Last year, a panel of top former players on BT Sport paid tribute to Pep Guardiola for transforming English football. Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole and Glen Hoddle all praised the Manchester City manager for getting the nation to embrace European ideas, claiming that since the serial-winning Catalan had arrived in England in 2016, he had helped change the culture for the better.
"We have now embraced that European way of playing and our ideas about football,” Ferdinand said. "Being in and around the academies, the coaching is so different compared to when we grew up when it was all shouting and dragging people left and right. Whereas now, it’s very much that culture of Guardiola, who has had a huge influence on that style of football." Hoddle added: “We were stuck in our ways of playing 4-4-2 back in the 1970s and 80s."
Guardiola has always played down this idea whenever it has been brought up, claiming he has not changed English football and never wanted to. "Absolutely I didn't change it. Every manager has his own ideas, I didn't change anything honestly," he said last May.
But he has admitted that English football has changed him and that he has taken "many things" from his adopted home. "Here changed me, of course. I got to know new players, new styles, new managers, new ways to relate with the media, with my players. Every manager is a better manager than you were in the beginning."
Last season, Guardiola adopted an old idea of Tony Pulis, who would normally be seen as his philosophical opposite, by playing four centre-backs in some games and turning Nathan Ake and Manuel Akanji into full-backs. And this season, he has embraced another old idea: playing the 4-4-2 formation Hoddle talked about as a sign of how dated the English game had become.
A lot of thought and planning goes into every Guardiola innovation, however, and the thinking behind his latest tactical scheme is very simple: it is a way to accommodate his two world-class strikers, Erling Haaland and Julian Alvarez.