Pep vs koeman: old friends clash as managers

The dynamic has changed in Ronald Koeman’s relationship with Pep Guardiola over 26 years but his first impression of a room-mate who became a revered midfielder and manager at Barcelona holds firm. Normal. It was not Guardiola’s football intelligence and obsession that set him apart at Barcelona, for example, but his choice of car.

A close friendship was formed when Johan Cruyff instructed Koeman to take Guardiola under his wing shortly after the latter’s debut for Barcelona in 1990 and they will oppose each other for the first time as managers on Saturday when Everton visit Manchester City. The former members of Cruyff’s Dream Team socialise regularly since relocating to the north-west this summer. Txiki Begiristain is also part of the circle. City’s director of football was Koeman’s interpreter when he first arrived in Catalonia from PSV Eindhoven, only to drive the Dutchman to despair with what was then a complete lack of English.

The Everton manager once advised his young team-mate how to make it at the Camp Nou, but now openly admits stealing the training routines of a manager he credits with creating “the best Barcelona team in every aspect of football”. But relentless success and pressure, Koeman insists, has not changed Guardiola one iota.

“I was the older player and of course there was a reason Johan Cruyff put us together in a room,” Koeman says. “We played close to each other in the positions in the team and Cruyff mentioned he should learn a lot from Ronald Koeman. I didn’t show him how to make a cup of tea but after one training session when he was involved in the first team you saw his qualities.

“I like young players when they are still open to learn and behave normally, not driving a Porsche after three matches in the first team. For Pep it was a secondhand Opel. [That’s] normal, and shows that you like to learn as a young player. It was fantastic what he did. He was young but he had his opinion. Outside the pitch he was quiet but on the pitch he was involved in football and tactics. He was really very clever about football. He is still like that, respectful to everyone and crazy about football. And me? I had a Mercedes but I had already been in the first team for two years!”

Koeman’s admiration for his friend’s achievements and what he describes as “the most difficult way to win” – playing offensive football – is clear, certainly if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery given that he has copied some of Guardiola’s training methods. “He doesn’t pick my brains now,” the Everton manager says. “When we have dinner together we speak about nice stories from our time together at Barcelona. The dynamic is different. Now he is maybe the best manager.

“I used to give the advice but when I was coach of Feyenoord I sent Giovanni van Bronckhorst to watch three days of Bayern Munich’s training sessions when Pep was there. I have stolen some of the exercises. Of course, you like to learn and I can learn from other managers. We have similar feelings about football, we like to dominate, we like to have the ball and it is also about the qualities of your players.

“You can have Guardiola as a manager, you can have Koeman as a manager, anybody as a manager, but the players inside the white lines win the game. They have the quality or don’t have the quality to score. Or if they don’t work together to press at the right time they can be in trouble. That’s football. That is why football is unpredictable.”

Koeman believes Guardiola and City have had a “wake‑up call” after their outstanding start of 10 straight wins was brought to a halt by Celtic in the Champions League and a first defeat by Tottenham Hotspur.

The Premier League, he suggests, presents a different proposition to Guardiola than anything he experienced in Spain or Germany “Both Celtic and Tottenham had unbelievable pressing to City and then still built up,” Koeman says. “Tottenham on the ball were fantastic and did not make any mistakes in building up because the transition in attack is maybe City’s biggest quality. We showed that to the players here. There was a free-kick to Bournemouth but City won the header and their counterattack was unbelievably fast and high quality. That is what Pep likes to do always – try and build up even when it is difficult. I am a little bit different than that. I prefer to play the long ball but we will see how they will handle what we want to do on Saturday.

“In the Premier League, the fitness and mentality means that not even the strongest team have the guts to press them. From what I saw in Spain and Germany most of the teams drop back and then they have all of the time to build up and have the movements. In the Premier League it is more physical and about set plays. It is more difficult.”

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