Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is one of the finest tacticians in the history of the sport.
Since his first-team managerial debut in July 2008, the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss has won 10 league titles with three teams across three countries. The Spaniard has also conquered the Champions League twice, winning it with his beloved Barcelona in 2009 and 2011.
Guardiola has a staunch footballing philosophy. Not only does he play to win, but he also plays to impress and dominate. His teams have always been heavily reliant on excellent distributors and players who can pass the ball around the opposition without breaking a sweat. They have always leaned towards passing the ball into the back of the net over bundling it over by any means necessary.
Forwards who have adhered to Guardiola’s philosophy, such as Lionel Messi, Thomas Muller, and Sergio Aguero, have had countless moments of brilliance under him. Others, who have either failed to win his confidence or did not buy into his ideology, have only faced neglect.
Today, we will take a look at five players who could teach Manchester City’s new striker Erling Haaland a lesson or two, helping him avoid the rejection pile.
Here are five superstar forwards who failed to hack it under Guardiola:
#5 David Villa - Barcelona
Guardiola’s Barcelona signed David Villa from Valencia for a €40 million fee in the summer of 2010.
Villa, who had already established himself as La Liga's best centre-forward by then, was expected to become the club’s go-to goal-getter. The manager, however, had other ideas.
Instead of deploying Villa in a central role, in a position where he was at his best, the Spanish tactician put him on the left-wing. He did so to unlock Lionel Messi’s potential, who was having a lot of success in a false 9 role.
Villa, of course, was not a disappointment on the left, helping the team to two La Liga titles and a Champions League crown, amongst other honors.
He, however, never managed to live up to his potential at the Camp Nou, scoring only 48 goals in 118 appearances across competitions before joining Atletico Madrid in 2013.
#4 Gabriel Jesus - Manchester City
While David Villa struggled due to his positioning, Gabriel Jesus has had a hard time winning Guardiola’s confidence. Since his €32 million move from Palmeiras in 2017, the Brazilian has almost always been an afterthought.
Until 2020, he played second-fiddle to Sergio Aguero, with many tipping him to become the main man after the Argentine’s stint at the Etihad was over.
Surprisingly, that did not turn out to be the case, as Guardiola switched to a false 9 system, and that too, to devastating effect.
Jesus has had his chances, but he has not managed to cement his place in the starting XI. Now with Erling Haaland in the squad, the competition for places is only set to intensify.
Over the last five years, Jesus has featured in 236 games for City across competitions, recording 95 goals and 46 assists.
He has a year left on his contract and is nearing a move to Arsenal (via Fabrizio Romano).
#3 Mario Gotze - Bayern Munich
Mario Gotze switched to Bayern Munich from Borussia Dortmund in 2013, the same year Guardiola took charge of the Bavarians.
The technically astute attacker was meant to be a breakout success at Bayern, but that did not turn out to be the case.
He enjoyed an impressive first season under the former Barca boss, scoring 15 goals and providing 13 assists in 45 games across competitions.
In the summer of 2014, he scored the winning goal for Germany in the World Cup final against Argentina, hitting the apex of his career. Since then, it has only gone downhill for the German.
Gotze's 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons at Bayern were marred by injuries and he also struggled to keep up with the defensive responsibilities bestowed upon him.
After scoring only 36 goals and providing 24 assists in 114 appearances across competitions for Bayern, Gotze returned to Dortmund in 2016.
#2 Samuel Eto’o - Barcelona
Samuel Eto’o was a superstar when Guardiola took charge of Barcelona in 2008. Guardiola kept Eto’o in his plans in his treble-winning debut season but discarded him at the end of the campaign.
The Cameroonian’s departure came as a shock to many, as the striker had just enjoyed one of his best-ever campaigns.
In the 2008-09 season, Eto’o took part in 56 games for Barcelona across competitions, recording 36 goals and nine assists. He also opened the scoring in the Champions League final, helping Barca to a 2-0 win over Manchester United.
Eto’o, who was very much in his prime at the time, joined Inter Milan in 2009 and celebrated another treble at the end of the season.
Later, in an interview with beIN Sports (via the Mirror), he criticized Guardiola for not knowing his Barcelona squad:
“Pep Guardiola has lived his whole life in Barcelona, but in the years I spent there he didn’t understand the squad. He didn’t live the life of our group. I said to Guardiola: ‘you’ll apologise to me because it’s me that will make Barcelona win - not Lionel Messi’”
He also slammed the manager for not showing him respect, which presumably played a big part in his departure.
“It was the situation back then. Messi would come later. You can ask Xavi, Andres Iniesta and all the others - that was my era. It was me that made Barcelona win and Guardiola would ask me for forgiveness.”
#1 Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Barcelona
Zlatan Ibrahimovic is arguably the most vocal critic of Guardiola. The 40-year-old crossed paths with the manager in the 2009-10 season following his move from Inter Milan.
The Swede was one of the first names on Guardiola’s team sheet in the first few months but things admittedly changed following a tactical shift.
Ibrahimovic confronted the manager about it and the Spaniard responded by cutting down his minutes.
Disclosing his experience under Guardiola, the striker told Sky Sports Italia (via the Daily Mail):
“I'd walk into a room and he'd walk out. I'd go to meet him and he'd go somewhere else. I understood that there was something beyond football. The problem was his. It was he who hadn't solved the problem with me. I remember on my first day, he told me that the Barcelona players didn't turn up to training in Ferraris or Porsches.
“He'd already judged me then, but if you don't know a person, then you can't judge them. I had my experience with him, I don't know about others. I read the same thing had happened to (Mario) Mandzukic and (Samuel) Eto'o. He wasn't the worst coach I'd worked under, but he was certainly the most immature because a man solves his problems.”
Ibrahimovic revealed how he was treated for coming up to the coach for a solution, adding:
“I'd scored a lot of goals in my first six months and we won two Super Cups. The first six months were perfect. After that, we changed system and tactics, and it wasn't good for me, so the club told me to talk to Guardiola, and I told Guardiola that he'd sacrificed the other players for (Lionel) Messi. He told me he understood me.
“After that, he put me on the bench for the next game, the one after that and the one after that, and I thought: "He's solved the problem very well I see!" After that, he didn't talk to me or even look at me.”
The striker left the club for AC Milan at the end of the season. In his short stint at the Camp Nou, Ibrahimovic took part in 46 games for the Blaugrana, registering 22 goals and 13 assists.
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