Pep Guardiola is undoubtedly one of the most tactically astute coaches in football history.
The Catalan helped reshape the game when in charge of Barcelona in the late noughties, his high-pressing and possession-dominating side the antithesis to the low block, counter-attacking style that often defined the sides reaching the latter stages of the Champions League.
Guardiola has enjoyed incredible success throughout his coaching career. After he brought trophy after trophy to the Camp Nou, he spent three years at Bayern Munich and dominated domestically. Then it was on to Manchester City, with whom he is set to win his third Premier League title this season.
Some attempt to caveat Guardiola’s achievements with the fact he’s only coached elite sides. It’s a weak argument, one that overlooks the nuances of working with top-level stars and the pressure that comes with having to deliver sustained dominance.
Many a top European coach has been influenced by Guardiola. Thomas Tuchel is one of them. “When he was coach of Barcelona, I was watching almost every game,” the Chelsea head coach said last month ahead of the FA Cup semi-final against Man City.
“I was very impressed by the way they made success happen with the style they were playing: the academy guys, offensive football, ball possession.
“The most impressive thing about the team was the mentality of how they defended when they lost the ball. I learned a lot from watching the games and understanding more of the game; how adventurous and brave you can approach games.
“At this time I was a coach at the academy and then became a coach at Mainz. Almost every game was a lesson.”
Tuchel got to know Guardiola during the Catalan’s three seasons in charge of Bayern. Their first meeting was in 2014 over dinner when Tuchel was out of work, having decided to leave Mainz.
“If you go out with Pep, why not talk about football?,” Tuchel explained. “What else is there to talk about for me? For me, he was a huge influence. We started to talk about tactics and it was nice. It was about positions on the field and what he did with Barcelona.
“He explained it to me and we had some drawings that we used on the table to go through the positions and the tactical situations on the field.
“We were talking about how he changed Barcelona when he bought Cesc Fabregas and what changed with the team and how to play Lionel Messi as a ‘false nine’ and how to create spaces, playing with a back three and a back four.
“Just two coaches talking normal stuff. We used what was on the table and sometimes it’s easier to explain a formation when you use something.”
Tuchel would take over Bayern’s biggest rivals Borussia Dortmund the following summer. And clearly, he had made a lasting impression on Guardiola.
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In the book Pep Guardiola: The Evolution, which details the Catalan’s three years in Munich, author Marti Perarnau recalls a conversation he had with Guardiola in 2015 in which the esteem Tuchel was held became clear.
“I remember asking him in 2015 to name two coaches with the greatest potential,” wrote Perarnau. “Without a second’s hesitation, he said, ‘Tuchel and (Antonio) Conte’.”
Tuchel has certainly lived up to that potential over the previous six years. As has Conte, who won the Premier League and FA Cup during two seasons in charge of Chelsea and has just guided Inter Milan to the Serie A title, ending nine years of Juventus dominance in the process.
At the end of this month, Tuchel will have an opportunity to underline his coaching ability in the final of the Champions League. In the opposite dugout will be Guardiola, who will hope the master doesn’t become the apprentice on the very biggest stage in club football.