It was a terrible day in Barcelona when Pep Guardiola signed his contract as Barcelona manager.
Wait, what?! Yeah that was severely exaggerated, I admit.
Before you shoot my head off, here is what I have to say:
Pep signed in 2008 and gave the world the impression that coaches can handle a group of players and directly lead them to glory. Mourinho gave people the same impression with Inter. Let’s go back to Pep.
He gave the team a few years of memorable football and success. As Barcelona fans, we will never forget him and the glory he has brought us. But life in FC Barcelona existed before Pep and will exist after Pep. And the illusion that Pep created should be forever erased from people’s minds. This is what I always say: Pep was the exception, NEVER the rule.
So what is the rule, anyway?
The rule is coaches won’t succeed from the very beginning and any coach in the world says that. He WON’T implement his style of play perfectly from the very beginning. His players WON’T understand every single detail he wants. He’ll seem clueless in some stages. That’s called starting a team from scratch and trying to make it your own.
Luis Enrique’s Barca is a perfect example on that.
- Here you have a group of talented players that were part of arguably the best team in history and these players themselves have improved in certain aspects of the game and deteriorated in others.
- You also have a set of newcomers from the summer transfers.
- You have a coach who is inexperienced yet is knowledgeable regarding the team’s style of play.
- You have a conflict in the style of play itself between players like Xavi-Busquets and one of your newcomers, Rakitic(who didn’t exactly play the ‘Xavi way’ back in Sevilla)
- You have an entirely new defensive line and goalkeeper.You simply lack communication and chemistry.
And this is where other coaches come into the picture.
First up, Mr. Simeone:
Simeone joined in the end of 2011. Atletico Madrid weren’t considered title contenders back then. Months passed and Atleti suddenly became Europe’s second best team and league champions running up against the two football giants: Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Simeone had less talented players than Barcelona and Real Madrid that’s for sure. What made his team who they were was the sense of unity and chemistry between the players. It took time, but they got there.
Next up, is the great Klopp.
Similarly, Klopp took the club to a sixth place finish in his first season in charge, and a fifth place finish in the season after that, before leading the club to successive Bundesliga titles and a Champions League final. Klopp didn’t have players with massive price tags. But over the years he implemented his ideas. His players GRADUALLY learnt them. By 2013, Dortmund were playing the most beautiful and most effective football in Europe. Well, here is a fact, Klopp joined in 2008.
Mourinho, although not exactly a great example on unity, can also be used to describe a transformation over time:
Mourinho had a team packed with talent. Yet, the special one was crushed in a famous 5-0 defeat in the Camp Nou. Mourinho took his time and created a force. This force went on to defeat Barcelona in the Camp Nou and claim the league title. From being crushed 5-0 to making Barcelona look absolutely clueless(under PEP and Tito), we can surely say that Mourinho learned from his mistakes and worked to correct them.
All these coaches had some things in common:
- They all looked tactically defeated in their beginning stages.
- The players did not connect the dots the way the coach wanted them to.
- They all eventually succeeded in one way or another(Although I know Mourinho’s Real Madrid is a bad example here).
Well, in defense of the special one(and I don’t do that a lot), he did fail in his first year with Chelsea once he returned but look where he is now in the premier league…And the examples of coaches who suffered at first then succeeded are countless. I am sure you have some in mind.
I always say: Being Barcelona’s coach is the toughest job in sports. You are the face Barca fans see after they wake up from a wonderful dream.
Enough about coaches!
What about the players? There is this misconception that players automatically find their perfect spot in any team they’re in and automatically blend in.
Players need to adapt to their environment even beyond football. So how can I expect, for example, Rakitic to excel from his first few months? Players who directly adapt are very lucky but not everyone is lucky. Some face difficulties and should gradually overcome these difficulties. Actually Rakitic is doing better than many(including myself) predicted. How can I expect Rakitic to be automatically used to how Lionel Messi functions? How can I expect Suarez, Messi and Neymar to click from the very beginning when they all have different approaches yet are all talented?
And HERE is the point. It is rarely ever about talent if you don’t have *again* communication and chemistry.
These players should get to talk. These players should get to understand each other.These players should develop player telepathy and it’s not developed over a few months.
*Player telepathy is a concept I made up(I don’t know if it exists) to describe what players feel when they are extremely and amusingly on the same wavelength. Xavi and Iniesta are a great example.
Which foot do you prefer to receive the ball on? Are you good in the air? If so, can I depend on you to receive certain tough passes? How fast are you? If I ask you to physically battle a player for the ball with my pass, will you do it or should I avoid passing for now? And these endless small details define a player and a whole team.
It is terrible to treat players like chess pieces. They have minds and they need to adapt to an environment, a style of play, and players they did not know before. This is never easy.
So there you have it:
A new coach, a new team formed of newcomers and players so deeply related to a previous style of play.
Van Gaal said in the beginning of the season: “Buying new players is easy. Making them play the way we should be playing is the tough part.”
Time is all what is needed to create a functioning team. We are blessed with the ability of purchasing the services of any player we wish to have. That does not mean we will succeed from the beginning. That does not mean the coach will implement his full ideas from the start. This surely doesn’t mean the players suddenly become connected together efficiently once they put on the same shirt because that’s never the case.
Finally, this is not to defend Luis Enrique. Luis Enrique could end up failing badly here. This is to defend any coach in the world who first arrives to a team(specially a team WHO HAS BEEN LIVING OFF A DREAM, I’m sorry I didn’t mean to shout) and suffers setbacks. This is to defend every player in the world who doesn’t automatically & magically fit into his team from the very beginning.
This is a call for patience.