For Pep Guardiola’s teams, I think more than anything they’re good on the eye. When you watch what players start to do for them, you see how he brings them on. Kyle Walker was a full-back who overlapped, and now he tries all different ways of playing. What he’s done with Raheem Sterling is transform him into a player who scores goals and assists, bringing him inside when other managers might have had him closer to the touchline.
For anyone who doesn’t want to play for Pep, I think it’s someone who doesn’t want to further their career, express themselves and improve their game. It’s a rarity to find a manager whose greatest strength is to improve players, and to be able to do that for the very best in the game too.
He gets them believing they can get even better, and when you get a group of players together who want to improve, you get a mindset that makes you feel unbeatable. He produces teams who can improvise, just like he could as a player, and it’s what he builds into the players he signs and develops.
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If you don’t have the skills, mentally and physically, that he’s looking for in his team, if you don’t have the bravery to take the ball and trust yourself, and to trust your teammates, you’re not going to be able to play for him. He won’t be able to fit you into his teams.
Paul Parker in action for Manchester United against Barcelona in 1994
Image credit: Getty Images
For someone like me, I would have loved him to have taken me to that next level. I had pace, I wasn’t bad in the air and I could defend despite my small size. That wouldn’t have been a dealbreaker for Pep, because it’s about ability, bravery, and being able to play for the team. That would have suited any player of my generation. The way he looks at his own game first, before the strengths of his opponents, might have been a weakness for him at the start of the Premier League. But now he understands that here you face a different challenge very week.
Jose Mourinho, though, has barely changed. He hasn’t changed much since his first Champions League win and I don’t like how he fits in with the game. The will to win by cheating, I think it’s a disgrace. We all know now, though, that he won’t change at this stage of the game and his management style doesn’t work with the mentality of today’s player.
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Modern players are not here to be bullied. Managers are meant to manage the situation they inherit, but sometimes it seems as if Mourinho isn’t prepared to wear that responsibility. He won’t take it on the chin when things go badly, or talk to players as individuals. Too much is focused on protecting himself.
Unlike Guardiola, he doesn’t really improve players. You get players who have flourished elsewhere, or who leave him and go on to flourish, and when he’s in charge they just seem sterile. Anyone who dares show creativity or individual brilliance risks getting a verbal backlash in the press, and the player ends up struggling. You can look at Juan Mata, Kevin De Bruyne and Mo Salah, and those are the kind of players who are looking to attack, and won’t try and break up play first. Mourinho wants players whose first thought is to destroy. If that’s not you, that’s a big problem for the player and for Mourinho. He’s missing the kind of creativity that allows you to win a tight game 1-0 through talent - instead he just hopes that a star player will make the difference.
You can compare that with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at United. He plays on the counter a lot too, but when he’s doing it, it’s with the expectation and hope that he can beat the big sides rather than to simply avoid defeat.
The problem for Mourinho here is that he’s going to go to City and just set his players up with the hope that they don’t get beaten. If they do that and go behind, they will find it very difficult to switch the mental approach of having to get onto the front foot. Spurs have a history of flair, creativity, and attacking. All of a sudden they’re spending most of their time defending. That’s a concern.
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