Winter: Visionary Pep has transformed football in this country

Winter: Visionary Pep has transformed football in this country
Winter: Visionary Pep has transformed football in this country

In the wake of Pep Guardiola’s 300th Premier League game in charge of Manchester City, Neil Leigh spoke to Henry Winter, highly respected former chief football correspondent of The Times and Daily Telegraph, to gauge his thoughts on Pep’s incredible impact.

Henry many thanks for your time. Sunday, of course, marked Pep Guardiola’s 300th Premier League game in charge of City. How do you even begin to quantify his impact during that period?

I think your word quantify is exactly right.

I mean, you can almost you get the calculator out and do the numbers can’t you?

300 Premier League games, 221 wins, 741 goals for, 247 against; a win percentage of 73.6% and the next one closest to those figures is Sir Alex Ferguson on 65.2%, so it's simply just those numbers.

I know football is about flesh and blood and humans and tactics, but the numbers themselves just absolutely scream that he's one of the greatest and particularly the 741 to 247 ratio, I mean the 741 goals, it's what two- and three-quarter goals a game… it's phenomenal.

And it just shows his commitment to attack.

Then once you look at the bare numbers on the page, you then think of the human beings and the work that Pep does behind all that.

I remember talking to Raheem Sterling once, and he was just talking about the impact that Pep had made on him.

He had had a good career up to then at QPR and at obviously Liverpool but then he trained on again under Pep at City.

So, this is one of the great things about Pep - he makes good players into great players. You can just see that in the way they develop.

John Stones was a good player before who developed into a world class defender.

I've been doing a little bit of research on a book I’m writing, and I was looking at some headlines six or seven years ago, which were about Kyle Walker being worried that his pace wasn't going to last forever.

That was six years ago! Kyle Walker's now the best right back in Europe because of his own hunger but also because Pep was in there working with him.

I don't particularly know Pep, but just looking at him and listening to him, Pep just seems unbelievably driven and that rubs off on the players.

And I quite like his impromptu coaching of the players and also, that he doesn't wait to get back to the dressing room to have a debrief with Jack Grealish, or Phil Foden, or Erling Haaland or whoever.

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He always does it on the pitch as they're walking off because he's got all that energy within him so he's a force of nature, but also allied to that is the respect that he has because of his own wonderful playing career, but also his extraordinary, visionary mind.

And then there is the meticulous way he goes through preparing for teams. So, all that, that's all the emotion and the intelligence behind those extraordinary numbers just makes him one of the best this country has ever seen.

Pep has so far accumulated 16 major trophies at City but does his impact run deeper than that?

It does. When you talk about trophies and obviously the Champions League was huge but the five Premier League trophies in what seven seasons – and there could be a sixth too – it's beyond words.

To go up a hill and get to the top is a remarkable achievement in itself.

But just to stay there rather than come down the other side is the sign of true greatness - to do it season after season.

You know, it's like the best bands in music. It's coming up with that difficult second album. You know you can have a good first album, but it's just doing it again and again and again.

And Pep's done that. He’s got that extraordinary energy to keep going.

Pep has got every right to go and sit on a lovely beach near Barcelona and get a cigar out and be with his family, and yet he's out in the wind and the rain and just driving City on.

He's in his office, planning, he's with his staff… he is an extraordinary individual and you can't say enough about him.

As one of the most respected observers of the English game is there one overriding quality you think that really marks Pep out?

I mean, the thing with Pep is he’s like a decathlete. He's got all these strengths.

I'd definitely say an eye for a player. He very rarely gets a player wrong. You see a player come in such as Jeremy Doku and he's improved already.

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I also like the way he gives kids a chance. You look at players like Oscar Bobb and Rico Lewis and when you talk to them, they are like 28-year-olds.

They are remarkable individuals and that's a huge credit to the club and the Academy, but Pep does give them a chance.

And when they step into the team such as the likes of Rico Lewis, who comes in at right back, then he immediately steps into midfield and looks exactly like he knows what he's doing and he's already played for England.

And then you look at Phil Foden. And I don’t mind saying this, I've just voted for my Footballer of the Year today and I voted for Phil Foden.

Phil Foden's got five titles already by the age of 23, and if you want to celebrate Pep, just look at his handling of Phil Foden.

Because, you know, there were some people a few years ago, and I was probably tempted to write it myself, all saying: ‘Phil Foden needs to go out on loan.’

You'd see him back then with England’s Under-21s and you’d think ‘Hang on, this is a talent who needs to be playing.’

But Pep was absolutely adamant that he knew that this was a special talent and that he would learn from being alongside the likes of David Silva and being in training and learning from the best.

You just look at the way that Phil Foden has matured into one of the best players in the world, let alone just in England, and I think he’d be a worthy Footballer of the Year, especially if City do go on to win the title.

That’s without referencing his work rate.

Everyone talks about the skill and the tactical innovation and the boldness, but it's just this hunger to reclaim the ball that Foden has, that Pep demands, and it is just brilliant because the best teams are the hardest working teams.

That sort of embodies him. I mean, I can't imagine there are many managers that work as hard as Pep does.

