Pep Guardiola’s Search For The ‘New Pique’ Is His Biggest Gamble Yet
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Pep Guardiola’s 2009 ‘revolution’ of Barcelona was not so much the invention of a new system, but rather the insistence on a playing style that’d been utilized by great European footballing sides since the mid-1900s. Key to his idea of attacking football was developing a Barcelona side that could attack from any position on the field — Sergio Busquets was promoted from the Barca B squad, Dani Alves was purchased from Sevilla for €29 million and, most importantly, Gerard Pique returned from Manchester United for the ridiculously low price of €5 million.
Pique was the kind of ball-playing center half that quickly transitioned defense to attack. Boasting exceptional ball control, vision, and the ability to drive forward from defense and add an offensive component to the attack, Pique was the most important player in Guardiola's Barca revamp.
With Pique firmly established as Barcelona’s initial line of attack, their scintillating style of play yielded a Copa del Rey, La Liga and UEFA Champions League title in Guardiola's first season in charge.
During his time with Bayern Munich, Jerome Boateng was employed in much the same way, offering composure, technique and passing ability from the center half position.
Following Guardiola’s decision to move to England and manage Manchester City, the biggest question mark has been the manager’s ability to duplicate this style in a league that’s reputation is for physicality, tenacity and centre-back partnerships resembling the Robert Huth-Wes Morgan axis at Leicester City.
Guardiola inherited a squad without a technical libero, a defender free to advance the ball out of the defense. Eliaquim Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi certainly don’t fit the role, so it was obvious that the biggest task on Guardiola’s checklist would be to find such a player.
However, such has been the mark that Guardiola’s ‘revolution’ has made on the game that you can no longer buy a defender with offensive qualities for €5 million — the price Guardiola paid for Pique.
John Stones has been earmarked as one of the best ball-playing center backs in Europe for a few years now. He was the subject of multiple transfer bids from Chelsea last year — a rare English defender with supreme confidence on the ball.
It shouldn’t come as any surprise that Guardiola and City have decided to fork out £47.5 million for Stones, making him the world’s second most expensive defender ever.
The purhcase makes perfect sense when following the pattern of Guardiola’s coaching career. The 22-year-old England international has signed a six-year deal that will see him made City’s long-term equivalent to Pique.
However, his price tag and particularly rough form in an Everton defense that shipped 55 goals last season doesn’t make Stones a sure thing. He's only 22, but his progress with Everton has hardly been the smoothest of courses.
According to the BBC, Stones made the most errors directly leading to goals in the EPL last year — three. While the City hierarchy won’t be too concerned by the price tag, they’ve now accounted for three of the world’s five most expensive defensive signings, Stones will be expected to transform the City defense into the kind of elegant, unflustered unit that delivered at Barcelona.
The transformation will not be expected immediately, but with the eyes of the world fully concentrated on Guardiola's impact in Manchester, Stones and his new manager have become inextricably linked to the project.
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