Ever wondered why this Manchester City team is so good? Ever asked yourself what it would be like to train under the expert eye of Pep Guardiola?
Well, Kitchener FC – a pub team based in Ipswich, England – was given that opportunity, the chance to experience the coaching of a footballing visionary.
Guardiola watched their matches and his coaching staff analyzed the way the team played and then the serial title-winner oversaw a practice match between the Earl Kitchener Tavern’s footballers.
And in doing so, Guardiola offered up some of the secrets that have made Barcelona, Bayern Munich and the reigning Premier League champions such a mixture of ruthless efficiency, unrivaled elegance and unwavering precision.
The importance of the goalkeeper position and the way the defense provides the foundation for any attacking move has become Guardiola’s trademark over the years.
When the 48-year-old Catalan signed Claudio Bravo from Barcelona to replace Joe Hart as his goalkeeper at City almost immediately after joining the club, it was an early signal of his intentions in England.
Bravo has since been replaced by Ederson, the Brazilian goalkeeper, whose ability on the ball as well as handling skills has added an additional threat to City’s already burgeoning armory.
“Playing out from the back is a lot about routine because the spaces are always there,” Guardiola told COPA90 presenter Michael Timbs. “The most important thing that we try to tell them is [to] believe it.
“Because you are going to make mistakes in the beginning. It is easier to [play] the long ball and go to the second balls.”
However, for Guardiola, it all comes down to a simple equation. “When the ball is in the air, it is half and half,” he says. “When the ball is at your feet, the ball is yours.”
It is a justifiable logic that sits at the center of all that a Guardiola team seeks to achieve. On Wednesday, a City side missing both David and Bernardo Silva, as well as Raheem Sterling, strolled to victory against Cardiff with 79% possession in the process.
Guardiola explains his philosophy further, focusing on the advantage of playing out from the goalkeeper’s feet. When the central defenders are comfortable in possession of the ball and they are facing only one forward, “you should own the pitch,” he says.
When his side doesn’t have the ball, the only option is to get it back. If Guardiola was not necessarily the first man to dominate English football with a stylish possession-based system, his focus on winning back possession is, perhaps, an even more important part of the Spaniard’s game.
“Football players like to play with the ball,” he states. “They don’t play football just for running or to go to the gym.
“The main principle of that is that I’m going to pick you up and regain the ball because I want to play with the ball.
“You have to commit everybody to be aggressive if you want to regain the ball.”
It is a doctrine that has resulted in the domination of European football for a decade. His Barcelona is, in some minds, the greatest club team of them all.