Feature

Is Guardiola the Premier League's greatest? Vote on who is the best

By Alex Keble 21 May 2024
Greatest PL managers

Alex Keble looks at whether Man City manager is competition's best ever after fourth successive title

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Alex Keble looks at whether Pep Guardiola can be considered the greatest manager in Premier League history after he was named 2023/24 Barclays Manager of the Season for a fifth time.

When Guardiola won the Treble in 2023 he reopened the debate.

“I think he's the greatest ever and why I say that is that he has changed football,” Jamie Redknapp said on Sky Sports in May that year.

Following that up with a fourth Premier League title in a row, making Manchester City the first team to do so in English football history, has made the case for Guardiola considerably stronger.

Should he win the FA Cup on Saturday, becoming the first manager to win back-to-back doubles in England, then Guardiola would perhaps be unrivalled at the top.

Guardiola has changed English football

On numbers alone, nobody can match what Guardiola has achieved in an eight-year span in the Premier League.

A run of six league titles in seven seasons is better than anything done before him.

More than that, the Treble in 2022/23, the English Treble in 2018/19, the 100-points record in 2017/18, and the four in a row all stand out as brilliant achievements and, Treble aside, unique records in the Premier League era.

Certainly none of Guardiola’s contemporaries can hold a torch to him. Man City have won 59 more points than any other club during his time in England.

Teams with most Premier League points since 2016/17
Team Played Points
Man City 304 716
Liverpool 304 657
Arsenal 304 567
Spurs 304 552
Chelsea 304 549
Man Utd 304 549

But it’s also the manner in which Man City have done it. The average points tally of the Premier League champions from 1992 up until the year Guardiola arrived in England was 85.2.

In the last eight years, Man City have averaged 89.5 points per season, and in title-winning campaigns their average is 92.8.

Those points tallies are not indicative of an easy league to win, either.

Three of their six titles have gone down to the final day and four out of six – including each of the last three – were closely fought with either Liverpool or Arsenal.

But Man City have been relentless and seemingly unstoppable, this year winning nine in a row to seal the title on Sunday.

To do what they have done takes more than just the best players in the world. It takes hunger, mental strength, and constant tactical evolution to stay on top.

“Pep Guardiola is the best manager in the world - and that's crucial,” Jurgen Klopp said. “If you put any other manager in that club, they don't win the league four times in a row.”

But beyond even that, when we judge Guardiola against other greats of the Premier League era, we should take into account just how much his view of football – his tactical ideas – have changed the landscape.

From the basic tactical principles of "positional play" – detailed instructions of where each player should stand and move – to possession domination to his proteges (like Mikel Arteta) in high places to his fashion choices, Guardiola has entirely reshaped English football.

That is reason enough to declare that he is the Premier League’s best ever, although there are four other contenders to consider.

Alex Ferguson: Longevity and 13 titles is incomparable

The sheer volume of trophies says it all. Sir Alex Ferguson won 13 Premier League titles in the first 21 years of the competition and became the first manager in Europe’s "Big Five" leagues to win the Treble.

His Manchester United won the most Premier League points in the 1990s (620), 2000s (832) and between January 2010 and his final match in May 2013 (300).

That’s domination across three decades.

Three in a row on two occasions. Two in a row twice. Another three dotted around, the last in 2012/13 two decades after the first.

That sort of longevity is astounding, and a record that one assumes will never be beaten.

The secret to his success was utilising different assistant coaches down the years, as well as making the most of United’s unique window into European ideas via their participation in the UEFA Champions League.

Consequently Man Utd had many different styles, iterations, and tactical hallmarks, from the team of Eric Cantona, Gary Pallister and Paul Ince in the early 90s through the "Class of 92" Treble-winning years and all the way to the Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez side that won Ferguson his second Champions League in 2008.

To rebuild a team that many times, and to go through so many different eras of English football not just competing but dominating is, to many, better than four consecutive titles.

Arsene Wenger: Two revolutions and an Invincible season

He might have only won three Premier League titles compared with Ferguson’s 13, but the way Arsene Wenger changed English football makes him one of the competition’s most important and iconic figures.

Inducted into the Premier League Hall of Fame last year at the same time as Ferguson, Wenger was honoured for radically changing how the game is played in England.

His arrival helped to revolutionise diet, nutrition, and training techniques, which soon became commonplace in the Premier League.

