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Pep Guardiola and the notion of privilege

Pep Guardiola may be accused of having a privileged and easy career, but the truth is anything but.

Photo by Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty Images

One of the most prominent personality traits of Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola is his manic, obsessive nature with football. That makes it surprising that one of his biggest criticisms, at least from fans of English football, is that his career has been too privileged. The man works hard. He sleeps at the office. He spends hours on hours poring over tactics and personnel for his team and the opponents.

Guardiola burdens his players with constant instruction during games -- he's been seen handing Philip Lahm changes on a piece of paper during a break in play on more than a few occasions. And more than once, when his players had scored and tried to celebrate with him, rather than accepting them into his arms, he instead grabs and lambasts them with advice on improvement, while looking absolutely possessed.

He's never satisfied, as close to a perfectionist as football has ever had.

Guardiola is never satisfied, as close to a perfectionist as football has ever had

Yet this means nothing when the trajectory of his managerial career is examined by critical eyes. Guardiola has risen from the Barcelona reserves to the first team, then a sabbatical year in New York representative of all things privileged, to a Bayern Munich team months removed from winning a treble, and now to a Manchester City team with an unlimited reserve of money. The rich keep getting richer.

The root of the frustration against him is that he's never really had to struggle to prove his mettle anywhere. Guardiola has gone from success to success, victory to victory, with barely any hardship during his managerial career. Success in the managerial race is much easier when you are given the luxury of jumping the gun, of course, and it's easy to jump the gun when you have teams like Barcelona and Bayern at your disposal.

This particular criticism, like all biased arguments, is clearly revisionist. It pretends as if he walked into an ideal situation at Barcelona, while also accepting the lie that it's easy to be successful at big clubs.

The true history being that he was appointed at the Catalan club because Frank Rijkaard had failed. The pressure to succeed every year at the highest levels is enormous and previous successes mean nothing in the face of current failures.

That time for Barcelona was a humiliating one, not only for being 13 points behind Real Madrid and conceding the title challenge, but the added insult of having to perform a guard of honor, a pasillo, for their rivals. He took charge when the club was at one of their lowest points in history and he rebuilt the confidence, created one of the greatest teams in world football and helped usher in the age of Lionel Messi.

Gerardo Martino would fail a few years later at Barcelona, as well, failing to live up to the weight of the legacy and expectations left after Guardiola's departure. And really, who could have lived up to them? How does one live up to the virtual perfection that was Guardiola's Barcelona tenure?

The truth is superfluous, though: the essential issue here, is that of privilege. Regardless of what successes Guardiola achieves, the bitterness will always remain that he -- even with his relative struggles at Barcelona and Bayern, and that he will most likely face them at some point at Manchester City -- has never known real adversity.

Regardless what successes that Guardiola achieves, the bitterness will always remain

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger once inadvertently addressed this notion when accused of poaching young players from smaller and poorer clubs: "If you have a child who is a good musician, what is your first reaction? It is to put them into a good music school, not in an average one. So, why should that not happen in football?"

If you have a talented manager, who has demonstrated his understanding of the game, the ability to implement ideas, to change, and more importantly to win consistently, why should they be demoted to managing a smaller club in order to prove this ability? Shouldn't the best managers be at the best clubs? In the same notion that the best players play for the best teams?

That is the ideal -- to have the best of us at the highest positions -- but the problem with privilege is that the ideal is rarely the reality. Guardiola is an exception rather than the rule, and even still, it is true that most of his work in justifying his appointment is done after the fact, rather than before. The rule being that most of those that start off in that lofty position are there without merit, and often-times prove the fatality of the appointment with their imminent failure. Hi, Gary Neville.

The hostility towards the privileged group is then understandable. Most of us, like most managers, are in a constant struggle to prove our ability and worth. We are born into the lowest of classes and seldom ever experience the successes or even given the chance to have the same opportunities of the upper class. They get to walk into jobs that we spend countless nights dreaming and working towards. They are touted as inherently better for no other reason than being able to capitalize on chance, and consequently, we are admonished for being unable to overcome a system not built for us. So, in turn, when we see them progressing as we wish to, we secretly wish they could struggle as we have.

It is not Guardiola's fault for having this incredible luck

Someone like Zinedine Zidane can just walk into the Real Madrid post for his first senior squad job, yet Bob Bradley is still managing small clubs after years spent in various countries proving his worth as a solid and effective manager. That's not to say that Bradley should be running the show at the Camp Nou, but surely he's earned more than just managing Le Havre, right?

That animosity is directed at the wrong party, though. It is not Guardiola's fault for having this incredible luck. It is the fault of the clubs for valuing names and nepotism over merit and quality. What he has done, and truly all he can do, is to take the chance and run with it. To perform to the best of his abilities.

He was successful at Barcelona, and he has been relatively the same at Bayern -- it's always easy to forget the austerity of winning a Champions League title: Carlo Ancelotti, who has won it the most, has only won three, and Guardiola is at two (and it should be fair to admit that before Jupp Heynckes won the treble, Bayern finished second domestically, lost 5-2 to Borussia Dortmund in the DFB-Pokal final and were defeated by Chelsea at their own stadium in the Champions League Final). And from his body of work, his talent and his penchant for hard work to the point of personal and physical detriment, we can assume that he will be successful at City, as well.

The fact that he was presented with such a great starting point is unfair, but it is not an indication of quality. What is, though, is the truth that he's still managed to succeed, unlike most of his contemporaries. While it's honest to admit his privilege in this case, we should also be sincere in acknowledging that there's no nobility in struggle. His is the ideal case, but the pressure of being at the top remains, especially in the sporting world, and it always strips bare the pretense of merit and casts a spotlight on ability. Hi again, Gary Neville.

Guardiola has not only survived -- he has thrived, and that's a testament to his talent.