Manchester City’s manager is expected to vacate his position in two years time, but who is willing and able to step into football’s most coveted, and challenging, managerial position?
Football predictions are a fickle game. It is hard enough to predict what the next year will look like, let alone 2025, when Pep Guardiola’s extraordinarily successful Premier League reign is expected to come to an end. Will AI referee matches? Will small robotic cars return balls for throw ins? Will Chelsea have a squad of 50 18-year-olds?
Replacing a highly popular ruler is an arduous task, just ask Commodus in Ridley Scott’s 2000 epic ‘Gladiator.’ Often the successor is cursed from the beginning, unable to stamp their authority and emulate the lofty standards of their predecessor, resulting in friction and ultimately disaster.
The task of replacing Pep Guardiola at Manchester City will be highly coveted and herculean, to say the list. What makes the job so enticing is not the fact City are arguably football’s most well-oiled machine, thanks in large part to the work by the Catalan since his arrival in 2016, with an insurmountable financial backing, but also because of how future proof this squad of current champions is.
Just three crucial components of City’s 2023-24 Premier League squad – Ederson, Kyle Walker, and Kevin De Bruyne – are over 30, with a handful of others on the wrong side of 20, including Bernardo Silva, John Stones, and Jack Grealish. On the other end of the spectrum, Erling Haaland, Julian Alvarez, Rico Lewis, Phil Foden, Jeremy Doku, and Josko Gvardiol are 23 or younger with a strong core of stars in their mid-20s too.
What makes the job herculean is geo-political lines of questioning fired towards the manager requiring a highly primed, politicised answer that cannot have a single hair astray, the lofty standards set by the current regime, where winning in a certain way – the Pep way – is expected in the same way breath is, and the almost instant throwing of the next City manager on the professional chopping block should they fail to instantly shower the club in glory.
Manchester City director of football, Txiki Begiristain, should he be around in two years’ time, will undoubtedly be looking for a manager who’s brand of football ties into the one constructed by Pep in the last six years. Win the ball, keep the ball, score the ball.
Sounds simple? Not really.
And that is the hard part, both for the City higher ups and the man tasked with replacing Guardiola. Pep’s long been revered as football’s mad scientist; obsessing over a single algorithm for thousands of hours until the answer lands in his lap, almost to his, and his side’s, detriment – see the 2021 Champions League final.
Replacing him is like replacing Albert Einstein; you are more than likely not going to find anyone better, but you at least need someone who fits the tactical bill.
Respecting the ball is a crucial element of any Guardiola team, and therefore, of any City team moving forward, as is encouraging wide players to hold their width and be brave on the ball without sacrificing a solid defensive base that has slowly morphed into a deeper, pragmatic block in recent years. This season, Manchester City are ninth in passes per defensive action (12.1), only slightly better than Everton’s 12.6, and 13th in high turnovers.
Some gig, hey?
Already, somehow, the bookies have compiled a list of men brave enough to assume control of Manchester City when Pep’s departure rolls around. Who are they, you ask. Well, today Only Sports takes you through the top candidates to replace Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, with a few of our own sprinkled in.
Most likely successors to replace Pep Guardiola at Manchester City
It may seem ludicrous to suggest a manager who is eight games into his tenure at a rival club would even be in consideration for the City job but alas, here we are. The Argentine’s reputation is outstanding, he made Southampton a formidable top-flight force, took a young, success-hungry Spurs team and fed them, guided PSG to a title challenge, and has, so far, shown promise with a core of promising Chelsea stars.
Looking at his resume reveals credentials near on perfect to fill Pep’s shoes. Possession-based football? Check. This season, only City and Arsenal have managed more passes per attacking sequence than Chelsea, while his Spurs side were noted for their swift and considered ball movement. Managed major egos? Check. Do Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, and Lionel Messi count?
Defensively, the Argentine’s style aligns closely with the Catalan’s. His sides press extremely effectively – Chelsea are fourth for passes per defensive action (9.7) this season – while he’s even taken a leaf out of the Guardiola school of pragmatism in his utilisation of Levi Colwill as a makeshift left-back in the Nathan Ake/Josko Gvardiol mould.
Chelsea have Poch signed on a two-year deal (beginning July this year) with the option of a one-year extension, meaning should he see out the length of his initial deal and now opt into the renewal there would be no contractual barrier or pay out, not that that matters to City, blocking his move to Manchester.
A bit of a left-field option from the bookies. Question marks remain about the German’s capacity to handle a big club with big expectations, hence his untimely and abrupt removal as Bayern Munich head coach earlier this year.
Much like Graham Potter, Nagelsmann subscribes to the book of fluidity. Last season it was not uncommon to see Bayern shift between iterations of a 4-2-3-1 and 3-1-4-2 formation as Nagelsmann looked to offset some of his side’s weaknesses and glorify their strengths. At a club like Bayern Munich, historically one of football’s powerhouses, where off-field politics dominate the club’s trajectory then their on-field success this wishy-washy tactical interchange is unlikely to go down well. Hence, Thomas Tuchel and his rigidity being shoehorned in to replace Nagelsmann.
At a big club like City, similar approaches might not bode well, even if stylistically, Nagelsmann and Manchester City fit like a glove. Last season, no side successfully played more passes than Bayern while no side won the ball in the final-third more often than the Bavarians – though it must be noted Thomas Tuchel was manager from the end of March onward.
Currently, the 36-year-old is the German national team’s emergency head coach, signed until the end of 2024, meaning nothing is presently blocking his assumption to the City throne. Would City be looking at the last former Bayern manager to prowl their dugout and be tempted by the German? Maybe.
