Football Features

Pep Guardiola’s next assistant? After the summer, Man City may have the Premier League’s most glamorous No.2

By Ben Green

Pep Guardiola’s next Man City assistant? Icons who could (eventually) replace Arteta

Published: 15:20, 29 April 2020

The landscape of Premier League football is set to experience unprecedented changes post-coronavirus, but adjustments both on and off the field were always in the pipeline for Manchester City.

Not only did Pep Guardiola’s side fail to procure an adequate heir to Vincent Kompany’s influential centre-back throne last summer, but playmaker grandmaster David Silva is also set to leave a gaping void in just a few month’s time.

With that, City were always predicted to sign when the transfer window opens, but additions in the dugout were also expected of the Citizens, with Guardiola yet to find a successor to former assistant coach Mikel Arteta.

The Spaniard had been an invaluable part of Guardiola’s backroom staff at the Etihad, having taken up a coaching role in 2016 following the end of his playing career, and he immediately impressed on the touchline, exhibiting an astute understanding of the game and showcasing his tactical know-how.

Given his education includes a scholarship at Barcelona’s revered La Masia academy, and having worked under Arsene Wenger as well as once playing alongside Mauricio Pochettino at PSG, it came as no surprise to see Arteta flourish during his embryonic years in the dugout.

Unfortunately for City, Guardiola’s lieutenants have a propensity to spread their wings and eventually move into managerial roles at clubs hoping a bit of ‘Pep stardust’ has rubbed off on them during their apprenticeship, and Arteta ultimately took on the position of Arsenal head coach in December.

Following his departure, another of Guardiola’s chief assistants at City, Rodolfo Borrell, took on a more prominent role. He is among the contenders to replace Arteta, according to Goal, though it also noted the role could still go to an external candidate.

What is the current situation in City’s dugout?

When Domenec Torrent left City to embark on his own managerial career for New York City FC in 2018, it marked the end of partnership that had endured for over a decade.

The pair first worked together at Barcelona B in 2007/08 and would go on to achieve unparalleled success with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and eventually City.

A similar situation unfolded when Jurgen Klopp’s right-hand man Zeljko Buvac left Liverpool in 2018, but in both cases, the two North West powerhouses have coped with the departures — and have perhaps exceeded expectations in some respects.

A reunion does not appear out of the question. Torrent told El Diario last year: “I don’t know if fate will bring us together again, but he knows that if he calls me, I’ll go […] I like being a manager, and I will only stop being it if Pep thinks I can be useful in any way.”

In Torrent’s absence, Guardiola relied upon the forensic insight of not only Arteta, but also former Liverpool youth coach Borrell and the evergreen Brian Kidd, a disciple of Sir Alex Ferguson at adversaries Man United and a now City stalwart.

With Arteta now out of the picture as well, Guardiola will undoubtedly need a new man to step into the equation and fill the sophisticated shoes of his former deputy. Some big names have been touted as City look to rebuild in the coming months following the rapid rise of Liverpool, but the club have been in no rush.

Despite the fact it was December when Arteta returned to the Emirates in December, there has been no panic from Guardiola, who is believed to have wanted time to mull over his options and ultimately cherry-pick a suitable candidate to fill the vacancy this summer.

How does Guardiola usually pick his assistants?

It is noted in the aforementioned report that Guardiola likes to populate his backroom staff with decision-makers and critical thinkers who challenge his choices.

But looking on the outwardly obvious patterns of his post-playing career, he has tended to put his faith in affiliates of each club he has managed. At Barcelona he worked alongside La Masia graduate Tito Vilanova; at Bayern Munich he retained the services of long-standing coach Hermann Gerland; and at City, Kidd has been an influential voice in his ear.

This pattern suggests Guardiola will seek a coach who has knowledge and experience of playing at the club (or at least in the same competition). After all, this is a blueprint best exemplified by his esteemed teacher, Johan Cruyff. 

The Dutch legend is largely responsible for the modern-day structure of Ajax, with a number of former players currently occupying either a coaching or advisory roles at the Amsterdam club: Christian Poulsen, Michael Reiziger and Richard Witschge are all assistant coaches, while Edwin van der Sar and Marc Overmars currently fill the general director and technical director positions respectively.

Chelsea have tried to follow suit in recent times with Frank Lampard and Jody Morris at the helm, Petr Cech a technical advisor, Claude Makelele a technical mentor and Henrique Hilario a goalkeeper coach.

Guardiola is certainly no stranger to this approach, though his ideology is heavily entrenched in Barcelona theory, hence Ferran Soriano currently the CEO of City and Txiki Begiristain the current director of football; it will come as no surprise if Guardiola’s next assistant has Barca ties.

Though if we consider Guardiola is in the market for a like-for-like Arteta replacement, he may consider some of his former players, those with Premier League knowledge and an understanding of his ‘tiki-taka’ playing style.

Could Guardiola pick his City assistant from outside the club? Some seriously iconic candidates to watch…

  • Xabi Alonso: The ex-Liverpool and Bayern midfielder, 38, has no have ties to City but worked under Guardiola, whom he considers “the best coach I’ve ever worked with,” at Bayern and has vast Premier League experience. Alonso is currently in charge of Real Sociedad B but is being linked with the assistant role at City.
  • Pablo Zabaleta: The 35-year-old right-back’s West Ham contract expires this summer. He is fluent in Spanish and English, has worked with both City and Guardiola, is studying for his A Licence and told the press in 2018: “Why not [return to City]? I spent nine years at Man City, it was like a home. And my last meeting with [City chairman] Khaldoon [Al Mubarak], he said the door will be open for me to come back to Man City in some role, so we will see. It would be special.”
  • Sylvinho: Has also previously worked at City and under Guardiola (at Barcelona). His coaching CV includes roles as Roberto Mancini’s assistant coach at Inter Milan, Tite’s right-hand man with Brazil and as 11 games as first-team coach for Lyon. He is currently without a club.
  • Vincent Kompany: Has given up his managerial role at Anderlecht but Guardiola has previously spoken positively on his former captain’s influence in the City dressing room: “It will be so difficult to replace Vinnie. Everyone is everyone and have their strengths, but Vincent is special. For all the times he gave a speech to the guys or spoke with passion about something, he believed in, his leaving will be a big loss.” 
  • David Silva: Set to leave City at the end of the season. Although his stated wish is to continue his playing career with Las Palmas, he has told CityTV: “Not at the beginning, but as the time goes by, I’m having more interest. Maybe when I retire from football, I feel that I would like to become a manager.”
  • Andres Iniesta: The 35-year-old is enjoying life in the J1 League with Vissel Kobe but he too has spoken of one day occupying the dugout in a coaching capacity: “On a personal level, I will surely try to become a coach and train myself, and we will see what happens in the future.”
  • Xavi: There were no secrets made of Barca’s desire to lure Xavi to the Camp Nou in January following Ernesto Valverde’s sacking, but the Spanish legend opted to stay in charge of Qatari outfit Al Sadd, whom he has managed since 2019. The thought of a dugout occupied by Guardia and Xavi is the stuff of dreams, and it would undoubtedly elevate City to even greater heights. The fact it would involve a step down in seniority makes this option less plausible, however.
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