The winter transfer period ended on Jan. 31 and saw many high profile moves; however, the man to steal the spotlight was not a player, but well-decorated manager Pep Guardiola. The Spanish gaffer, who is currently guiding Bayern Munich to its third Bundesliga title since his arrival in 2013, announced he would sign a long-term contract with 2014 Barclays Premier League (BPL) champions Manchester City after the 2016 season. After all his success, the world can finally see if Pep can handle a resolute Stoke City outfit on a wet Tuesday night.
No one doubts Guardiola’s credentials—everything he touches turns to gold. However, if the 2015-16 season of the BPL is anything to go by, he is about to enter the most volatile and unpredictable league in world soccer. Current leaders Leicester City were in the relegation this time last year, and former champions and pre-season favourites Chelsea are drowning in the lower half of the table, fighting to qualify for Europa League. Pep may continue his gold streak in the BPL, but he must be a little wary of a league with such little consistency.
English first-tier football is a new kind of challenge: Pep must navigate the rigorous schedules that Manchester City will face. Balancing the European Champions League, the FA Cup, the League Cup, and the BPL is a feat very few squads can manage. Unlike in the German and Spanish leagues, English teams don’t get a Christmas break. Guardiola will encounter unprecedented fitness and squad depth conundrums. This season, Manchester City has been inconsistent in part due to constant injuries. Pep must quickly find the balance to create a squad with enough mental and physical stamina to make it through the season.
Another challenge is the amount of money in the league and the wealth of BPL clubs. Last year, according to the BBC, the average club revenue in the BPL was £181 million, compared to the German Bundesliga or Spanish La Liga reporting values of £126 million and £79 million respectively. Indeed, the BPL is on the verge of a new £5.14 billion TV rights deal with Sky Sports. These numbers allow English teams to attract high profile talent and stay competitive. For example, Xherdan Shaqiri, Ibrahim Affelay, and Bojan, all Champions League winners are playing for mid-table, Stoke City. Spanish Beasts, Real Madrid and Barcelona, or even the French champions PSG, do not face that type of talent in mid-table teams.
Finally, the pace of the English game is unmatched, and the art of Tiki Taka passing, a tactic Pep imposes in all of his squads, will definitely be tested by the aggressive defensive play of the BPL. Daley Blind, who signed with Manchester United last season, said that the consistently fast-paced nature of every game left him tired and required him to improve his game greatly.
These are but some of the reasons that very talented players suffer in the Premier League, as well as great managers like Andreas Villas Boas.
Guardiola is a quality manager, and the world expects him to achieve at Manchester City. Yet undoubtedly this will be the greatest test of his managerial career. The world looks forward to seeing him on the side of the pitch, barking out instructions to his players. Finally we will be able to see if Pep can really do it on a cold, windy night in Stoke.