Vince Lombardi is regarded as the greatest ever manager in the history of the NFL. That’s massive, given the lengthy list of greats that have coached in that competition. Lombardi’s record with the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s is so legendary that the Super Bowl trophy was named after him. But this article is not about Vince Lombardi. It’s about a famous quote he gave, that guides the rest of the article.
Perfection is not attainable. But if we chase perfection, we can catch Excellence.
When Arsenal went the entire season in 2003-2004 unbeaten, I thought football existed for that type of occurrence. Something out of the ordinary. Something unique, and sometimes magical. When Man United won 3 trophies in 10 days in 1999, football fans must have thought they were from another planet. The best example of how football can be amazing… is Leicester (I know right?) City winning a 38-game league season. These achievements may not have been perfect as a whole, but there were certain parts of them that were definitely perfect.
Pep Guardiola is no stranger to breaking records or chasing perfection. Take a look at his record at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and his current club, Man City. Against Man United last Saturday, he had the chance to seal a league title in the earliest time ever achieved in the English game (April 7th? Wow! That would have been amazing). Had he pulled it off, we would be talking about it for years to come. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen and now, he just belongs to the other regular coaches that have won the competition. Shame.
As a manager, I’ve always admired Pep’s teams. His Barcelona side from 2008-2009 is, in my opinion, the best side he has ever fielded. More than half the team was already there when he arrived (keep it in mind that he had NO top-level football coaching experience). After 4 years, he had delivered more trophies than anyone else in the history of the club; breaking scoring and winning records along the way. At Bayern, he was winning the league title as early as MARCH (can you imagine that?). The teams he has managed, over the years, have always played with a style that has been carefully thought out. You can tell he’s into the details of how he wants to play the game. Football that pierces defences (and the nets) at top speed and accuracy is what you get from a Guardiola side and this Man City team has been no different. There’s a drive there to achieve the best results, all the time, without failing. The level of performance demanded from the man is there for everyone to see and not many players can produce that; hence, the need to spend money to buy those type of players.
Problem with such a drive is that once a wheel comes off, the result is a long crash. Like a speeding car losing a tire while in motion, Pep’s teams have an issue dealing with one disappointment at a time. They take a while to recover and by the time they do, everyone has moved on and no one remembers how close they were to achieving perfection.
I’d like to believe that Pep is close though. I think he’s learning lessons from this season and the last one as well. If he can get this team to manage bumps much better (whether during a bad game or a bad run), he could produce a Man City side capable of tearing down teams across Europe and (this time) finishing the job in style.
That would be spectacularly perfect…and he is so close. Closer than any manager I know or have known.