Mourinho Needs Allegri Genius To Solve Pogba Problem

Manchester United regained second place in the Premier League on Sunday when they came from behind to beat Chelsea 2-1 at Old Trafford; but it was academy product Jesse Lingard who stole the headlines.

Stole them fortuitously from his French team mate Paul Pogba who had another performance hardly befitting a man of his talents and looked set to burden himself and his manager with further criticism.

Deployed in his favoured left side of a three in midfield alongside Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay Pogba he seemed more at home, but far from settled as Jose Mourinho looks to get the best from his lavish acquisition without hampering others.

“Simplicity is the trademark of genius” – does that make Mourinho anything but a genius or suggest that a solution to his Pogba problem is anything but simple?

The facts remain: Pogba is not disciplined enough to play in a two nor capable of playing as a ten in a conquering side. Energetic and dynamic performances against average Premier League sides are nowhere near sufficient enough justification to award him that role.

So what to do with him? Well the man who found an answer – not the answer – is in Turin devising a plan to overcome Tottenham. A Tottenham side that exposed Pogba’s inadequacies a few weeks ago at Wembley and provided the catalyst for this conundrum. Juventus coach Max Allegri inherited a raw Pogba in 2014 and found a way to turn him into the world’s most expensive player at the time of his departure in the summer of 2016.

Does this make Allegri the genius? Well he is, but so is Mourinho – they just have a different set of priorities which in turn bring out the best in different individuals. Allegri found it in Pogba; Mourinho is still searching. The problem for the Portugese manager is justifying the £90 million outlay it took to bring him back to Old Trafford.

Allegri, in a short time, found a way of turning Pogba into a player who helped his side reach the 2015 Champions League final. The Italian had the tools which assisted the development of a player overflowing with talent but seemingly lacking understanding of how to play at the elite level.

The now retired Andrea Pirlo and current Juventus midfield Claudio Marchisio did on the field what Allegri did off it: guide a player desperately in need of guidance. Pirlo was renowned for playing the game with his head, so putting him alongside a man who’s only priority is to play the game with his feet complimented the Juventus midfield.

Marchisio and Arturo Vidal during his time at the club all played their role in nurturing this immensely talented individual. So much so that his insufficiencies as a central midfielder have only been bought to light whilst in the red of Manchester United.

It calls into question the motives behind the transfer that lured Pogba back to England. Did Mourinho want a player who, beyond his talent and connection with the club, was much sought after among Europe’s elite to undermine the fact he had now combined forces with a club he believed to be the biggest in the world.

Mourinho is far too tactically educated to purchase players fuelled by any sense of naivety. He has bought, throughout his career, players who filled gaps or upgraded positions he deemed sub par. Yet Pogba’s upward trajectory in Italy had always been in either a three or a four man midfield.

The frustration for fans and no doubt Pogba himself is that Manchester United have their own Pirlo like character in club captain Michael Carrick. The 36-year-old may well be retiring this season but is was well documented last season just how much better Mourinho’s side played when they had the former England international in their side. Another player who makes up for his lack of pace with a deep understanding of the game. A understanding that Pogba would’ve reaped the education of, but an opportunity that looks set to pass him by.

You can, sometimes, only look as good as the players around you allow you to. That no doubt magnified Pogba’s talent in Turin, but now in Manchester he is being asked to plug gaps and fill holes he previously never needed to. The onus appears to be on Mourinho to find a solution to this enigmatic situation, but Pogba must shoulder more responsibility and accept the need to evolve perhaps in a way he didn’t previously envisage.

That serves to show the genius of the Bianconeri’s manager. He found a system and utilised individuals in a way that allowed Pogba to flourish without undermining others. A system that bought a Champions League final in 2015 was tweaked upon his departure and bought he same reward two years later.

In Allegri’s first year Pogba played often in a diamond four-man midfield before being deployed in a three-man midfield 12 months later when Juventus looked to add more width to their game with the likes of Juan Cuadrado and Paulo Dybala. Upon his departure Juventus replaced him with Bosnian Miralem Pjanic and a seamless transition occurred which culminated in Cardiff; only to be outclassed by Real Madrid.

Juventus and Allegri are up against it to repeat their feat of 12 months ago whilst Manchester United are slight favourites to go through to the quarter finals in Europe. Winning football’s most illustrious prize for a third time though will evade Mourinho until he harnesses the potential of his leading lights.

