Yesterday, when asked at his press conference on Friday if a striker could make a difference to his City team, Guardiola says
I completely agree with you. Strikers are strikers. We don’t have this weapon that teams like Chelsea, [Manchester] United or Tottenham or others have. We don’t have a player to score 25 league goals for himself, so we have to do it as a team. This is what we will try this season. These are the most difficult players to take [buy]. We had the privilege to have Sergio for many years.
Unfortunately for the last year and a half he was out with injuries and we could not use him much. We survived without him in a good way – in the way we played. There are two options that we have right now: complaining or saying we have exceptional players. Always I had a striker in my career. Like goalkeepers, strikers are the biggest specialists. I [had] Samuel Eto’o [at Barcelona], maybe the best or one of the best strikers I ever trained. What a player Samuel was. And [Thierry] Henry [at Barcelona]. I don’t know if he’s a striker or what he is, but Lionel Messi was able to score a few goals. There was [Robert] Lewandowski, Thomas Muller [at Bayern Munich], Sergio here; always I play with a striker. Gabriel [Jesus] likes to play more in lateral ways than central. We want it as a club because I think the club knows, not for me, that it needs a striker in the next years.”
Some might see this with strangeness, since Guardiola is known, between other works, as the architect of a Barcelona who played with a false nine and was one of the best teams ever.
But as beautifully described by Jonathan Wilson in his amazing book “Inverting the Pyramid”, the false nine was not created in the night before the famous 6×2 “El Clasico”, where Guardiola first introduced Messi in this role, opening Eto’o and leaving the defenders of Real Madrid trying to figure what was happening; false nine comes from the “Austrian coffeeshop football”, being represented in the figure of Matthias Sindelar.
Guardiola doesn’t creates a lot of new concepts, but takes from different teams on the history of the sport. That doesn’t diminishes the geniality of Guardiola, on the contrary, shows how studious Guardiola is.
Some others could point to the 83 goals scored in the last season, best attack of the Premier League, 10 goals ahead of Manchester United. Isn’t that enough for Guardiola?
Before any assumption, we got to analyze both concepts. Playing with a false nine brings another player to create the plays, makes the area available for the wingers and midfielders, as a surprise element. The false nine is a player positioned between the defensive midfielder and the center backs. If the defensive midfielder tries to defend him, it will create a lot of space in front of him, in the middle of the field. If the center backs goes up to defend him, it will create a lot of space in back of the center backs. If everyone stays in place, when the false nine takes the ball and attack the center backs, he will come in fast progression against the center backs, who will be always “one step behind”.
On the other side, a specialist, in any area, will be always better in that specific function than a more versatile player. That means that probably the “True 9” will score more goals than the “False 9”, which doesn’t mean that the team will score more or less goals with a “True 9”.
So, what is the best option? For 99% of the coaches, the answer doesn’t matter. 99% of the coaches cannot call for his respective Ferran Soriano and ask for a player in X position, with Y and Z characteristics, and suddenly the negotiation with the best options in the world starts.
Most of the coaches have to be satisfied with the options already in the roster, and some still have the option to bring one player.
But that doesn’t answer the question. In the fact, as frustrating it sounds, the answer is: depends.
As a team, the team works as a whole, and each team, each coach, each strategy could have an answer or something in between. The fact is a good coach, in most of the cases, is one that makes the best strategy with the pieces that he already has in hands.
But playing a little bit, in a perfect world, what could be the answer? Versatility.
That means that the old nine, that player who doesn’t do anything but score goals, cannot drible, defend, only sees the game waiting for his chance and operating in 20-25 meters, is losing space in modern football. A example of that could be Fred, in the Brazilian team of 2014, nicknamed by the Brazilians of “Traffic Cone”. The interesting thing is that in the right concept, even this player could work.
What teams really looks today, is a player that can participates of every phase of the game, or most of the them, being able to start the defense, create his own plays and plays for the others and scoring a lot of the goals. Those players already exists, but they are “unicorns”, like Haaland. And as in the fantasy histories, unicorns are very, very rare.
Finally, Guardiola can be using the press to pass a message to his players, fans and Man City’s board. What is not wrong. Everyone uses the press, coaches, players, agents, directors. And it’s good for the press, since those things generates clicks, sell newspapers and magazines. What Guardiola really means, only he knows.
What we can conclude of Guardiola’s statements are that nothing in the football is fixed and definitive, everything is always changing and the best answer is the one that is more adapted to the reality of that specific team.
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