The Four Rules of Pep
Pep Guardiola is the seminal club manager of the decade.
He has dominated both La Liga and Bundesliga with Barcelona and Bayern Munich respectively, winning trophies while evolving a style of play that is simply breathtaking.
Manchester City fans are no doubt eagerly awaiting his arrival at the close of the current Premier League season. It will be fascinating to see what Pep will be able to achieve with the budget available to him.
Regardless of the players at his disposal, the style of play is unlikely to change.
Pep’s philosophy is based on four key rules. Despite being known for producing creative teams, three of those rules guide how to play when not in possession.
Without The Ball
The first rule is to put pressure on the opposing team’s ball carrier as soon as the ball is lost.
Paradoxically, when a tackler wins the ball he (or she) is at their most vulnerable. The head is down, awareness of other players’ positions is low and, as they are unsighted, options are not immediately apparent.
Winning the ball back, having just lost it, allows for a quick counter-attack as the opponent is transitioning into an attacking formation.
To win the ball back quickly Pep’s players hunt in packs. However, if they do not recover the ball within 5 seconds Rule 2 kicks in.
Pep’s teams will retreat to build a 10-man defense. The two lines of defense are compressed, no more than 25-30 yards apart, making it very difficult for an opponent to play through them. From this foundation they will patiently wait for an attacking player to mis-control the ball before pressing again.
However, if the opposing team does get to the edge of the penalty area Rule 3 comes into play. The closest defender will attack the ball carrier while three other defenders will form a secondary ring 5-7 yards from the ball.
This technique was learnt by Pep when he played in Italy’s Serie A (Roma and Brescia). The attacker may beat one player but within a touch of the ball another defender is on hand making it very difficult to run through the defensive line and score.
Usually the ball is won back and immediately passed to a team-mate so as to avoid the danger of losing possession immediately after winning it.
The final rule is then unleashed on the opponent.
The One Second Rule
The strength of Barcelona and, to a lesser extent Bayern Munich, is that all players understand the system. This is not something that can necessarily be created in a season or even several years.
The One Second rule dictates that all players on Pep’s team understand what the other is doing. They know when a run will be made, a pass attempted, a feint attempted.
This only comes from players spending years together. This is perhaps the greatest fortune that Pep Guardiola had when he was at Barcelona. He had players that had worked together through their formative years at La Masia (the famed Barcelona youth academy).
One second is the difference between a sensational play and a movement breaking down.
While it is easy to understand how a team plays, it is much more difficult to do it without individual players having a collective awareness.
An example of this is the attacking midfielder Pedro, formerly of Barca, now Chelsea.
A standout at Barcelona, he is not the same player operating in a system with players he does not know inside out. Similarly, great players have transferred to Barca and not become club legends – they have not been able to develop the knowledge the passing system requires.
The One Second rule sums up all that is exciting about the Top Flight Football Academy partnering with Uni Mount AFC this season.
Regardless of who the opponent is, each player has the opportunity to better understand his or her team-mate through training and competition. Too often players are moved to other clubs based on the need to play better opponents. This approach overlooks the crucial benefit of young players working together, regardless of who their opponents are.
While competition is important, the real value of an academy is the ability to develop cohesive teams that, over time, dominate through individual and collective skill, regardless of the opposition. 2016 is a big step towards the goal of creating outstanding youth teams in the Auckland region.
The Blizzard Football Quarterly, Issue 9
“Pep’s Four Golden Rules” by Simon Kuper
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