Few would argue that the Pep revolution at City has been nothing short of miraculous. We have had some great times in recent seasons, enjoyed success beyond our lifelong dreams, but last season, it was a different level. For the first time, we were playing with a confidence, a swagger, an incredible panache that few if any teams in world football could match. The question, of course, is ‘what now?’ Retaining a title is harder than winning it in the first place, and Pep, the owners and the fans, now have their sights set on the Champions League. I would argue, however, there should be an element of caution. I will explain why.
The City’s success last season was due in large part to the brilliance of the players we were able to put onto the pitch week in, week out. Preseason questions marks around such players as Stones and Sterling were answered with an emphatic tick as Pep and his staff transformed the players into not only superb individual players but an incredible team. And that word was critical – team. For a team to be successful, particularly in the cauldron that is the English Premier League, they need to perform to that cliché: be greater than the sum of their parts. The City did that last season, in spades, and when you look at the quality of those parts, it is no wonder we had the season we did. Let us not forget, though, that those teams chasing us also have some good players. To have another season like last time around, we need to again perform as a team. That is where the element of concern creeps in.
As well as clichés, football lends itself quite well to analogies. Poker is one that is often used to describe a manager’s tactics in the transfer market, but it can also be applied to a team’s play on the pitch. Pep’s free-flowing, aggressive play last season has been likened to an aggressive strategy on the green baize, opting to wager and raise as opposed to the more calculated checking and calling. That itself is incredible. However, looking at his time at Bayern and especially, Barcelona, he can be accused of rolling the dice one too many times, trying to change the team into something it couldn’t become, and more importantly, didn’t need to be.
While I applaud the signing of Mahrez — an excellent player with EPL pedigree — many more forays into the transfer market could have the effect of unsettling a balanced and well-oiled team. Dressing rooms and training pitches are notorious breeding grounds for disharmony and disruption, and once the seed has germinated, it is hard to cut out. By bringing in outside elements, there is always the risk of those disruptive seeds hitching a ride.
I am not for one-minute advocating we sit back, count our trophies and wait for the next haul to come in, but I do think that a policy of tinkering here, tweaking there is the best way forward. Once again, trying to prove that you are the master tactician, the strategic genius everyone is telling you, you are by reinventing the wheel is a risk not worth taking.
Photo by Sky Sports, CC BY