If Jurgen Klopp wins the Champions League for a second time with Liverpool this season, can he be considered a better manager than Pep Guardiola?
On the face of it, it’s a foolish question. Guardiola took Marcelo Bielsa’s tactical approach and made the key tweak that it is better to win a game than lose it. Allied with Lionel Messi, he used the greatest player of all time to create the greatest team of all time.
The small details he introduced, the brilliant victories he oversaw, and the trophies he won continue to mark him out as the best manager of the 2000s.
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But few managers span decades as great managers. Alex Ferguson managed it because he was afforded unprecedented control over Manchester United and was fortunate enough to have the Class of ‘92 to guide to the Treble, and then paired Cristiano Ronaldo with Wayne Rooney to win his second Champions League title.
Despite a host of other titles over three decades, there are nevertheless legitimate misgivings over Ferguson’s time at United.
It is currently fair to raise some similar questions of Guardiola. Given he is a man who has spent hundreds of millions of pounds on full-backs, his record of European trophies is damned by the fact he only ever won them when he had Messi at his disposal.
It would be churlish to deny him the glory associated with those wins, but it would also be foolish not to leave an asterisk by his name until and unless he manages to win the trophy again without the Argentine.
It would be pointless, and wrong, to claim that Guardiola’s Manchester City are anything but excellent, but there have been thousands of words attempting to divine some kind of new genius to their ways. When the Spaniard arrived at the Premier League, the soi-disant Mini Dukes of the broadsheet press fell over themselves to use syllables in an attempt to garner attention and prematurely award themselves with kudos for insight. Really though, since Bayern Munich, Guardiola has done little more than refine his existing ideas and has been given indulgent budgets to do so.
Is it entertaining? Yes, if you like that kind of thing. What is irrefutable is the sheer level of skill needed to play as Guardiola wants is pretty much unmatched elsewhere. The downfall is that currently he has achieved no enduring legacy outside of the Camp Nou, and YouTube videos made and watched exclusively by nerds. Win the Champions League, and he has built two undeniably great teams, and few managers ever repeat the trick.
Klopp, however, can claim to have pulled off a similar trick, just on a slightly smaller scale. His Borussia Dortmund was not a great team, but it did great things. It perfected heavy metal football with the resources given to their manager. He built up players like Mats Hummel, Robert Lewandowski, Mario Gotze and Marco Reus. He took the ideas of gegenpressing and challenged for European trophies, and won them domestically. He knocked Bayern off their verdammt perch.
At Liverpool, he was able to take a side that had been left bereft of hope and transformed them, working with honours he had sounded out as reasonable. He demonstrated the benefits of his system in training and on the pitch, and garnered trust in a way that Guardiola never did at Bayern, where the relationship often appeared fractious despite winning one Bundesliga after another.

Franck Ribery and Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich

Image credit: Eurosport

With his new side, he was able to integrate players as prosaic as James Milner and win the Champions League, and the Premier League - Liverpool’s first ever. He turned them at times into the greatest team in Europe and did so without spending a small country's GDP on full-backs. Transfers of Alisson and Virgil van Dijk cost a fortune, but he kept the books balanced and has an astonishing hit rate when it comes to transfers. That absolutely can't be said for Guardiola at any of his clubs. In fact, his success appears to come more despite his transfer choices than because of them.
Say Klopp wins the Champions League, beating either Real or City in the final. Unquestionably this would be a remarkable achievement. Two European titles, and a domestic one, navigating a pandemic and the lingering self-doubt Liverpool had carried with them in the league. Besting the petrodollars of City once, perhaps directly twice, and with Diogo Jota laying the foundations for a post-Salah Liverpool to continue to thrive.
That would leave us with the key question. Guardiola is not yesterday’s man, yet. Nor is Klopp the future. But winning the Champions League this year would give Klopp a headstart on working out which of these two are the dominant force in England.
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