Italy aren’t going to the World Cup, and of course Pep Guardiola gets some of the blame.
Fabio Capello’s analysis of Italy — who won Euro 2020 last summer as part of a world-record 37-game unbeaten run that ended less than six months ago — after their shock play-off defeat to North Macedonia was that the Azzurri had paid the price for following the Manchester City manager’s style instead of Jurgen Klopp’s.
“Italian football has imitated Guardiola for 15 years,” the former England boss told Sky Sport Italia. “There were no vertical passes or physical strength, there is no habit to making challenges. On the other hand, we should follow Jurgen Klopp’s playing style.”
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As far as strength in numbers goes, Capello has a point. There are more teams in the Premier League who follow the German style that Klopp favours, but then there are more German coaches in the league. That in itself could of course be telling, yet Guardiola’s record speaks for himself and he is also regularly at pains to misconstrue perceptions about his brand of football from him.
When City’s upcoming match with Atletico was pitched as a clash of styles between him and Diego Simeone, Guardiola countered: “If he likes to not concede goals, I like more than him. If he wants to win games, I like more. I like counter-attacks more than him.”
Capello’s comments (and he is not the only famous Italian football figure to think like that) sound very much like many opinions when Guardiola rocked up at the Etihad in 2016. The coach may have been ludicrously successful with Barcelona and Bayern Munich — and contributed towards major trophies for the Spanish and German national teams during his time in their countries — but some remained skeptical about whether he could cut it on a cold night in Stoke.
As one columnist put it months before City did exactly that: “If he thinks he’s going to turn up and outplay everybody in the Premier League, and that teams like Watford, Leicester, Bournemouth, Southampton and Crystal Palace are going to let his Manchester City side have the ball for 90 per cent of the time and pass pretty patterns around them so they can get a result, then he is absolutely deluded.
Guardiola has been so happy with his time at City that he has already signed two contract extensions, and a third beyond his current deal that runs out in 2023 will be discussed at the end of this season. With the club aiming to land Erling Haaland in the summer transfer window to add to the world-class squad already in place, there are many reasons to stay.
But at the same time, City bosses know they cannot expect to keep Guardiola forever and Capello’s comments are a reminder of a challenge that the coach has loved to take on during his career. He already has unfinished business in a country he loves from his playing days, and proving that guardiolism can work in and for Italy has to be tempting.
Capello may want Italy to be done with Guardiola, but Guardiola may not be done with Italy.
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