The point of difference between Pogba in England and Pogba in Italy was how Allegri found a way to incorporate him in a winning side, Mourinho merely includes him in one still searching for the winning formula. Pogba should be viewed as vital but not indispensable.

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Abramovich & Chelsea Resolute Amid Conte’s Future

We are at the same old crossroads once again in west London, someone of us defending the managerial credentials of Antonio Conte, others seeing an unsustainable working relationship. Either way, who can really say they’re shocked?

The curtain is already setting on another brief managerial stint, on this occasion for Conte, Chelsea’s business model is once again under the microscope. The easy comment is to accuse Chelsea and their billionaire owner of lacking the usual patience, loyalty and nous. But instead, look beyond the lines and see a Russian, ruthless in his actions, but wholly dedicated to a strategy he has used repetitively yet developed into a timeless way of achieving success.

It’s only a matter of time in truth until Chelsea and Conte part ways in the most mutual of exits seen at Stamford Bridge and once again Chelsea will be in the market for a new manager. The current belief being that Luis Enrique is the front runner, his reluctance to join based on his coaching staff being otherwise engaged at least until the summer.

It’s a sign of how quickly things can change; in May Conte led Chelsea to the Premier League title at the first time of asking in record breaking fashion. March comes around 10 months later and defeat at Old Trafford means Chelsea have already lost as many games as last season whilst being double digit points off the summit.

That coupled with clear unrest within the camp at how Conte views the running of the club, based largely on a summer that he deemed insufficient as he prepared his squad to challenge of several fronts.

The surprising element to all this is that people are exactly that: surprised. This is Chelsea and this is Abramovich and this is a re-run of times gone by. The departure of Jose Mourinho, admittedly in different circumstances, followed a champion year and a lacklustre summer in the transfer market. So just over 18 months on why is there surprise that the same thing is occurring.

The trait that separates Conte from Mourinho and all others who’ve gone before him is his abrasive nature. Mourinho arguably sits in the same category, but goes about his business in a more tactful manner. Conte has openly challenged the board at times this season, and showed no desire to disguise his frustration in any sort of subtle way.

Chelsea though can’t and won’t be surprised. The end of Conte’s time at Juventus looked much the same; a man firing shots at those who employ him over their handling of transfers. Conte is a confrontational man, he wears his heart on his sleeve. No manager can fake his flamboyance and passion on the sideline, but what has effectively made him as a manager is what also breaks him.

Conte, nor Chelsea, will be shedding any tears when this relationship eventually comes to an end though. The Italian will leave with plenty of plaudits and a big pay off, whilst Chelsea look set for more criticism. Criticism that will be like water off a ducks back to the hierarchy, built in Abramovich’s image. They move on to the next one. This idea that Chelsea will one day run out of managers to employ is ludicrous. People were saying that once they sacked Carlo Ancelotti (at that point the sixth Abramovich sacking) in 2011, by which point Conte’s name was mildly thought of in Italian football and Enrique had only managed Barcelona B.

Football always produces the next generation – both on and off the field. If Chelsea have one strength that has provided the nucleus of their success it is consistency. Not consistency of managers, far from it in fact, but consistency of strategy. Whilst Abramovich has been at the helm no side has won more league titles (Manchester United also have five) or FA Cup’s (Arsenal also have four) so it is impossible to criticise the motivation or the method, even if issue can be taken with the means employed to do so.

To Abramovich’s mind the tools are in place at Stamford Bridge to keep his winning machine turning. Perhaps why he has more reluctance to spend money now than he did in his early days at Chelsea. His attitude being if any given manager hasn’t the ability to produce a winning formula from this Blue’s side then he will find someone that will.

It is hard to argue in truth, this side has won two of the last three league titles and no longer bears the criticism formerly thrown at them that this is a dated and ageing side. Three league defeats in their last four outings, including a 3-0 reverse to Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge,has allowed a somber mood to set in.

The beginning of the end, with the benefit of hindsight, began on the season’s opening day when Burnley won 3-2 at Stamford Bridge. This appears to be the middle of the end with their second leg tie against Barcelona providing the only glimmer of light left in a darkening campaign.

Don’t expect Abramovich to be loosing much sleep though, he is the man in charge and will be the first to state that whilst Chelsea may be slightly messy it is organised mess. He both created and sticks by this club’s status quo – a new man will almost certainly be in the door this summer and if history is anything to go by he will almost certainly deliver a title. The only certainty after that is that Abramovich is content and will not change.

