Football, like life itself, is full of characters. From combustive agents like Mino Raiola to demi-god club presidents like Real Madrid’s Florentino Perez, and players that come along only once in a lifetime like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. And then, there is that special class of managers that bring out the best from players and build teams that win trophies and leave footprints in the sands of time. These managers are the Messis and Ronaldos of the dugout. Pep Guardiola and Sir Alex Ferguson belong to this exclusive group.
Guardiola, like Ferguson, has gone about his business in a uniquely different way. But one common trait they share is the will to win and the ability to translate that into actual victories on the pitch and trophies in the club’s cabinet. With different personalities, philosophies, styles of play and at different settings they both have achieved extraordinary results. For them, the end has always justified the means.
Pep Guardiola began his coaching career with Barcelona’s B team after retiring from a successful playing career in which he distinguished himself as one of the better footballers of his time. After putting up an excellent performance with the youth team, he was promoted to the first team in 2008 replacing Frank Rijkaard at the Camp Nou dugout. He has not looked back since.
His first season in charge was remarkable as he became the youngest manager to win the Champions League at just 38. He added the Copa del Rey and La Liga title to complete the treble. From then on, he was set on the path of success and he wowed many with his passion and style of play.
At the time Guardiola was making his breakthrough in Spain, Sir Alex Ferguson was already well established in England. He was creating his own bit of history in Manchester. But the Scot also had his days of small beginnings. While he may not have been as successful as the Catalan in his playing days, he did enjoy a fairly successful career in his own right.
He played mostly in his native Scotland and had a knack for scoring goals emerging as the top scorer in the Scottish league for Dunfermline in the 1966-67 season. He also played as a forward for St Johnstone and Rangers amongst others.
After rounding up his playing career in 1974, he immediately transitioned into management taking over as manager of East Stirlingshire at the age of 32. He later moved to St Mirren and took the club from the lower half of the old Second Division to First Division champions in 1977.
This set the stage for an impressive managerial career in Scotland as he later moved to Aberdeen and became a serial winner in Scotland and Europe. Moving to Manchester United subsequently came as a natural progression.
Guardiola vs Ferguson: Head-to-Head
The two managers faced each other twice, both times in the biggest matches of the seasons – the Champions League finals of 2009 and 2011. Pep Guardiola emerged victorious with Barcelona on both the occasions.
|Guardiola vs Ferguson||Head-to-head UCL wins|
Guardiola vs Ferguson: Most trophies Won
Winning trophies has been the stock in trade of both managers as their records for their teams have been difficult to break.
|Champions League||2||England 2||2||Spain 2|
|Club World Cup||0||–||3||Spain 2
|UEFA League/UEFA Cup||0||–||0||–|
|UEFA Super Cup||0||–||3||Spain 2
|Domestic Cups||14||England 9
Data table updated: July 16th, 2018
Style of play and football philosophy
Their styles were different but the goal was basically the same. In fact, both the managers shared the obsession of winning. Ferguson typically used to set up his team to defend stoutly and hit teams on the break when he faced difficult oppositions, but his United teams often overran less sturdy sides playing attractive and expansive football.
Whatever the opponent they faced, Ferguson’s teams always brought aggression and a readiness to take calculated risks and go for the kill at the right time. Fergie also used mind games to unsettle opponents.
Guardiola on the other hand demands possession football from his teams. He wants his players to starve the opposition of the ball by deploying skillful control and passing of the ball.
This use of short and quick passing has been referred to as “tiki-taka”. But for Pep it is not just for the sake of it as the team is required to overload the opponents with attacks in order to break their resistance, and hitting the opponents with as many goals as possible.
Being one of the most successful managers of all time, it comes as no surprise that Ferguson had a shaky relationship with some of his players right from the word go while there were plenty who could give their life on the pitch for him. He has been described as a strict disciplinarian who could sometimes be difficult to please. He was also ready to stir up controversies to give his team an edge. Call it going to any length to hand your team the advantage and you’re not far from the truth.
Guardiola on the other hand tries to avoid controversies and stays calm even when provoked. But he is also a bold character who is not afraid to buck the trend. He is usually very animated on the touch line dishing out instructions to achieve desired results. The former Bayern Munich manager is also very opinionated and resilient as he demonstrated during his second season with Manchester City. He insisted on wearing a yellow ribbon that bore a political message despite being charged by the English FA for the action.
Relationship with players
Both managers have been known to have a close relationship with their players. But they have been in the news for taking tough stands with players that did not conform to their expectations no matter their seeming importance to the team. It’s been more of a matter of considering the mission bigger than any member of the team, no matter how highly placed.
No player was seen as indispensable and both the managers were ready to sacrifice anyone for the team’s progress. When Guardiola realised some key players like Ronaldinho, Deco, Samuel Eto’o in the Barcelona team presented big egos that could derail his plans for the team, he declared them surplus to requirements. He also parted ways with Zlatan Ibrahimovic to make room for his own style of play that revolved around the trio of Lionel Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta. It later proved him to be a genius as that midfield was the engine room of the team that dominated both La Liga and Europe.
He usually develops a strong bond with players that play to his instructions as he can be seen hugging and congratulating them after games.
Sir Alex Ferguson is known to be more of a ruthless manager than a friend. He adopts more of an authoritarian approach than that of leadership by consensus. As much as he does praise players that are exceptional, Cristiano Ronaldo for instance, he does not hesitate to lay down the law and ensure conformity. Cases such as his famous fall out with David Beckham for not showing enough commitment to the team prove the point.
He was so strict he was even nicknamed “Furious Fergie” by his players back in his Aberdeen days.
Here are a few quotes by players and managers on Sir Alex Ferguson and on Pep Guardiola.
The duo have left an indelible mark on the beautiful game. Both managers have had their names etched in gold as far as the history of the game is concerned, both for their clubs and in the annals of football as a whole.
This article was written by the member of our writer’s academy Emmanuel Odey.
Founder and editor of Footiecentral. A voracious reader who loves reading anything and everything related to the history of football. He’s an ardent supporter of Manchester United and rarely misses a match.