Roberto De Zerbi
Hasn’t this man had a year? When he replaced Graham Potter at Brighton with the side sitting pretty in fourth, the Italian’s capacity to continue the Seagulls’ red-hot form was seriously doubted.
Graeme Souness, who’s sub-par punditry overshadows his incredible football career, insisted the Italian “doesn’t know our [English] game.” Adding, “if you look him up on Google, you will notice that he has had seven jobs in nine years. If you are an exceptional coach, people want to hold on to you.”
Didn’t he silence the Scot? It could be argued no side in Europe played a more exciting brand of football than Brighton last season, even if their squad was full of talented yet unproven kids and players deemed surplus elsewhere. His free-flowing Brighton side are not flawless, just ask Aston Villa, but they press intensely, move the ball brilliantly and know their way around the box – their 21 goals is the most in the Premier League this season – and are world-beaters at baiting the press.
One thing De Zerbi’s side lacked, this season especially, is defensive solidity, although Villa’s hammering of them came despite Brighton creating more xG. But in two years’ time and with more English experience under his flashy Italian belt, De Zerbi might be in a prime position for the Manchester City job.
He and Pep attended the same footballing school, received the same possession-oriented footballing education, played similar roles in indomitable Barcelona sides, and coached the Catalan club to at least one league title.
Should Xavi be tempted away from Barcelona, one would imagine his own desirable destinations would be Manchester City, where systems conducive to his style of football are already in place, or the Spanish national team.
This season, only PSG average more possession (69.9%) than Barcelona (69.2%), who also make 4.94 passes per attacking sequence, more than any other La Liga side. In terms of winning the ball back, no side wins it back quicker in La Liga and only 19 sides in Europe’s top-five leagues have won more attacking third tackles.
Xavi’s shown an adept tactical nous during his Catalan tenure, deploying Gavi as a ‘false-winger’ last season which unlocked the left-flank for Alex Balde, while he followed in Pep’s footsteps by deploying either Jules Kounde or Ronald Araujo, centre halves by trade, as fullbacks in bigger encounters.
By the time 2025 rolls around, the 133-cap Spanish midfielder will have added two more years of elite football management to his repertoire, potentially lifted another La Liga or two, and shown his ability to manage off-field controversy, of which there is plenty in Catalonia, whilst providing on-field success.
Newcastle’s manager has been touted for the top ever since he turned Bournemouth into an exciting Premier League side, guiding them to ninth in 2016-17, as he got the best out of the likes of Callum Wilson and Ryan Fraser. Howe’s style has always revolved around the ball, whether it be caring for it and creating with it in possession or pursuing it aggressively when losing it.
A particularly impressive part of his management style is his ability to develop players. Wilson and Fraser were internationals on his watch, the once hapless Joelinton’s morphed into a brilliantly effective central midfielder, while Sean Longstaff and Jacob Murphy have also improved during his Newcastle reign.
His Pep-replacing credentials will undoubtedly improve in the coming years, as Newcastle continue forming into a formidable both in England and on the continent, though can it get much better than a 4-1 home rout of PSG?
Pep Guardiola’s respect for Aussie Ange dates to when the two sides met during a 2019 pre-season friendly. Pep praised Ange’s Yokohama F. Marinos as “probably one of the best teams I’ve seen play out from the back, and they played some great football, so it was a great test for us.”
He doubled down on his admiration of the Australian when he arrived at Tottenham from Celtic in the summer, stating “another exceptional manager is coming.”
And well, has not Ange proved Pep right? His Spurs side are currently at the pointy of the Premier League, playing an enterprising, lights out brand of football that is a far cry of pragmatic normality instilled by his predecessors.
Spurs average nearly 61% of possession, sixth most in Europe’s top-five leagues, have attempted more take-ons than anyone other than Bayern, and are only bested by Real Madrid, Barcelona, and PSG when it comes to shot creation from live pass situations. This time last year it was inconceivable for Spurs to be playing this brand of football successfully with players such as Heung-Min Son and Yves Bissouma reborn, alongside a myriad of exciting new talent such as James Maddison and Micky Van de Ven.
Ange’s style closely resembles Pep’s. He even admitted as such, albeit jokingly, in a post-match interview with TNT Sports when quizzed about his fullbacks, particularly Destiny Udogie, inverting infield.
“I’m just copying Pep mate,” he said. And maybe he will do just that once more when 2025 rolls around.
The apprentice becomes the master, the student becomes the teacher. It is an age-old trope and one which could ring true at the Etihad should the Belgian replace his former manager come 2025.
Vincent Kompany’s Pep tutelage is evident in his managerial style, from his blasé suit-hat combo to the way his Burnley side go about their business even as they languish in the relegation zone having won just a single game all season.
Kompany loves his side having the ball, they average nearly 49% possession this season and 3.81 passes per attacking sequence – more than Manchester United and Aston Villa – while only City progress the ball upfield slower, according to Opta.
Unfortunately for the decorated former centre-half, his side do not seem to have the cattle to compete in the English top-flight. That is no knock on his managerial capacity. He has shown his hand this season, operating under a live by the sword, die by the sword credo whereby if Burnley are to be relegated come the seasons end, they will go down their way, on their terms, playing their football.
It is boldly admirable and something Kompany, nor his side, the youngest in the Premier League, can be faulted for. He may not be the most likely option to replace Pep Guardiola, but this is football after all; stranger things have happened.