale regarding their reputations in football.
Koeman, a fondly remembered stalwart defender, with superb technique, transformed into a solid club manager with incredible potential. In the adjacent dugout on Saturday, the man widely regarded as the best manager in the world, excelling in man-management, a tactician with impeccable results developed from a quality footballer and perhaps overshadowed by the emergence of Xavi and Andres Iniesta after his departure.
In what is undoubtedly the dream destination for one of these men is the conquered past of the other. Yet it is the club that links these former friends, European Cup Winners and footballing giants, that has shaped their managerial characteristics.
The nuances of Barcelona’s footballing tradition will be sewed into both Manchester City’s and Everton’s play on Saturday. There will be a clear emphasis on fast, incisive, attacking play and an outright demand on a high pressing strategy. A slight contrast in the styles will be the directness of each team. City will look to build from as far back as their goalkeeper, Claudio Bravo. While Everton will prefer to clear their lines and build attacks from the opposition half.
But what will be identical is that both Guardiola and Koeman will be orchestrating their teams from as close to the pitch as they can get.
In their first ever meeting as managers, we’ll discover whether the “teacher of everything Guardiola knows” trumps the student, or if the mentor outsmarts the tutor.