Pep Guardiola has taken the hard road to glory - others have shown no skill in spending millions only to turn great players into robots
- Manchester City's match against Liverpool is a game we should all enjoy
- Pep Guardiola's most attractive feature is that he is not scared of taking a risk
- When I left Liverpool, I was pretty much crying from my home to the airport
- It wasn't the same for Philippe Coutinho but Liverpool can progress without him
At times it can feel that the culture of ‘the ends justifying the means’ is suffocating football. Teams can do whatever it takes tactically to win a game.
Premier League teams — even those with talented players — seem to be increasingly sitting back and trying to nick a goal rather than create a winning spectacle.
Which is why we should all enjoy Manchester City’s visit to Anfield on Sunday and relish the two coaches in charge. Both have had their critics defensively.
Manchester City's clash with Liverpool on Sunday is a Premier League encounter to relish
Pep Guardiola and City play an attacking brand of football which deserves to be applauded
The same applies for Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool - both approaches excite all football fans
Pep Guardiola was questioned last year when his goalkeeper and defence was a weak link. Jurgen Klopp faces ongoing criticism regarding the amount of goals Liverpool concede, something the arrival of Virgil van Dijk is designed to improve.
But both Klopp and Guardiola play an attacking brand of football which should be applauded. It is easy to look foolish when you try that, as City did at times last season and as Liverpool can still do sometimes.
But if you get it right, then it can look like City this season. And that’s worth aspiring to.
It’s the basic essence of football — to excite people and make fans want to go to the game.
The two coaches approach the games in slightly different ways. Guardiola’s style is possession based, playing from the back. Liverpool like to win the ball in attacking areas, so you have a shorter distance to make rapid bursts to the goal and do so by hunting in packs.
It has worked perfectly for Mohamed Salah at Liverpool... but both teams play on the front foot. There’s no turning back with football like that. And you can’t help but respond to the energy and attacking philosophy.
It’s much more difficult to create an attacking outfit than a defensive one. And it obviously incurs more risk.
It’s a harder way. But when it works, people remember you, like they do Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool team, Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles or Sir Alex Ferguson’s Treble winners. I don’t see much skill in spending hundreds of millions and then playing defensively, turning great players into what can seem like robots.
There are lots of coaches who could buy brilliant players and set them up conservatively to stifle a game. There is no special skill in that.
What Guardiola is trying to create at City is true genius. Of course, half my life was at Liverpool so if you asked me who I want to win the league, I always want it to be Liverpool — and I want them to win.
Liverpool like to win the ball in attacking areas while City play their way out from the back
Guardiola is aiming for perfection at City, who are yet to lose in the Premier League this season
But that doesn’t cloud my judgment when I watch a game. I can fully appreciate what other teams do and I would be pleased if City won the Premier League.
That sounds wrong when you consider the teams I have played for in my career, but it would be strange if you couldn’t appreciate what you are watching and what it can bring to English football.
In the Premier League we haven’t had a team like this for a long time, one which has the potential to be talked about for years. They are definitely on track for that. Some people will measure greatness by trophies and others by the team’s visual impression.
Halfway through the season, City are unbeaten and visually you can compare them to some of the great teams I mentioned. But I think it has to be a mixture of trophies and artistry.
I’m not saying you have to dominate for five years to be classed as an amazing team, but I do think you have to win something. If they win the Premier League and remain unbeaten or even lose just one or two, you can pitch this team among the greats.
When I speak to people like Owen Hargreaves, who knows Bayern so well and who speaks to the players who have worked under him, there’s an overwhelming positivity for Guardiola. And that’s because he improves players.
He might have inherited Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta at Barcelona, but he also took Pedro and Sergio Busquets from his B team and made them key components in what might be the greatest club team we’ve seen.
He also brought back Gerard Pique from Manchester United and made him one of the great defenders.
He had outstanding players at Bayern in Manuel Neuer, Arjen Robben and Philipp Lahm. But even with Lahm, he transformed him into a holding midfielder or a full-back who comes inside into midfield.
