Football Features

Every striker signed by Pep Guardiola, ranked from worst to best

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 15:30, 25 May 2022

Manchester City have not one, but two strikers joining the club this summer.

After going an entire season strikerless following Sergio Aguero’s departure last summer and Pep Guardiola’s failed pursuit of Harry Kane, the Catalan coach will be spoilt for choice when August’s curtain-raising match comes around.

Erling Haaland is of course the centrepiece signing of the summer transfer window, with City forking out a relatively modest £51.2m for Norway’s once-in-a-generation marksman, ending his goal-laden stint at Borussia Dortmund.

Then, of course, Julian Alvarez will be linking up with his new club this summer. The seven-capped Argentina international officially penned a contract with City in January, but spent the rest of the season out on loan at River Plate.

So, for a coach who has almost rejected the notion of a traditional striker in his fluid brand of possession-obsessed football, he will have two No. 9s to choose from in 2022/23. Could that be the key to City finally lifting a Champions League trophy?

Of course, spending the money is the easy bit, but spending it wisely? It’s safe too say Guardiola has had an ‘interesting’ track record when it comes to signing strikers — and we’ve tried our best to rank them from worst to best.

7. Olarenwaju Kayode

Games for Guardiola: 0
Goals for Guardiola: 0

The Nigerian striker was signed by Manchester City in 2017 after an impressive season for Austria Wien where he scored 24 goals in 48 games. He was immediately loaned out to Girona with the idea clearly for him to gain experience in a better league where, if he succeeded, he could perhaps become a viable squad player for City (he also didn’t have a work permit to play in England). Sadly Kayode didn’t score a single goal in 13 games for the Catalan side, and was shifted out to Shakhtar Donetsk. Not a success.

6. Keirrison

Games for Guardiola: 0
Goals for Guardiola: 0

Keirrison signed for Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona in 2009 and the hype was very real for a Brazilian forward who, by 20 years old, had scored 89 goals in 158 games for Palmeiras and Coritiba. However, Guardiola showed little to no interest in developing Keirrison and instantly sent the forward out on loan where he struggled, first at Benfica and then Fiorentina before heading back to Brazil after one year with Santos. He never recovered that initial fire, sadly, and his career fizzled out.

5. Alexis Sanchez

Games for Guardiola: 41
Goals for Guardiola: 15

Barcelona signed Alexis Sanchez as European champions in 2011 as a way to improve the mobility and versatility of their front line, with Sanchez capable of playing as a leading No. 9 but also a No. 10 and even a winger.

This allowed Guardiola to change formation multiple times in one game, which he most famously did in Barcelona’s epic 3-1 comeback win at the Santiago Bernabeu when the Blaugrana switched from 4-3-3 to a radical 3-1-4-1-1 after 15 minutes and dominated the game despite going 1-0 down, with Sanchez himself scoring the equaliser.

The Chilean scored 15 goals in his debut season at the Camp Nou but tragically missed two sitters in the Champions League semi-final against Chelsea, directly leading to Barcelona’s shock elimination.

Guardiola then left the club after that campaign but Sanchez went on for two more seasons, peaking in Catalunya at his last season when he scored 21 goals including a stunner in his final La Liga match before the club moved him on to bring in Luis Suarez.

4. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Games for Guardiola: 46
Goals for Guardiola: 22

After winning the Treble in his first season at Barcelona, Pep Guardiola wanted to evolve his side, so he moved Samuel Eto’o on and brought in Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Suffice to say the Swede was an instant hit, scoring repeatedly to start the season (he notched seven times in his first seven appearances in La Liga) and giving the Blaugrana a physical edge to augment their technical superiority.

However, it didn’t last as Ibrahimovic’s ego couldn’t handle Lionel Messi’s prominence in the side and his form suffered after the winter break. Barring a superb showing away to Arsenal where he scored twice, there was none of the magic glimpsed in the early days of his time in Catalunya.

However, he still scored nine times including the aforementioned brace against Arsenal and he had peppered game-winning goals all through the season and in a title race that ended 99 points to 96, those were crucial; none moreso than Zlatan’s stunning left-footed volley to win the first Clasiso of the season. So while it was a middling season, there was still plenty of quality packed into that short period.

3. Gabriel Jesus

Games for Guardiola: 236
Goals for Guardiola: 95

Gabriel Jesus joined Manchester City halfway through Pep Guardiola’s first season in Manchester and instantly looked like his understanding of the Catalan’s system would see him usurp Sergio Aguero as the star striker even though he wasn’t as relentless a goalscorer.

Despite an impressive 95 goals in 236 games, including a few crucial strikes like away to Real Madrid in 2020, or that last-minute winner to clinch the 100-point season in 2017/18, that never quite came to pass. Nevertheless, Jesus has still been a fundamental part of all City’s successes under Guardiola.

2. David Villa

Games for Guardiola: 76
Goals for Guardiola: 32

After Guardiola aborted the Ibrahimovic experiment just one season in, the man earmarked to replace him was David Villa. The last signing of the (first) Joan Laporta presidency, Villa joined just before the 2010 World Cup where he helped Spain win the title.

He joined Barcelona and carried that momentum forward. Despite having to play wide on the left, Villa was still a righteous success, scoring 23 goals and being a key part of the Blaugrana producing what may well be the greatest club side of all-time. They powered to win La Liga, reach the Copa del Rey final and then claim the Champions League where Villa scored the spectacular third goal in a 3-1 win in the final.

Villa’s form wavered a bit the following season and he picked up a horror leg break that could have derailed his entire career (it caused him to miss Spain’s Euro 2012 triumph). Without him the Blaugrana surrendered La Liga in Guardiola’s final season, but Villa fought back to once again play a vital role in a Barcelona winning the title, this time with a sensational 100-point season. A smashing striker success.

1. Robert Lewandowski

Games for Guardiola: 100
Goals for Guardiola: 67

In Pep Guardiola’s first season in Bayern Munich, he instantly discarded the idea of Mario Mandzukic as a No. 9 and tried to bring Mario Gotze through as a false nine in the Messi mould only to realise that Mario Gotze is not Messi. A striker would be needed, so Bayern went out and got Borussia Dortmund’s Robert Lewandowski on a free transfer.

The Polish striker had 103 goals in 187 games for the Bundesliga side and quite predictably fit in with Guardiola perfectly. Lewandowski was a striker who could hold the ball up and do all the classic No. 9 things, but also had the technical proficiency to drop deep or drift wide and link with his team-mates, creating passing triangles and possession overloads in the classic Guardiola style.

This is what Guardiola would be hoping to achieve by signing Kane for City last summer, with the Englishman being the closest thing to Lewandowski around at the moment. A striker who can be more than just a pure goalscorer.

That’s Kane, and it was and is Lewandowski, but don’t sleep on his goalscoring either, the Pole scored 67 goals in 100 games under Guardiola and has since gone on to rack-up a ridiculous 344 goals in 375 games for Bayern (winning eight straight Bundesliga, three DFB Pokal and a Champions League).

Pep will be hoping Haaland can produce something similar at the Etihad.

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