Madrid & Tottenham Exert Differing Traits to Gain Upper Hand

The Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid and Allianz Stadium in Turin: the stages for the latest chapter in the never ending Champions League saga that, on this occasion, twice pitted the wise, the aged and the knowing against the youthful, the hungry and the learners.

Real Madrid’s experience and know how was highlighted in a 3-1 win over PSG whilst 24 hours earlier the same traits of a Juventus side, winners of the last six Serie A titles, were undone by a group built in the image of their youthful and effervescent manager.

Mauricio Pochettino, a man showered with compliments and lauded with praise, on this occasion at least, outmanoeuvred a man in Max Allegri who has come within a game of delivering the treble in two of the last three years.

Last night in the Spanish capital Unai Emery, a man under immense pressure, faced Zinedine Zidane; a man with a decade of managerial experience less than him. But whilst Emery fielded a starting line-up containing Marco Verrati, Edinson Cavani and Kylian Mbappe: in essence a group who’s appetite for European and global success has yet to be fulfilled, Zidane included Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos and Toni Kroos: a trio who’s hunger is more than satisfied, but on the evidence of last night remains as affluent as ever.

Yet not Real Madrid’s get out of jail card nor Tottenham’s second-half comeback can be indebted to the contrasting traits they produced or the lack of them shown by their opponents.

What Pochettino and Zidane showed over the last 48 hours was that experience, or the lack of it, counts for little without the remainder of a winning attitude. Two goals down within nine minutes must’ve left Tottenham somewhat shell shocked and began to draw the feeling of a boys against men scenario that we saw in Juventus’ semi-final with Monaco last year.

But the London-based side dug in and stuck to what they do best, owing much, not to Harry Kane, but to Moussa Dembele in the middle of the park who served to prove that he is a leading light in a sparkling team.

The two goals they left Italy with puts them as favourites for the return leg at Wembley, as does the same amount of goals Real Madrid scored in a five minute blitz which makes a trip to Paris only slightly less daunting.

Yet discounting a champion side like Juventus from picking up the result they need in one of Europe’s finest stages is a mistake. They are built for this exact occasion and like the great past leaders of their nation’s capital Rome; ooze an aura that will not lye down no matter the opposition.

Three successive doubles has proved their obsession and commitment to winning, what they must now do is dim the growing light of a Tottenham side who plan to make the Italians one of many future scalps. The scene is set, Tottenham won the battle of Turin but this Italian outfit have lost many on their way to war successes over the years.

The danger for their Parisian parallels is that Emery could not guide his young, exciting and – by immense contrast to Tottenham – expensive side to a reputation changing result in perhaps Europe’s most famous of settings. Their aptitude once again called into questions as they and the young pretender Neymar did exactly that: pretend to be what they eventually aspire to be. Despite having much of the contest and feeling, understandably, aggrieved at the result, they find themselves in a scenario true European greats don’t.

PSG lack the experience, one progression to the quarter-finals since the arrival of their Qatari owners serves to rubber stamp the overriding issues that this side lacks the grit or the brain for knockout football. The one thing they don’t lack is the talent, and those aspects they lack are only obtainable through failure. The concern is how many times they have to fail before they learn how to negate this type of competition.

Fail to get a result in Madrid they did, but in the French capital a passage to the next round is more than feasible, as is a Juventus win at Wembley. Two sides, almost world’s apart in success and history, are down after the first leg but a million miles away from being out.

Real Madrid and Tottenham can see the last eight, but remain a sight it will, unless they broadcast the same experience and aptitude that bought them the ascending results in the first place. Once again the Champions League has left two sides, and certainly one manager, teetering on the brink which looks set to bring the best out of both, the question now is whether it’s enough.

Salah & Ederson shine but without rewards

“You get out of life what you put in” – well not necessarily. I can name you two individuals in particular who excelled this weekend and no doubt woke up Monday morning in begrudging fashion.

Harry Kane’s controversial late penalty wiped the Cheshire Cat like grin off Mo Salah’s face whilst Johann Gudundsson’s volley denied Manchester City keeper Ederson his clean sheet, and his side three points.

Both individuals deserved to be on the winning side this weekend, but had to settle for the solitary point as their side’s failed to rebuff a wave of pressure. Spurs were excellent in the second half at Anfield on Sunday afternoon and warranted at least a point as they travelled south, but Mo Salah’s efforts deserved more than just the recognition he received for reaching 20 Premier League goals quicker than most.