Those off-field improvements led to the double in 1997/98, including Arsenal’s first title in seven years, before his second revolution sparked further Premier League triumphs in 2001/02 and 2003/04.

This time, it was about the aesthetic. His second Arsenal team, defined by the likes of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp, was a beautiful counter-attacking side that brought a more sophisticated game to English football.

The crowning glory, of course, was that Invincible season: a campaign yet to be matched even by Guardiola and a 49-match run (in total) that combined their never-before-seen artistry on the pitch with psychological resilience.

That he spent another 14 years at the club without a further title has perhaps changed neutrals’ perception of him, but Wenger – who also won seven FA Cups – is still joint-third in the list for Premier League wins.

Managers with most PL titles
Manager Titles
Ferguson 13
Guardiola 6
Wenger, Mourinho 3
Klopp, Ancelotti, Pellegrini, Dalglish, Mancini, Conte, Ranieri 1
Jose Mourinho: An immaculate defence and titles 10 years apart

Jose Mourinho is perhaps most famous for his charisma; for his command of the English language and the iconic phrases spawned by his war of words with both fellow managers and the media.

But "The Special One" really was special - and the Premier League got him at his peak.

His Chelsea team between 2004 and 2006 was the first ever to record 90+ points in consecutive Premier League seasons.

Mourinho was also the first foreign manager to capture back-to-back titles in his first two years in England.

He broke up the dominance of Man Utd and Arsenal and turned Chelsea into a relentless winning machine.

But more than that, he did it with an extraordinary defensive record. Chelsea conceded just 15 goals in 2004/05, a record that stands to this day, while in that same year Mourinho’s side accrued 95 points and lost just one match.

The Premier League was blown away by his tactical genius, and although Mourinho wasn’t around for long, he returned to win the 2014/15 title with Chelsea 10 years after his first, proving his longevity at the top.

Mourinho’s second spell ended in ignominy and he didn’t reach the same heights again at Man Utd or Tottenham Hotspur, but nevertheless the Portuguese was a game-changer in English football.

Jurgen Klopp: Points tallies to rival Guardiola despite only one league title

Like Guardiola, Klopp has helped change the way football is played in the Premier League.

His gegenpressing "Heavy Metal" football has been taken up and tweaked by the majority of clubs, which is why so many teams now focus on attacking in the transition – and why we have just witnessed a new Premier League record of 1,246 goals in a single season.

That alone has made Klopp a Premier League legend, even though he leaves the country with just one winners’ medal to his name.

And if we look deeper than the trophy cabinet, his Liverpool team, at their peak, were right up there with the very best.

His 2018/19 side won 97 points, to date the fourth-highest total ever recorded in 138 years of top-flight English football.

When Liverpool finally won the Premier League the following season, they began with 26 wins and one draw from 27 matches, still the best run ever seen by a considerable distance.

Again in 2021/22 they came close, hitting 92 points but falling just short of Guardiola’s Man City, while they also reached three Champions League finals, winning one.

Liverpool might have been runners-up often, but to hold that against Klopp is perhaps to miss the point.

That, at least, is what Guardiola thinks.

"I will miss him a lot," Guardiola said on Sunday in a tearful reaction to Klopp’s tribute to him.

Klopp-Guardiola

“Jurgen has been a really important part of my life. He brought me to another level as a manager.

“It's not just about titles. There are personalities that when they arrive in one place they stay forever.”

Guardiola is a rival to Ferguson only

Nevertheless Klopp went head-to-head with Guardiola and it is fair to say the Man City manager came out on top.

As for the rest, Mourinho and Wenger were enormously influential, but neither to quite the same degree as Guardiola, nor to the same level of excellence or for the same length of time.

That leaves Ferguson, who has won more than twice as many Premier League titles as Guardiola.

But the achievements of the two men are very different, taking place not just in different eras and over different time spans but with very different ideas of how the game should be played.

Perhaps we should simply put them in a category together and resist the temptation to compare them.

That certainly seemed to be Guardiola’s view on Sunday, when he paused to take in the scale of his own success.

“The Eighties belong to Liverpool with the older managers, Graeme Souness, Ian Rush, all these players,” he said.

“The Nineties was Sir Alex Ferguson, Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane.

“Of course, Mourinho with Chelsea, Invincibles with [Arsene] Wenger.

“Now, it is our period.”

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