Football Features

From Messi to Sane: how 15 young wingers coped in their first full season under Pep Guardiola

By Squawka News

Published: 16:56, 3 July 2020

Watching potential become transformed into substance is one of the most thrilling sights in football.

During his managerial spells at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City, Pep Guardiola has had the opportunity to work with some of world football’s most exciting young wingers.

At the Etihad, it has been shown through the growth of Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling who, after four seasons have already shown just how much working under Guardiola has improved their game.

For Sterling, it has been a growth from a player considered a flop in his first season at Man City to becoming England‘s best winger and a constant threat in front of goal. Meanwhile Sane has seen his growth result in a move to Guardiola‘s former club Bayern Munich.

None of this is new for those who followed and admired the work of the Catalan ever since his move into the dugout to become one of the most successful managers in the history of the game. Speaking to Squawka in May 2015, he explained the importance of having wingers in his system.

“They are the ones who cause chaos,” said Guardiola. “The ones who play on instinct and talent. We need these kind of players for the last 50 or 20 metres.”

Below are 15 young wingers who were granted the chance to learn from Guardiola – the players they were when they first began to play under him and the effect his coaching had on their games.

Lionel Messi

Club: Barcelona

Breakthrough season under Guardiola: 2008/09

Age at the time: 21

Appearances (all competitions): 51

Goals (all competitions): 38

Before Guardiola

The Argentinian had already won the Champions League and two La Liga titles under Frank Rijkaard and was regarded as the biggest talent in world football, destroying defences on a regular basis from the right wing, running and dribbling inside to rip teams to shreds and score and create goals.

After Guardiola

Messi had already started moving inside to play as a false nine and was top scorer in all competitions as Barcelona won the first major treble in Spanish football.

He scored the second goal in his team’s 2-0 win over Manchester United in the Champions League final and was the star of a landmark 6-2 thrashing of Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, in a performance that laid the foundations for the transformation that would follow.

By the end of 2009, he had won the Ballon d’Or and Fifa World Player of the Year awards for the first time and was widely hailed as the best player in the world, rather than a player with the potential to reach that level. It is fair to say he hasn’t looked back since.

Pedro

Club: Barcelona

Breakthrough season under Guardiola: 2009/10

Age at the time: 22

Appearances (all competitions): 52

Goals (all competitions): 23

Before Guardiola

Pedro had already made 14 appearances for Barcelona the season after being promoted into the senior squad from Barcelona B – the club’s second side that Guardiola had coached before becoming manager of the first team. The 2009/10 campaign would prove to be his breakthrough though.

After Guardiola

The five-foot-five winger proved himself to be the ultimate system player for Guardiola playing predominantly on the left side of the attack, excelling at pressing opponents and running off the ball to create space for others. He would go on to become one of the most successful players in the club’s history and a key player in the side that lifted the Champions League again in 2011.

Jeffren Suarez

Club: Barcelona

Breakthrough season under Guardiola: 2009/10

Age at the time: 21

Appearances (all competitions): 18

Goals (all competitions): 2

Before Guardiola

After making two senior appearances in 2008/09, Barcelona B regular Jeffren was promoted into the first-team squad by Guardiola after the Venezuelan scored 14 goals for 82 games for the club’s second side.

After Guardiola

Despite being tipped to follow Pedro’s example, Jeffren failed to kick on in the senior team although he was part of the squad as Barcelona won the La Liga title in 2010 and 2011, in addition to the Club World Cup. He moved to Sporting CP in 2011 where he struggled through a series of injury problems. Further spells in Belgium, Switzerland and Cyprus have followed, with Jeffren now at Croatian side Slaven Belupo.

Jeffren simply wasn’t a player who was up to the standard required for Guardiola in spite of a couple of highlights such as scoring the fifth goal in 5-0 win over Jose Mourinho‘s Real Madrid in November 2010.

Ibrahim Afellay

Club: Barcelona

Breakthrough season under Guardiola: 2010/11

Age at the time: 24

Appearances (all competitions): 28

Goals (all competitions): 2

Before Guardiola

A versatile attacker who could play on the wing or centrally, Afellay was a first-team regular for PSV Eindhoven and had scored 38 goals in 217 appearances for the club. He joined Barcelona in January 2011 to add depth to Guardiola‘s options across the team’s front line.

After Guardiola

Due to the players ahead of him in the pecking order, Afellay never became anything more than a squad player at Barcelona.

The Dutchman did provide the assist for Messi to open the scoring against Real Madrid in their Champions League semi-final tie, with Barcelona going on to win the competition, again beating Manchester United in the final.

