When Pep Guardiola compared Roberto De Zerbi to famous Catalan chef Ferran Adria, you better believe there was something behind it.
“Johan Cruyff and Ferran Adria – both are real geniuses,” Guardiola said in an interview a few years ago.
“It doesn’t matter if you are in the desert, they will come and build something and millions of people will follow them.
“The best cooks in the world were in Ferran’s kitchen.
“If you don’t try to be creative, if you don’t ask, ‘Why do we have to do this? This path? Why can’t we do it another way? “, then humanity doesn’t exist in the way we know it now. These types of people are needed to make football much better.
It was on Tuesday, ahead of Manchester City’s game against Brighton last night, that Guardiola made the seemingly surprising connection between the man who led the south coast club’s first-ever European qualification this season and the multi-star chef Michelin.
“Be careful what I say, I’m pretty sure I’m right in what I say: I think Roberto is one of the most influential managers of the last 20 years,” Guardiola said.
“There’s no team that plays the way they (Brighton) play, it’s unique. They fully deserve the compliments and the success they have, one of the teams I try to learn a lot from. They are unique, like a Michelin star restaurant, unique.In Catalonia there was El Bulli with Ferran Adria, the best cook for many years, he changed the kitchen and Brighton is playing with something special.
Guardiola is sometimes accused of false praise, of fattening up coming opponents before beating them comfortably. But in all honesty, it will happen most of the time, no matter how good those teams are, because he and his team are better. So the praise is usually genuine, and it certainly is in this case. Everything else Guardiola said on Tuesday about De Zerbi and Brighton was evident when the game started:
“He creates 20 or 25 chances a game, far better than most opponents, he monopolizes the ball like he hasn’t had for a long time. Everyone is involved – the goalkeeper is like a midfielder. If you’re not playing at a high level, he can do whatever he wants against you.
Guardiola unfiltered: Staying at City, those Premier League accusations and hiring De Zerbi
Guardiola had also suggested it might have been better for City’s preparations ahead of the FA Cup and Champions League finals next month if they needed to get a result at the Amex Stadium to help them. to win the title, as he expected a natural fall after lifting the trophy last Sunday – but he said that didn’t happen.
“I’ve always been a bit worried how much we’re losing (in performance level) because 40 hours ago we drank all the booze in Manchester,” Guardiola said. Instead, he was delighted with his team: “We have shown why we are the best team in England.”
City were certainly in for a game. Brighton have indeed created plenty of chances – more in one half than any team have created against them all season. City had more possession in both halves but there were times when Brighton monopolized it – notably after Phil Foden scored the visitors’ first goal in the 25th minute as Julio Enciso whistled in a long-range equalizer 13 minutes later; a goal so good it even drew applause from City fans behind it.
The move, almost as if Guardiola predicted it, with goalkeeper Jason Steele picking exactly the right ball for centre-back Levi Colwill, who moved forward and found Enciso.
“Brighton is the master of passing the ball to the (who is) free man – when to pass to the free man. They move at the right time, they are the best in the world, to make the right tempo to pass to the free man,” Guardiola also said on Tuesday of their willingness and ability to get their foot on the ball, wait and lure their opponents into trying to come and pinch it. And then pass it around them. .
That’s a big part of why Guardiola thinks De Zerbi is special and, in fact, City seem to have taken charge of that particular part of the build in recent months, with Ruben Dias notably keeping his foot on the ball in au defensive midfield just like Lewis Dunk and others do for Brighton.
It’s not the first time Guardiola has borrowed an idea from De Zerbi: last season, and at the start of this one, City’s two full-backs entered midfield alongside Rodri, making a midfield ground three ahead of their two centre-backs, just as De Zerbi’s then-employer Shakhtar Donetsk had done.
“I saw his football with Sassuolo,” Guardiola said after the game. “I saw him go to Napoli or Milan and I was like ‘Oh my God’.” So much so that Guardiola occasionally went to see De Zerbi’s Sassuolo in person.
Both go back a long way.
When De Zerbi started coaching with Serie D fans Darfo Boario in 2013, he traveled to watch Guardiola’s Bayern Munich during a pre-season training camp in Italy.
Six years later, De Zerbi came and watched City train, then went to dinner in Manchester with Guardiola and other notable Italian football figures, including Daniele De Rossi, Andriy Shevchenko and Enzo Maresca, who is now the assistant to Guardiola. Maresca and De Zerbi have been close friends since their school days at AC Milan.
De Zerbi dines quite often in Manchester, a regular visitor to Tast, a restaurant that Guardiola partly owns.
After last night’s 1-1 draw, Guardiola was asked if other teams in Europe play like Brighton.
“There is only one,” he insisted. “The way they play, there’s only one in the world; they are unique.
“When I’m a spectator and Brighton are playing on TV, I want to watch it,” he said later.
There’s a lot to love.
Brighton deserve huge credit for the players they brought in, like Alexis Mac Allister, Moises Caicedo, Enciso, Facundo Buonanotte and many more, and De Zerbi forged them into a formidable unit, which will feature in the next Europa League . season, since replacing Chelsea-linked Graham Potter in September and building on his work from the previous three seasons.
The most important thing is that he made them play with his own style, the mark of a top coach. It’s tempting to wonder what he could do with even higher quality players – players like the ones Guardiola has, for example.
Managing a group like that comes with its challenges, of course, a part of football management that is often overlooked. It’s just one area where Guardiola truly excels, but it seems inevitable that De Zerbi will soon get the chance to try his hand there too.
He certainly has friends in Manchester.
(Top photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)