Another thing I will say about him is too, because I talked to a lot of other managers, particularly down the football pyramid, is that so many of them talk about what they've learned from Pep and how generous he has been with his time with them.

If they've played against his City side in a cup game and come in and sat down afterwards, Pep will allow them to sort of pick his brains, but not in a patronising way.

I know managers and aspiring managers who've gone along to the Etihad Campus and watched Pep’s training sessions and so he is absolutely to be celebrated.

How much do you feel the English game as a whole has benefitted from what Pep has done over these past seven to eight years?

Well, just look at the England team. Phil Foden has to start for England. Kyle Walker has to start, John Stones has to start.

Then there is Jack Grealish who Pep has changed as a player.
I think he's made him more effective at the elite level. You look at Jack Grealish now and in the big games he knows how to hold on to the ball.

He could take more risks at Aston Villa, because everyone would try and get him the ball but now I think his decision making is better. His decision making is very much with the team in mind. He rarely gives the ball away. He shields it, he takes a battering, but he wins the free-kicks and again that's Pep's influence.

So that potentially four of England's 10 outfield players who could well start at the EUROs this summer.

I also look at the way he’s turned Kyle Walker into a captain.

Again, that is huge. I never thought of Kyle Walker as a captain but look at what he's done.

I think Pep would be the perfect boss to have because he would support you and challenge you, which is the best way to improve people because no one's going to improve if someone just says nice things about them all the time.

He's just a remarkable individual as well as remarkable manager.

But coming back to your point, the legacy for the country is huge.

I mean, I live in the middle of nowhere and I can absolutely guarantee if I go and watch my local non-league team play, there will be a right back stepping into midfield. You will see the pressing. You will see the keeper rolling the ball out from the back.

Look, other managers have contributed to that, but it's very much down to Pep.

I can absolutely guarantee all the managers I've spoken to in the last few months, people like Kieran McKenna at Ipswich and Michael Carrick at Middlesbrough, even with their Manchester United connections, they invariably mention Pep.

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We talk of transformational managers but what would you about Pep in terms of the way he's made us think about the game?

We start with those 16 trophies and counting because the game is about winning.

Attacking football? You look at all those goals - 741 in 300 Premier League games - so absolutely he's transformed. football in this country.

I mean, Pep Guardiola and Sir Alex Ferguson are the biggest influences on English football in the last 40 years.

As you’ve alluded is one of the other eye-catching aspects as to Pep is that as a coach he seems to make great players even better?

He makes also makes them more consistent, so that quality is there week in, week out.

Kevin De Bruyne has played his best football under Pep and that's because they're both demanding characters.

You can just imagine the sort of sparks occasionally flying and the Belgian liking to be challenged by someone like Pep and sort of vice versa.

Erling Haaland could have gone anywhere in the world when he joined City, but he obviously wanted to play for Pep because he knew he would make him better.

I always find it bizarre whenever I hear criticism of Haaland, I mean he’s the Footballer of the Year! Don’t forget he's leading the race for the Golden Boot again and he’s an absolutely phenomenal individual.

So yes, as you say, he makes good players great and those that are great even greater.

What would it say if Pep was to go on and guide City to what would be English football's first ever consecutive domestic double? 

I mean, that potential prospect is just remarkable. And I think, in a way, the greatest tribute would be the fact that this has been a serious title race.

I know they're all tough, but Liverpool have had the foot down on the floor right to the end though they've obviously slowed up a little bit over the past week or so.

Then there is Arsenal, the fact they have Mikel Arteta another protege of Pep’s, and you look at the work that they've done, the fact they've known they've got to be absolutely the top of their game to challenge City.

Then there is the fact that Pep’s done it in the Premier League where there are no easy games and where there are ambushes all over the places.

You look at the Nottingham Forest game on Sunday where there were one or two really tough moments.

So that resilience to do it is simply incredible. You know he's not throwing up these remarkable numbers in an easy league.

Nothing is given to you in the Premier League and yet he is still going strong and 221 wins in 300 Premier League games is stunning.

Let’s not forget that managing, especially at an elite level, is such a gruelling business.

And so for Pep to keep going is even more of a testament to him, particularly as someone who knows what pressure is because we forget these people are flesh and blood. They are humans, they've got families…

It's an incredibly stressful industry and yet he just keeps powering on while others say it's time to move on.

Finally Henry, where for you does Pep stand in the pantheon of true managerial greats?

We can talk about figures like Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Jurgen Klopp, etc, but I would take Pep further back than that.

I think you could go back to Bob Paisley, Bill Shankly, Brian Clough and Sir Matt Busby.

In fact, you could go even further back to people like Stan Cullis and Herbert Chapman. I mean I'm old, but I can't remember Huddersfield and Arsenal before the Second World War!

So, both in in terms of his influence on the game and obviously in terms of trophies you would absolutely have him up there with the all-time greats.

I mean if there's a Hall of Fame for managers in terms of their overall impact, Pep would be right on top of that pantheon.

The opinions published here are personal to the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester City Football Club.