However, his lack of progression and injury problems led to the winger being deemed surplus to requirements and left out of the squad for key fixtures. After loan spells away to Schalke and then Olympiacos, he moved to Stoke City in 2015 where he became yet another anonymous squad player in the Potters recent history. Afellay returned to PSV for a second spell during the 2019/20 season, but left once more at the end of the campaign.

Alexis Sanchez

Club: Barcelona

<strong>Breakthrough season under Guardiola: 2011/12</stron

Age at the time: 22

Appearances (all competitions): 41

<p>Goals (all competitions): 15

 

Before Guardiola

Sanchez was rated as one of the most exciting talents in world football after an&nbsp;outstanding season for Udinese in Serie A, during which he bagged 12 goals in 31 league games as the fulcrum of a team celebrated for their attractive and attacking style of play.

He had already proven himself as a champion, winning titles on loan with Colo-Colo and River Plate in South America. Quick, strong, hard-working and capable of playing all across the front-line, he had all the attributes to succeed at Barcelona.

After Guardiola

The Chilean was a qualified success under Guardiola. He was too inconsistent to fully realise his potential in a Barcelona shirt, and it is telling that he improved at Arsenal where he enjoyed top billing, rather than playing beneath the shadow of Messi, whose needs saw Sanchez often pushed wide to play a secondary, support role.

Neymar’s arrival, a&nbsp;year after Guardiola left the club, saw the Chilean’s role within the squad further diminished and he left in 2014 for north London, before signing for Man United in January 2017 and later Inter Milan on loan in 2019.

Isaac Cuenca

Club: Barcelona

Breakthrough season under Guardiola: 2011/12

Age at the time: 20

Appearances (all competitions): 30

Goals (all competitions): 4

Before Guardiola

Another La Masia product to follow in the footsteps of Pedro, Cuenca was fast-tracked into the first-team squad for the start of the 2011/12 season after initially being let go by the club on two occasions, but Guardiola saw something in the young winger.

After Guardiola

Prized for his off-the-ball movement, the Spaniard was often used by his manager to tweak the shape of the team, with Barcelona switching to what was effectively a 3-3-4 against Milan in the Champions League, with Cuenca deployed on the left as an extremely advanced wing-back.

However, after sustaining an injury following Guardiola’s departure in 2012, the winger was sent out on loan to recover at Ajax. Unfortunately, he suffered another major injury and missed the entirety of the 2013/14 season.

Cuenca left Barcelona to join Deportivo la Coruna on a permanent basis in 2014. A year later he moved to the Turkish Super Lig with Bursaspor before returning to Spain to sign for Granada in 2016. He is currently, after a spell in Israel, playing in Japan’s J1 League, first joining Sagan Tosu before making the move to current club Vegalta Sendai.

Cristian Tello

Club: Barcelona

Breakthrough season under Guardiola: 2011/12

Age at the time: 19

Appearances (all competitions): 22

Goals (all competitions): 7

Before Guardiola

Promoted into the first-team squad at the same time as Cuenca, reports tended to frame the pair as part of a new wave of talent from the club’s La Masia system.

After Guardiola

Unlike Cuenca, Tello did not see his Barcelona career derailed by major injuries. However, he never quite managed to prove himself worthy of being anything more than a squad player at the Camp Nou, but continued to play even after Guardiola’s departure, making 64 appearances across the 2012/13 and 2013/14 seasons.

Tello was another player to see his opportunities to play reduced by Neymar’s arrival and in 2014 he was sent to Porto on a two-year loan. In 2016, he joined Fiorentina for another temporary spell away from the Camp Nou for the season.

In contrast to Cuenca, who excelled with his movement off the ball and crossing from the byline, Tello was best when running at opponents, cutting inside and using his pace to get the better of defenders in one-on-one duels. The Sabadell-born attacker is currently at Real Betis.

Mario Gotze

Club: Bayern Munich

Breakthrough season under Guardiola: 2013/14

Age at the time: 21

Appearances (all competitions): 45

Goals (all competitions): 15

Before Guardiola

Gotze was already seen as the biggest talent in German football. Franz Beckenbauer, the World Cup-winning former captain and ex-manager of the national team, even said he could be Germany’s answer to Messi.

He had won two Bundesliga titles in three full seasons worth of football under Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund and moved to Bayern in controversial circumstances with the Bavarian club triggering his buy-out clause ahead of their clash with their league rivals in the first-ever all-German Champions League final in 2013.

After Guardiola

Gotze was used in a number of roles by the Catalan, out wide, behind the striker and as a false nine, and was given special attention by the former Barcelona manager to try and mould him into a more complete player.

However, the German struggled to show his best form for Bayern, and by the end of Guardiola’s reign in Munich in 2016, he had fallen down the pecking order and regarded as a player whose development had stalled. Injuries had played their part, as well as a dip in confidence for a midfielder who was once the fulcrum of Dortmund’s style of play.