His first after just three minutes fired up the ambience at Anfield as Liverpool looked to consolidate their grip on a top four spot. Victor Wanyama’s wonder strike looked to have earned Spurs a share of the spoils after Kane missed a late penalty in lethargic fashion but, with the clock ticking over the 90, Salah dazzled and deceived the Spurs defence before slotting over an on rushing Hugo Lloris.

Jurgen Klopp threatened to beat whatever his personal best is for the 30 metre dash as he euphorically ran towards the Kop in signature fashion. Ironically it was his counterpart Mauricio Pochettino who was fist pumping seconds after the final whistle; recognising his side had, almost contradictory, got themselves out of jail whilst getting their just deserts.

Attention deflected quickly to the two penalty decisions that in reality overshadowed a mesmeric performance from Liverpool’s Egyptian import. At just short of £37 million he can be categorised as a bargain. Perhaps a reflection of today’s market but it’s the truth. Had Liverpool wanted Salah this summer he would surely be upwards of £80 million.

His pace, which has been such an asset this season, allowed him the time to slot past Lloris early on and his perseverance coupled with immense skill allowed him to chip the French keeper late on.

Lloris was criticised for maybe going down too early, thus showing Salah the pathway to what he thought must’ve been three precious points. Not the first time Spurs’ number one has been questioned for his decision making.

Inevitably his performances draw comparisons to the likes of David De Gea and Thibaut Courtois, keepers in the upper echelons of the goalkeeping power rankings. One man though who appears to have usurped Lloris in that list after his exploits this season is Man City keeper Ederson.

No doubt equally as effective in Lisbon with Benfica for the past couple of years but the English top flight has allowed him a sufficient stage to broadcast his talents to the world. Those appreciative of what a goalkeeper can do must surely be impressed.

As a signing who transforms the way a team go about their business there can’t be a more impressive acquisition; Salah included. The former Roma man has been electric this term and showed Anfield that, not matter how tough the loss, life after Philippe Coutinho does exist. That said, Liverpool are in he same predicament as 12 months ago: fighting for a top four spot.

Man City meanwhile seem to rewrite the record books on a weekly basis and one of the catalysts for such a stark contrast to this time last year is their Brazilian keeper. That good with his feet he could play at left back; with Benjamin Mendy’s long term injury it’s a wonder Pep Guardiola hasn’t entertained the idea.

Beyond his footballing dexterity Ederson does exactly what a goalkeeper should do: keep the goals out. I recall being astounded on 10th December after seeing the Man City keeper make a double save in the Manchester derby. I felt equally when I watched him save from Aaron Lennon on Saturday afternoon.

The purist of football observers can only have felt for the Brazilian when Gudmundsson’s volley earned Burnley a point at Turf Moor. That said, Ederson looks almost certain to receive a Premier League winners medal in May, is likely to pick up the Carabao Cup this month and could well pick up a third accolade later on so recognition is not far in coming.

Salah’s goals and all round influence on games have earned him Anfield’s admiration among with host of other stadiums. His strike rate and flamboyant persona on the field have perhaps thrust him into the limelight more so than Ederson, but then again the Brazilian sits on top of the tree so I doubt you’ll hear him complaining.

These two could end up opposing each other in Saint Petersburg on 10th July in the World Cup semi-final. Brazil are among those you’d expect to be in the latter stages of the competition; Egypt meanwhile, despite their continental success, are yet to make any waves on the world stage. They now have a man capable of carrying them there, but before that there’s plenty for the both of them – and us – to get excited about.

Neymar & Coutinho: United by Nation, Separated by ideals

Is it a Brazilian trait? Five World Cups, traditionally the most flamboyant footballing nation in the world, the Lord above looks down on them and all that.

Maybe they think it allows them the eternal right to follow what they like to justify as moves motivated by their aspirations. Philippe Coutinho completed a move to Barcelona on Saturday night for a fee believed to be around £140 million, putting him second on the all time transfer list behind compatriot Neymar who headed away from Barcelona to the French capital in the summer.

The intention this morning was to discuss why Neymar, supposedly motivated so immensely by the want to be recognised as the world’s best player, appears to make demands and portray an attitude that could eventually undermine the legacy he so longs to leave.

Now that Coutinho has finally forced, although the way in which he went about his business this the summer deserves more praise than it is receiving, his move to Catalunya and you consider the fact he’s a Brazilian in the same age bracket as Neymar you begin to draw similarities.

