Guardiola’s strikers: propensity for false nines

Guardiola’s strikers: propensity for false nines

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20 May 2022
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Pep Guardiola is closely associated with the concept of “false nine”. This season strengthened the connection – 8 different players came out to the forward position in Man City, of which only two can be called forwards (and even then with reservations – Ferran Torres and Gaby Jesus).  Also, the Catalan is often called the man who brought the concept of “false nine” back to modern football. This is misleading, as the first example of a top-level no-hitter in the 21st century is Luciano Spalletti’s Roma, with Francesco Totti in a false role. But Guardiola’s contribution to the popularization of this idea is also huge: the most effective and referenced false nine is still Leo Messi of the Barça Pep era. It was at that time that the Argentine churned out the Golden Balls every year without exception and set eternal records for “goal pass for 90 minutes” (and similar, but simpler metrics).  The flip side is Guardiola’s difficult relationship with the attackers. There are two trends here. The first is the transformation of strikers into high-scoring flankers with a false nine in the center (Thierry Henry, David Villa, Gaby Jesus and occasionally Samuel Eto’o). The second is team adaptations to accommodate clean forwards (Eto’o, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Mario Mandzukic, Robert Lewandowski, Sergio Aguero and up to a point, Jesus).  We are interested in the second category. Firstly, there are a lot of polar examples here – from complete failures to top reveals of players (though it’s interesting to understand the details and differences). Secondly, Erling Haaland will inevitably fall into this category – therefore, based on past experiments, one can make some assumptions about his future.

Pep’s paradox: even strikers with whom there was an obvious conflict scored a lot

Guardiola has a solid history of brawls with strikers. So much so that it is even tempting to consider position as an important factor in these conflicts (“does not like clean forwards, which leads to contradictions with them”). Perhaps everything is more complicated – we will gradually figure it out. Pep’s most outspoken critic is Ibrahimovic. The Swede often spoke publicly against the coach. Here is a powerful piece from Zlatan’s autobiography: “Guardiola was staring at me and my roof was blown off. I thought: “Here he is, my enemy, scratching his bald head.” I shouted to him: “You don’t have eggs!” and probably something worse. I added: “You crap yourself out of fear of José Mourinho. You can go to hell!” I’m completely insane. I threw the box full of training equipment on the floor, and Pep, without saying anything, began to collect everything back into it. I’m not some scumbag, but if I were Guardiola, I would be scared.” More specific claims Ibrahimovic formulated in 2013 in an interview with Der Spiegel: “Guardiola is a great coach, but he is a coward and not a man. At Barcelona, ​​he sacrificed me for Lionel Messi and he didn’t have the courage to tell me. The Argentine treated him like a pet, it was his word that always came first, and the coach often just sat on the sidelines and was silent, like a schoolboy. Emphasis on lack of honesty in explaining decisions. This strongly resembles the claims of Mario Mandzukic: “Guardiola disappointed me, he simply did not respect me. 


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