In 2017, after having returned to his former club, the attacking midfielder was diagnosed with a metabolic problem leading to some suggestions that his condition may have held him back at Bayern. Gotze is now looking for his next adventure, leaving Dortmund in 2020, now aged 28.

Xherdan Shaqiri

Club: Bayern Munich

Breakthrough season under Guardiola: 2013/14

Age at the time: 21

Appearances (all competitions): 27

Goals (all competitions): 7

Before Guardiola

Dubbed the “Messi of the Alps”, Shaqiri was signed from Swiss club Basel in 2012 and played 39 games across all competitions as Bayern secured the first major treble in the history of German football.

After Guardiola

The Swiss international lasted 18 months under Guardiola and was sold to Inter in January 2015 after injuries and an inability to submit to the demands of the Catalan’s more systematic style of play saw his opportunities in the first team dwindle.

Shaqiri preferred to play as a soloist, improvising on instinct, rather than slotting into a specific role to match his manager’s vision, and would later criticise the former Barcelona coach’s communication skills and man management. He moved to Stoke City after seven months in Milan in 2015. Three years later, Shaqiri made the move to Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side following Stoke’s relegation to the Championship but has largely been unable to break into the first team, due to the attacking trio of Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane. He has, however, secured a Champions League and Premier League winner’s medal during that time.

Mitchell Weiser

Club: Bayern Munich

Breakthrough season under Guardiola: 2014/15

Age at the time: 20

Appearances (all competitions): 16

Goals (all competitions): 1

Before Guardiola

A youth signing from FC Koln in 2012, Weiser had made a total of five senior appearances for Bayern prior to his breakthrough season in 2014/15.

After Guardiola

He failed to make the grade at the Allianz Arena as both a footballer and a professional, although after showcasing his ability to dribble past four players and lay on the assist for Bastian Schweinsteiger to score the winner in a 1-0 win over Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga, his defeated opponents clearly saw enough in the winger. Weiser moved to the German capital to join them in 2015, and was picked up by Bayer Leverkusen three years later.

Gianluca Gaudino

Club: Bayern Munich

Breakthrough season under Guardiola: 2014/15

Age at the time: 17

Appearances (all competitions): 11

Goals (all competitions): 0

Before Guardiola

The son of former Germany international Maurizio Gaudino, Gaudino was fast-tracked into the senior squad in 2014 at the tender age of just 17 after impressing Guardiola for the club’s academy sides, turning out for the Bayern Munich first team before he had played a game for B team Bayern Munich II.

After Guardiola

Gaudino was handed a surprise debut in the DFB Super Cup in 2014 and received other opportunities in an injury-ravaged campaign. However, he struggled for games in the season that followed, playing 19 times for Bayern Munich II and failing to make a first-team appearance despite being named in match day squads.

He left the club in search of regular game time to join Swiss club St. Galen on loan until the end of the 2016/17 season, and is now back in Switzerland with BSC Young Boys after a brief stint at Italian Serie A outfit Chievo.

Douglas Costa

Club: Bayern Munich

Breakthrough season under Guardiola: 2015/16

Age at the time: 24

Appearances (all competitions): 43

Goals (all competitions): 7

Before Guardiola

Signed from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2015 with Bayern in clear need of more depth and quality out wide due to the injury records and age of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, Costa arrived as a fully-fledged Brazilian international winger with five Ukrainian Premier League titles under his belt by the age of 24.

After Guardiola

Costa’s individualism and trickery added a new, dangerous dimension down the flanks for Guardiola in his third season, and in many ways the former Gremio dribbler proved to be the perfect example of the “chaos” player identified by the Catalan in his interview with Squawka.

The Brazilian has spoke about how his former manager offered him advice on how to play based on how Messi would use his ability to win individual duels to bring the best out of his teammates and the system of the team around him.

Following Guardiola’s departure from Bayern, Costa became unhappy with his reduced role under Carlo Ancelotti and left for Juventus where he remains a key player when fit.

Kingsley Coman

Club: Bayern Munich

Breakthrough season under Guardiola: 2015/16

Age at the time: 19

Appearances (all competitions): 35

Goals (all competitions): 6

Before Guardiola

Coman made his professional debut for Paris Saint-Germain in February 2013 at the age of 16, nine years on from joining the club, yet in 2014 he moved to Juventus only to be loaned out to Bayern for two years, beginning in August 2015, with a view to making the switch permanent in the future.

A young, quick and skilful winger, he excelled at beating other players with his dribbling but lacked end product, and was regarded as a difficult character to manage after moving on so quickly from PSG and Juventus after breaking into first-team football.