Certainly you can make associations with how the two moves manifested themselves, but the motives behind them and their general attitudes towards the sport itself is what begins to distance Coutinho from Neymar.

Money, as with the majority of any job changes, will have been a draw both to the selling club and the player. Neymar is no doubt further down that road than Coutinho probably will ever be, although outside influences, the strongest of which likely to be Neymar Sr, are playing a prominent part.

But on the pitch Neymar’s move to Paris Saint-Germain was seen as a chance to step out of Lionel Messi’s shadow. Which sort of begs the question why a footballer as talented as Coutinho is then so willing to play in the exact same team. That in essence sums up the difference between the two.

The FIFA World Player of the Year award, now the same award as the Ballon D’Or, is seen as a holy grail in Brazil. Since Neymar was born in 1992 he’s seen five compatriots pick up the award: Romario, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka and Ronaldo. The belief being, in order for him to join that illustrious list, he had to step out of Messi’s shadow. Ultimately how can he be perceived as the best player in the world when he’s not even perceived as top dog in his own club?

Paris then seemed the ideal location to combine his individual aspirations whilst continuing to add to his trophy haul. Less than six months into his Parisian venture though and cracks are beginning to appear. A public bust up with Edinson Cavani, a man who scored 49 goals in 50 games last term en route to being named Ligue 1 Player of the Year, over penalty duties raised suspicions that he was not being allowed the status he felt he deserved. A clear mark of the man.

Ironic almost, that scenario led some to believe Neymar was in fact built more like Cristiano Ronaldo than Messi, despite spending four years with the Argentine. A culture at Barcelona teaches that the team’s success is paramount, Messi has even been known to surrender penalty duties to Neymar, even though it undermined personal aspirations to top Ronaldo in the goal scoring charts. Clearly, Neymar hasn’t learnt has much as he could about team harmony; or maybe he just doesn’t care.

Rumours are strife that his enigmatic father, who seems to complicate matters more than settle them, has held meetings with the Real Madrid hierarchy to begin negotiations on a possible return to Spain.

That would breed hatred from most, if not all, of Catalunya. But when you remember why he wanted to leave Barcelona; to step out of the shadow. To then move to Real Madrid where the shadow of Ronaldo is far greater than that of Messi, you begin to see a shallow individual who’s perception around football is detrimental to his undeniable talent.

To digress briefly back to the list of five Brazilians to receive global recognition. Only one of them is truly in the pantheon of greats. The rest deservedly earned recognition, but for one reason or another missed out on ending their careers in that upper bracket of players. Where the likes of Johan Cryuff, Diego Maradona and Franz Beckenbauer sit comfortably.

In that company though lies Ronaldo, lauded by those who’s understanding of football goes beyond YouTube and 2006, and recognised in a column by Oliver Holt as the best Ronaldo to play the game. One Zlatan Ibrahimovic concurs which such a view.

The saddest thing about the Brazilian is that post 1997 and his first Ballon D’Or triumph, he never appeared the same. Frightening really, the man who led Brazil to the 2002 World Cup and then 10 months later delivered possibly the greatest solo performance on the European stage when he scored a hat-trick at Old Trafford, was a player robbed of his peak by injury.

By no means an angel off the pitch, but not a man to make the kinds of demands Neymar seems accustomed to making. He enjoyed a relatively humble beginning in Europe, joining PSV Eindhoven before making his mark with Barcelona. Only leaving the Catalan club to join Inter Milan due to the lack of financial reward paid to him by the Catalans. And when I say financial reward I truly mean it, not like players of today who begrudge six figure-a-week contracts.

When you consider he spent 13 seasons on the continent and picked up just the two domestic league titles, yet still is dubbed “O Fenômeno” you realise just what type of player he was and the kind of environments and teams he was happy to be part of.

A level above his fellow countrymen. Kaka, so affluent at AC Milan, ruined his career by moving to Real Madrid – something Neymar should heed warning from. Ronaldinho, despite undeniable talent, appeared to lose interest at times. Some suggesting his commercial career began to take precedence – another danger for Neymar to remain wary of.

The deal that took Coutinho took the Camp Nou is believed to include a potential £35 in bonuses. One of which is based on Coutinho one day winning the Ballon D’Or. He is five years Messi’s junior and the possibility of him one day taking the Argentine’s crown is not unfathomable. What that status would bring out of Coutinho on both a personal and professional level is unknown but an interesting discussion point, although based on his Liverpool exploits since the summer you would point towards a positive affect.

