The Pep effect is back for a third World Cup.
Titles for Spain in 2010 and Germany in 2014 were attributed partly to Pep Guardiola’s influence on Barcelona and Bayern Munich, whose players filled six starting spots in each final.
Guardiola could be having the same impact on England.
Three players from Guardiola’s Premier League champion Manchester City have become regulars on the England team: Raheem Sterling, John Stones and Kyle Walker. National team coach Gareth Southgate also preaches possession football and insists defenders and goalkeeper Jordan Pickford play the ball out from the back, just like Guardiola has demanded for years.
With one of its most refreshing and ambitious lineups in years, England reached the quarterfinals and will face Sweden on Saturday and is bidding to reach the last four for the first time since 1990.
An indirect Guardiola hat trick may yet be on.
Stones, a graceful, ball-playing center back, is the epitome of the brave philosophy pursued by Southgate. Stones scored twice in the group stage, has shown composure on the ball and regularly starts attacks from the middle of a back three.
A new admirer of Stones is Lothar Matthaeus. The captain of West Germany’s 1990 World Cup champions recalled that while watching England’s last-16 match against Colombia, he nudged the person sitting alongside him and said: “This Stones is one of the best central defenders in the world.”
“I wouldn’t be here without what he has done for me over the last two years, as a player and as a person,” Stones said of Guardiola, who bought the defender from Everton in 2016 for 47.5 million pounds (then $63 million). “Since I came to City, he always had the right things to say to me and simple things. That is what is important, not flooding your mind and overloading you with too much information. Giving you the right amount and making everything simple.”
Guardiola often talks to Stones during City games, beckoning him to the touchline when there is a break in play. Stones has become a more complete player at City, although he faces competition for his place next season from center backs Vincent Kompany, Nicolas Otamendi and Aymetic Laporte.
Similarly, Walker has become a more versatile defender after a year playing under Guardiola. An attacking right back for City, Walker has been a right-sided center back at the World Cup.
Sterling is coming off his most prolific season, scoring 23 goals in all competitions in his role as an inside forward. He partners with Harry Kane up front and, although he has yet to score at the World Cup, he is a constant menace for defenders. At the 2016 European Championship, just before Guardiola arrived at City, Sterling was criticized by fans and media after England’s round of 16 exit.
“I think going into the Pep effect, he’s definitely had it on us City boys, and we’ve tried to bring what we’ve learned off him into the England squad,” Stones said. “Bringing in a fresh idea, not on the whole game but on certain aspects of it. Everyone does that from their clubs and managers. That is why I think we have got a great combination of players.”
Spain’s one and only World Cup victory in 2010 was founded on pillars of Guardiola’s Barcelona team that was well on its way to revolutionizing the game by that point: Center backs Gerard Pique and Carlos Puyol; midfielders Sergio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta; and forward Pedro Rodriguez.
Iniesta scored the extra-time goal in the 1-0 final victory over the Netherlands, a play started by Rodriguez.
Under then-coach Vicente del Bosque, Spain adopted the same high-pressing, possession-based brand of football that Barcelona was famous for under Guardiola, and it wowed the world.
“When I watch kids’ football now, I see them playing out from the back,” Southgate said before the World Cup. “I don’t see (coaches) with heads in their hands saying, ‘Get it forward.’ I think that’s an impact of his team, with the likes of Andres Iniesta and Xavi.”
Joachim Loew’s lineup in 2014 was dominated by Bayern players, coming off a successful and record-breaking first season under Guardiola. Loew was inspired by Guardiola’s preferred quick transitions and passing style and also was moved to play captain Philipp Lahm in center midfield at times, instead of his usual position at right back.
“Guardiola’s ideas are superb,” Loew said.
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Steve Douglas is at www.twitter/sdouglas80