Friday 9 December 2016

Dion Fanning: Guardiola's next move will have a great bearing on European football

dfanning@independent.ie

Dion Fanning

Published 20/12/2015 | 15:00

Pep Guardiola
Pep Guardiola

A young jazz musician once approached the great Ornette Coleman at rehearsal. "Ornette, what do you want me to play on this piece?" he asked. "Play what you feel," Coleman told him.

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The young musician picked up his instrument. He began to play and to express himself. Coleman listened for a few seconds, then interrupted. "That's not what you feel," he said.

There is a scene in Pep Confidential, the story of Pep Guardiola's first season as coach of Bayern Munich, when he instructs Bayern's players to let themselves go. Shortly afterwards, he is arguing with Thomas Muller who says he plays best when he is allowed to play without responsibility. Guardiola tells him that if every player was allowed that freedom, it would be a disaster.

Guardiola, like all restless perfectionists in pursuit of something beautiful, has only a limited amount of time for the indulgence of the artist.

Every club wants what Pep has, or they want what they think he provides for them. He is obsessive, demanding and wears himself down. After Bayern Munich, he will be able to choose from the world's clubs, but it seems that it will be mainly Premier League clubs who will interest him. And they are desperate for him. Like the people who queue outside Apple stores for the new iPhone, they must have what is inside, but they also want what the iPhone says about them.

On Thursday night, Harry Redknapp made a doomed attempt to downplay the significance of the manager, insisting they were "grossly over-rated", mainly by themselves.

The game, he said, is about players, and now that managers don't have as much say in which players they get, he had a point. A manager's eye was once his most important quality, but now there are lots of eyes, and even more data, doing the job the manager, his assistant and his scout once did.

But the manager is more important than ever, even as he becomes more disposable, another piece of consumer culture which we must have, but which soon is dumped in the attic like a fitbit.

Munich coach Pep Guardiola
Munich coach Pep Guardiola

Most managers don't make a difference, but some make things worse and some make things better. In that, they aren't much different to people in any job.

All managers have an impact on the perception of a club which is why Guardiola is in demand, and why Swansea's pursuit of Marcelo Bielsa has excited so many people, even if it appears doomed before, during or after the appointment.

Jurgen Klopp has demonstrated the impact a manager with a keen intelligence can have. He was accused of a misjudgment last week when he gathered the players to thank the Anfield crowd after their home draw with West Brom.

For many, this was an egregious error, but one of Klopp's strengths is that he doesn't care what people think, believing, like all good managers, that there is nothing to be gained by cleaving to conventional wisdom, especially when you're trying to beat the odds.

On his first day in the job, he said "stop thinking about money", a heretical notion in the Premier League, like showing up at a Donald Trump rally and telling them that maybe immigrants aren't really that big a deal. When he was asked about signings in January, he said he had no space for new players.

This may or may not be true, but Klopp is engaged in a process of making the club think differently about itself. Liverpool has less money than its rivals and it can't compete for the same players they can. So maybe energising the crowd and providing players with fewer excuses will make a difference.

Guardiola has his own brand to consider which means there will be those who will be strangely disappointed if he chooses Manchester City or Chelsea ahead of Manchester United.

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Despite Manchester United having an official savoury snack partner, an official tyre partner and an official responsible drinking partner (hell, who hasn't had one of those?), they still seem to be the authentic choice, the club a man who cared about more than revenue would make. If Pep went to Chelsea or City, it would be seen as something else, like going to the farmers' market and finding that the hand-reared beef had actually been sourced at McDonald's.

Pep is expected not to disappoint all those who have invested in him, who believe in his power as a revolutionary, albeit a revolutionary who has managed two of the richest football clubs in the world, and will eventually manage a third. People look at Pep, as Nixon said of Kennedy in Oliver Stone's film, and see what they want to be. It is a priceless quality in a figurehead and one of the many reasons that he is so coveted, but there are others too.

At Barcelona and at Bayern, Guardiola has been able to create teams which are able to express themselves, but, more importantly, are able to express the feelings of Guardiola himself as he tries to imagine the shape of football to come.

He's not a guru or a snake oil salesman, but a visionary, albeit one who needs the best players in the world to realise his vision.

Still, Pep wants control. Possession is not an objective, but a tool. He doesn't believe in tiki-taka - "I hate it" - and his instructions on defence sound like they could have come from George Graham when he may or may not have been using a rope to drill his defence.

"The four need to move easily like links in a chain," he told Marti Perarnau, the author of Pep Confidential. "The movements must be automatic, like the tightening and unfolding of a folding screen, or the folds in an accordion - instant and always linked."

What Pep does next will have a great bearing on European football, but in his restless imaginings it couldn't be any other way.

Managers may be unable to change as much as they want, but they must believe they can change everything, including what you feel.

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