Yes you can question the timing and legitimacy of his supposed injuries around transfer season, but when you analyse his performances against someone like Alexis Sanchez at Arsenal you see a player committed to the cause.

The cause now is to effectively fill the void left by Neymar’s departure. The players, marketability aside, are not realms apart in quality. The telling difference may be aptitude, hunger and desire. One player keen to learn, unconcerned with pecking order status and now able to learn from the world’s best. The other caught up in penalty fracases and a power struggle. I guess it’s a matter of priorities and perception.

Conte Backing Talent Over a Proven Formula

Antonio Conte is fully aware he is a man on the clock. That as much down to the realisation he cannot create the environment he wants as it is to the fact he is the Chelsea manager. The job title itself doesn’t invite longevity.

Having won the title in such impressive and almost innovative fashion, the challenge this year was to back it up and continue evolving. But in order to evolve he needed the support of the club and its hierarchy during the off season – it’s that aspect that eluded him.

Conte has instead had to adapt, something he was heralded for when his side lost 3-0 at Arsenal in September last season and he opted to switch tactics. Doing that this term is proving more difficult than he may have anticipated.

The danger was, having played 3-4-3 with often the same 11 players, that teams would learn how to oppose and nullify the brilliance that Chelsea so often exercised in 2016/17. The only remedy was to change, at least to some extent. The danger that bred from the danger was whether to fix a well oiled machine working so efficiently. But as any manger will tell you, in order to repeat success you have to keep moving forward.

The formation switch to 3-4-3 was a calculated alteration having experienced success with it at Juventus and then Italy. This year’s methodology appears to combine an element of pragmatism with excessive faith in talented individuals.

Ultimately when the likes of Eden Hazard, Alvaro Morata and N’Golo Kante are present it’s hard not to trust their instincts on the pitch. However there has to be a process behind that talent.

Chelsea mastered that last year when players were given positions which best suited their needs yet covered their weaknesses whilst allowing the likes of Hazard the freedom to express themselves. Ultimately the initial change of formation at Hull, which saw Chelsea win 2-0, hardly lit the world alight. Nor did some of the performances that followed but wins in November and December against Tottenham and Manchester City showed a side fully understanding the processes in which they had to perform.

Chelsea have gone away from that this year and perhaps their league position is an example of why that may have been the wrong decision. In Saturday’s draw at Anfield Conte started with three central midfielders and allowed Hazard to go up and support Morata. This followed on from Wednesday’s game away to Qarabag in the Champions League where he opted to start with no striker at all.

Four points from those two fixtures that included a trip to Eastern Europe is a solid return. But the danger with Conte’s current selection policy is an over reliance on results. Points on the board is currently justifying a somewhat indecisive tactical policy, but if those points dry up the questions will begin firing.

Maybe Conte is deploying an adapted version of his extremely successful system from last year but there isn’t much consistency in game plans which suggests the Italian is toying with how to maximise his resources.

Resources of course, which he will bemoan the lack of and question why there aren’t more at his disposal. It’s worth asking the question why Conte looks to have veered quite considerably from a proven formula last year. His response may be the change in personnel no longer allows for that kind of game plan. Instructing a reformed tactical program is an option but perhaps Conte feels, with the players available, that grasping new way of playing is not time effective from him nor his players given the looming festive period.

The former Italy manager, and who knows, maybe soon enough the newly appointed Italy manager, looks to be working more on a career plan than a game plan. The difference? A career plan that hopefully brings immediate gratification makes him more desirable; a game plan occasionally requires time and patience but will eventually pay dividends.

Maybe Conte has, understandably so, accepted his time frame in west London is short and the best way to maximise his time is to invest in results today and increase his desirability around the continent where he could soon be applying his trade.

Strange that Chelsea and their hierarchy, so associated with a sense of complete control, could be about to let Conte finish this season doing his own thing his own way. But if the results keep coming, for a short time only, Abramovich may be content to smile and wave.

 

Praise For Guardiola Must Continue

Football presents some with the possibility of greatness, preceding on from that you get confirmation of greatness and then to my mind the only thing that follows that is how you continue to redefine greatness. I speak thinking firmly about one man: Pep Guardiola.

