Whatever he does, Josep Guardiola is undoubtedly not indifferent to any football fan. For many, he is the best coach in the world with a clear, defined style. The veteran César Luis Menotti, world champion with Argentina in 1978 - and whom the Catalan and current Manchester City boss visited when he was just beginning this chapter of his life, to receive advice - often says that when "Pep" - as he is also known - enters a dressing room, the players already know what to expect and what style of football their team is going to play.

Others believe that he is a bluff, someone who sells smoke, who sweetens with words, exercises diplomacy, and wraps up the facts in such a way that we believe we are dealing with a "know-it-all" who transforms everything he touches into gold thanks to his knowledge and intellect.

Guardiola has many detractors, although those who sympathise with or identify with him outnumber that number.

However, the elimination of mighty Manchester City on penalties to Real Madrid at the City of Manchester Stadium in the quarter-finals of the UEFA Champions League once again called into question his entire body of work, which, in addition to having generated near-unanimous praise for his teams, has won 37 titles, 26 domestic and 11 international, since 2008 to the present day.

In such result-oriented times as these, his detractors have placed the magnifying glass on a new international disappointment (since 2011, when he coached the great Barcelona of Xavi Hernández, Andrés Iniesta and Lionel Messi among others, considered one of the best teams in history, he has only won one Champions League, in 2023), by citing that despite the more than 400 million euros spent on transfers by Manchester City, his effectiveness is scarce and much more limited to the local leagues where, of course, he establishes differences based on the huge budget of his club, which is also part of the "City Group" conglomerate (even his brother Pere holds a managerial position at Girona in the Spanish league).

Guardiola is an obsessive coach. He is obsessive to the point of exhaustion and leaves no subject unstudied. He has dined more than once during his sabbatical season (2012–13) with his friend Garri Kasparov in New York, together with his two wives, to consult him on general topics relating to genius, concentration, success, and failure, and for years he had Manel Estiarte, considered the Maradona of water polo, as his assistant, who was able to help him understand the mentality of some of the great stars he was able to manage in his career.

Guardiola knows how to motivate his players in any kind of match; he knows how to motivate his players in any kind of match, he knows how to play the South Americans when facing them in an international tournament, he is obsessed with pressing high and getting the ball back early; and he knows how to choose the best players for each of his roles. He knew La Masia, where Barcelona's great stars are forged from youth, and learned from his teacher and mentor, the late Dutchman Johan Cruyff, that for his small physique, there was no other option than to anticipate moves to avoid the physical friction of opponents.

In other words, you had to be smarter and think faster than your opponent so that you didn't have to collide with them, and therefore, as far as possible, you had to have the next move worked out before receiving the ball. Having the ball, for Guardiola, is everything. That's why, when he doesn't have it, his team becomes desperate to win it back. And although this may seem very offensive, it is not entirely so because it also contains a philosophically defensive fact: if I have the ball, my opponent does not have it and therefore cannot bother me.

Possession of the ball, something that already comes from the so-called "Barça"DNA"—very fashionable these days with the appearance of a book of that name written by one of the great methodologists of La Masia, Paco Seirulo—is fundamental, but it is also fundamental in the way in which it is disposed of. There is an aesthetic criterion behind this idea of management, but here we enter a more slippery slope from something that happened days ago in the match against Real Madrid, but which, in one way or another, has been repeated for several years now in his teams, whether first with Barcelona (2008–12), then with Bayern Munich (2013–2016), and in recent times, with Manchester City (2016 onwards).

What some, in good faith, just from a footballing taste and often coinciding with his aesthetic idea in general, and others, much more disbelieving or distrustful, criticise his style, or his teams, is that there seems to be one or two formulas for attacking: running the ball from one side to the other, as if it were a handball match, or, on very rare occasions, when in certain spaces, counter-attacks are generated by recovering the ball under the pressure of his midfielders or forwards or finding the opposition on the counter-attack. If this works, then excellent and even a massacre can take place. The issue is when it doesn't work.

More and more teams are realising that by closing down Manchester City's spaces and positioning themselves deep at the back, with defenders who have a good foot to get forward or a good header to deal with crosses from the wingers, they can aim to get good results.

It is true that Guardiola's teams win far more than they draw or lose, but this is more often the case in domestic competitions, where they have much bigger budgets. If you look at Manchester City's record in detail, to give a very topical example, in most of the games they have won, they could have won by a much bigger margin. In the ones they won, they could have scored. In many of the ones they drew, they could have won, and in the few they lost, perhaps they could have drawn or even won.

Where, then, was the fault? To a large extent, in the opposite factor to what Guardiola intends, but which, to a large extent, his team was becoming: that of an over-predictable approach, which, of course, is enough in any case against weaker opponents, but without the use of dribbling or, often, the mid-range shot, the only thing left is the pass, which, of course, can be very aesthetic but in many cases ends up being a limitation.

This is what happened against Real Madrid, who not only managed to hold out for 120 minutes until penalties and win there (when the opposite could have happened), but who, with very little progress in a game designed more to hold their opponents than to harass them—due to the beating they received the previous year in the same stadium—managed to take the lead and then try to keep it for as long as possible.

Many praise Real Madrid precisely for this exercise of resistance in Manchester, appealing to adjectives such as "team of caste" or "made to win the Champions League" without stopping to compare other white teams of the past, with a luxurious walk with respect to this one, stuck at the back, supporting each of the "citizens" advances, as if it were a small rival of those who do the same at the Santiago Bernabeu in the Spanish league.

It would be impossible to praise an attitude to the spectacle such as that of Real Madrid, which does not respond to its rich history, but rather the purpose is to try to understand the weaknesses of what is very probably the richest team in the world, but which has not won so much for the economic investment made by the club and the amount of time in possession of the ball on average in each of the matches it plays.

Perhaps it would be interesting that instead of fighting him on questions of rivalry, or even hatred in some cases, Guardiola should be asked much more about technical questions, about the game, such as why he often plays without pure wingers when his club has the resources to sign them or let them go, or why he insists on Norwegian Erling Haaland in those games where he does not have a minimum of space when he is a striker to play in space and not on his feet, or why, having the ball so much, he scores so many goals in the few moments when he takes it away from them.

None of this changes the main concept that Guardiola is not a coach who speculates, who attacks the spectacle, or who does not want his teams to score as many goals as possible, but it is true that, like any human action, he is susceptible to criticism, and in this case, we believe it is an interesting time to raise it in good faith and with respect.