And the improvement he made to David Alaba, Jerome Boateng and Joshua Kimmich was clear. You are seeing the same now, most notably in Raheem Sterling but also in John Stones, Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane.
At Barcelona, Guardiola oversaw a trophy-laden era with one of the greatest teams ever seen
The improvement in players such as Leroy Sane shows how clever Guardiola's methods are
You can see players improving and embracing the freedom to express themselves and be individual. So many players improve under Guardiola. That’s the sure sign of a great coach.
Those who have worked under him will say that he’s always working tactically on the next game, almost obsessively. And he has an abundance of ideas for training sessions. If he sees the left-back in the forthcoming game as a weak link, he can devise sessions which will exploit that.
But he will add a twist. So, he may attack the opponent’s right-back initially to give the opposition a false sense of security. Then he’ll switch quickly and isolate the left-back.
He is constantly working on ways of dismantling other teams with the tools that he has. The Bayern players would rave about him and felt they were being taught things in training that were way ahead of the time, ideas which no other trainer seemed to have.
And remember, these were experienced internationals, the core of Germany’s World Cup winning team.
He gains their trust by backing them 100 per cent. And that gives players confidence to perform, knowing he will help them improve. That way, you go into work not scared of anything.
At Bayern Munich, Guardiola improved players who won the World Cup with Germany
Guardiola has been unafraid of risks in his career and it is his most attractive quality
And that’s when the magic happens. To be able to do all this, you have to be very clever. But you also have to be a risk taker. Naturally, people can be very cautious. If there is any doubt in life, then people tend to take a step back.
If there’s trouble and people are nervous, then the tendency is to go home. Not many people take a step forward into the unknown. That sums up Guardiola.
He’s not scared of risk. And it’s his most attractive quality.
When Real Madrid asked me to join them in 2004, part of me was flattered and part of me was in turmoil. Remember, this was a team with Zinedine Zidane, Raul, David Beckham, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos and Luis Figo. Who wouldn’t want to play with them? But my mind chopped and changed and my thought process was going back and forth.
In the end it boiled down to the fact that if I stayed at Liverpool all my career, I could have had an amazing career like Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher and could have even won the Champions League, as they did a year later.
But I would always have thought: ‘What if?’ I would have had that nagging thought at the back of my mind: ‘What would it have been like to speak a new language, try a different culture, play for one of the greatest teams in world football?’
I was drawn to Real Madrid by a chance to play with the likes of Ronaldo and Roberto Carlos
My mind chopped and changed on leaving Liverpool - it wasn't the same for Philippe Coutinho
Maybe naively I thought that, like Ian Rush when he left Liverpool for Juventus, I could do a year or two and then come back and, in fact, I almost did.
I decided I had to go, but even so, I was pretty much crying all the way from my home to the airport. Part of me never wanted to leave.
Judging from the photos of Philippe Coutinho en route to Barcelona last week, he didn’t feel quite the same way. It pretty much seemed as though he was in utopia.
Of course that is the difference for South American players. You have to accept that playing for Barcelona or Real Madrid is the pinnacle of their career. They will have grown up dreaming of those clubs.
So while there is disappointment that Liverpool have lost Coutinho, I think there is also a sense of realism.
Players have always left — Graeme Souness in 1984 or Rush in 1986 or Luis Suarez in 2014. The club have always recovered. The stats amplify that point. With Coutinho Liverpool have won 53 per cent of their games but 57 per cent without him. They won 48 per cent with Suarez and 61.1 per cent without him.
Coutinho sealed his dream transfer from Liverpool to Barcelona last weekend
I could have stayed at Liverpool and had a great career like Steven Gerrard or Jamie Carragher
Even allowing for the fact that they might have rested Suarez and Coutinho for easy games, whereas they always play in the hardest games, that is still illuminating.
Clearly though you’re not better off without your best player, whatever the stats say. I’d be willing to argue that the departure of Suarez affected Liverpool more deeply than the exit of Coutinho will.