Maybe I’m wrong, bias, call it what you will. But Guardiola and Guardiola teams are the only thing I’ve seen in football that consistently tops themselves. Even after spells at Barcelona and Bayern Munich the Catalan coach is still drawing in followers. A bit like the pied piper in footballing terms. Seriously though, how can you not be over awed?

80 minutes in Manchester, October 2013. Anyone to whom this doesn’t spark memories for, well, I’d put it among the highest levels of footballing education you could receive.

Note: it’s 80 minutes not 90 because Guardiola did not feel his side maintained their levels for the entire contest. If that doesn’t tell you enough about the man then little else will.

2nd October, Guardiola takes his then European champion side to the Etihad Stadium to take on soon to be English champions Manchester City. The Bayern Munich coach had taken charge of his new side for nine competitive games. Nine. So much for the concept of “time” that managers need to implement their ideas and have sufficient opportunity to stamp their authority.

What followed from 7:45pm was nothing short of a masterclass. Franck Ribery opened the scoring early on with a drilled effort from 25 yards. Manchester City keeper Joe Hart, who’s form had been firmly called into question, will have expected to have done better.

It remained that way until the interval, Bayern playing the game very much at their own tempo. 15 minutes of the second-half had elapsed before the Germans put the game to bed. First Thomas Muller beat the offside call from the home side’s back four to round Hart and double their lead.

Three minutes later, after Bayern Munich’s newly instructed high press system saw Toni Kroos win the ball off Fernandinho, Arjen Robben was presented with a one-on-one opportunity against Gael Clichy. He jinked left, he jinked right before backing his weaker foot to beat Hart at his near post.

The travelling German faithful were in continental party mood, and if they thought things had been looking pretty for the first hour, well the best was yet to come.

Tiki-taka is a phrase that became synonymous with Guardiola’s stint at Barcelona. Quick intricate passing that combined patience with the search for that killer ball. Tiki-taka is a concept resented by the Spaniard. He believes it suggests a willingness to keep possession without intent.

Now many will suggest that intent is to score. Not always. Guardiola’s sides have always, barring his first year at Manchester City, had the league’s best defence. Not because he is a masterful defensive tactician but because his side’s have so much of the ball that opponents don’t have enough possession to conjure attacks.

It was recorded that, after Robben’s goal had effectively sealed the contest, during a three minute and 27 second spell Bayern Munich completed 94 consecutive passes. The majority of which were in the attacking half.

Nothing short of astonishing. Beyond the beauty and simplicity that every observer was fortunate enough to witness that night was the confirmation though of footballing components far greater.

Even during his time at Barcelona Guardiola was zapped of praise because the tools he had at his disposal supposedly made his success and philosophy ‘easy’. Those of us who know dispel that idea. But when he went to Bayern Munich, and within three months had transformed and transitioned an already champion side to play according to his rules, his identity and his philosophy, well that was nothing short of exceptional.

Not simply to have the coaching ability to show already world class that there was another way they could improve and see the game. But to possess the coaching gravitas and aura to engage players like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Kroos, Muller and Robben.

That night in Manchester saw Bayern play with a slight five foot seven inch full-back turned midfield linchpin dictating the play from his new role. Who in there right mind looked a Philipp Lahm and saw the makings of a master distributer and reader of the game. The answer can only be Guardiola.

Midway through the second 45 Manchester City’s Jesus Navas attempted to utilise his pace in an effort to counteract the German side’s pressing game. Squaring up with Lahm the Spanish winger will have backed himself 99 times out of 100. Tonight was clearly time for the one. Lahm intercepted and Bayern’s possession based dominance continued.

Navas contributed that night towards £45 millions worth of talent purchased by the home side that summer. This before £20 million forward Alvaro Negredo came on to score a late consolation. Bayern in contrast fielding 11 players whom were present under the previous treble winning regime.

11. That means Guardiola did not select one player whom he believed may have enhanced his philosophy, or perhaps sped up the learning period given maybe any former association with the Catalan. He instead believed. Believed in football, believed in a player’s willingness to learn and believed in his principles. Something he still does now as he sets about turning the side he effectively embarrassed that night into one that can conquer all before them.

Stubbornness? Never. 2016/17 proved challenging for Guardiola as for the first time he had his ideals challenged and was presented with the concept of pragmatism. He refused. Guardiola is now doing at Manchester City what he did for the eight years previous.

Stubbornness is what those who lack principles and values call those who’s integrity is unwavering. People who’ve paid close attention to his career since day one knew he would have the last laugh. It looks like ending up that way.