After Guardiola

By the end of his first season playing under Guardiola, Coman had begun to deliver. He improved on his positioning and tactical understanding in order to play the way the Catalan required him to out wide, although his manager went to great lengths to ensure the raw qualities of his dribbling were retained – again, ensuring the winger didn’t lose the “chaos” factor from his game. Coman is now a key member of Bayern’s Bundesliga-dominating side.

Raheem Sterling

Club: Manchester City

Breakthrough season under Guardiola: 2016/17

Age at the time: 21

Appearances (all competitions): 47

Goals (all competitions): 11

Before Guardiola

Raheem Sterling was a breakout star at Liverpool under Brendan Rogers, most notably in the 2013/14 season where he played 38 games and struck 10 in all competitions as Liverpool narrowly lost out to Man City in the race for the title.

Seen as the next great hope of English football, Sterling’s progress stalled somewhat following his transfer to Man City in 2015 for around £50m, with a change of style and different tactical demands taking some time to get used to.

After Guardiola

Sterling’s trials and tribulations while experiencing indifferent form for City during the 2015/16 and in England’s Euro 2016 campaign led Guardiola, who was taking over the reigns at City in a month’s time, to call him during the tournament, telling him he was central to his city plans as long he worked hard.

This support and, later, constructive criticism worked wonders for Sterling, who has gone from looking as though he may be surplus to requirements at City due to the inevitable transfer splurges, to a crucial first-team player.

Sterling brings chaos with his pace, close-control at speed and trickery, but under Guardiola, he’s added positional intelligence and a goalscoring touch. In 2016/17 he struck 11 in all competitions in 47 games, but the following season he scored 23 in 46. In 2018/19 he upped that to 25 in 51 while in 2019/20, so far, he has bagged 23 goals in 43 appearances in all competitions.

That’s some going for a player who still isn’t comfortable finishing – he puts himself in the right positions, however, as his goals tally suggests, but there’s even greater upside for the player if Pep can continue to improve his ball-striking technique, which getting better game by game.

Leroy Sane

Club: Manchester City

Breakthrough season under Guardiola: 2016/17

Age at the time: 20

Appearances (all competitions): 31

Goals (all competitions): 9

Before Guardiola

Following a £37 million transfer from boyhood club Schalke 04 in the summer of 2016, just a few weeks after Guardiola’s arrival at the Etihad Stadium, much was expected of Sane ahead of his debut campaign in the Premier League.

Although he was still a raw player with much untapped talent, the German had already made 47 Bundesliga appearances and was a senior international by the time he moved to the blue half of Manchester.

After Guardiola

Sane took time to adjust to life in England and only featured in nine of City’s first 21 league fixtures, with none of those being for the full 90 minutes. However, in the 17 matches that followed during that season, the fleet-footed winger really showcased his true potential and started all but one game.

Only supreme playmakers Kevin De Bruyne (42) and David Silva (40) created more chances for City in the league than Sane’s 27 in that period, while Sergio Aguero (9) and Leroy Sane were the only players to score more than the four league goals the German managed.

Former Premier League winner Michael Ballack has already stated that Sane has made an ‘amazing step’ under Guardiola, highlighting the winger’s new-found physicality and confidence on the ball.

In the 2017/18 season, he struck 14 goals in 49 appearances in all competitions and provided a further six assists. In the league, he hit 10 in 32. In 2018/19 he improved slightly, scoring 16 in 47 games, and is all-round performances earned interest from Bayern Munich.

An ACL injury in the 2019 Community Shield temporarily put that deal on the sidelines, as Sane was ruled out for a large part of the season but, one year later, Bayern got their man. Now the German club look set to reap the rewards of Guardiola’s teachings.

Bernardo Silva

Club: Manchester City

Breakthrough season under Guardiola: 2017/18

Age at the time: 23

Appearances (all competitions): 32

Goals (all competitions): 8

Before Guardiola

The Portuguese speedster was an integral part of Monaco’s special team that won Ligue 1 and got to the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2016-17. During that season, he scored 11 in 58 games. In France it was clear he had the sought-after combination of speed and a proclivity toward technical brilliance.

After Guardiola

Silva signed for City in the summer of 2017 for a reported fee of £43.5m, and the immediate problems facing Guardiola and Silva was the sheer competition for places in the attacking positions at City. Notwithstanding the usual tendency toward slowly working in new players, this meant Silva had to perform immediately to keep a place in the side.

Naturally, it took him some time to get used to the speed and hustle of the Premier League, and he not first choice, but he had a strong first season in England, scoring six and assisting a further four in 32 Premier League appearances – 19 of which he was subbed on for.

Last season, Silva blossomed under the tutelage of Guardiola, and has continued to take his game to new heights, proving a more than capable heir to his namesake.