It is partly because Suarez’s transfer was quickly followed by long-term injury problems for Daniel Sturridge and then Raheem Sterling’s transfer to Manchester City in 2016. But the impact was felt most keenly in 2014-15, when Sterling was still there.
That’s when you realised just how important Suarez’s creativity was for his team-mates and how they could feed off it.
At that stage of his career I would have made Suarez the third best player in the world, behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. At present, I might put Coutinho in the top 10, but only just. Whereas Suarez left and Sturridge got injured, Coutinho is leaving at a time when Mohamed Salah is becoming a phenomenal player.
Coutinho's exit is unlikely to impact Liverpool the way that Luis Suarez's did in 2014
Mohamed Salah is becoming a phenomenal player and is already key for Liverpool
Suarez was such a huge player, in a more pivotal position. Coutinho is a superb player but there are people who can fill his position. Last August Sadio Mane would have been deemed more important than Coutinho by many Liverpool fans. Coutinho has played better in the past five months but the Senegalese still has plenty to offer Liverpool.
Looking at the wider squad, Adam Lallana is returning from injury, Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain has been added. Virgil van Dijk has arrived and Naby Keita is coming in the summer at the latest.
Liverpool are much better placed to cope with this departure than they were in 2014. It’s always a blow to lose maybe your best player. But at £142million, with that money invested wisely, this feels like you can say it has been a good deal all round.
It has been the week of Video Assistant Referees and despite the teething problems, such as the long wait to confirm the non-award of a penalty during the Chelsea-Arsenal semi-final, I am positive about the development. The more decisions referees get right, the better.
My one reservation is that the use of TV replays means we may be heading ever closer to a non-contact sport. We have got to the stage where even the slightest touch now means a player goes down and it is almost always a penalty. That’s not how I understand the rules.
I know that people will point the finger at me — especially Mauricio Pochettino! I’m not claiming never to have done it. Back in 2002 Mauricio made contact, I fell and England won the penalty that beat Argentina!
VAR was used to confirm a non-penalty between Arsenal and Chelsea in midweek
My one worry is that the use of TV replays means we head ever closer to a non-contact sport
But just because I did it doesn’t mean that every time I went down, I expected the referee to give a penalty.
VAR increases the trend of football becoming a slow-motion sport rather than a real-time sport. In slow motion, constantly repeated, contact can look worse and free-kicks are given unnecessarily.
In my view Eden Hazard, against Arsenal in the Premier League, and Adam Lallana, against Everton in the FA Cup, should not have had penalties, so I’m looking forward to VAR improving refereeing.
But I hope it doesn’t mean every touch is now a foul or else we will have lost some of the essence of the game.
It is encouraging to see Ryan Giggs, Craig Bellamy and Osian Roberts in the frame for the Wales job.
There aren’t many Premier League clubs who will give even a player of Ryan’s experience a chance and probably not many Championship clubs. It seems the Welsh FA are prepared to take risks that a club side won’t.
Manchester United legend Ryan Giggs is in the frame to become the new manager of Wales
One of the topics I’ll be addressing in coming weeks is how to ensure more elite players have a pathway to coaching.
For Giggs or Bellamy, this may be the break they need to show what they can do.
Most watched Sport videos
- Pep Guardiola congratulates Man United on Alexis Sanchez deal
- Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on 4-1 win over Crystal Palace
- Premier League sackings: Which managers have faced the axe?
- Jurgen Klopp is left bemused by strange questions about cake
- Pogba, Lukaku and Lingard perform team-mate's Martial's chant
- Arsene Wenger admits he doesn't know if Sanchez will go
- Arsene Wenger says Alexis Sanchez is 'likely to move to Man Utd
- Mourinho says United 'were a bit slow' after 3-0 win over Stoke
- Marcus Rashford has a go at Jesse Lingard for social media obsession
- Magic Marcus! United star Rashford shows off footwork in Dubai
- Mourinho says he 'doesn't know anything' about City's Sanchez chase
- Premier League transfer round-up: Sanchez to United edges closer