Mythbuster: 'Fraudiola'! Pep is nothing without Messi

Pep Guardiola is well aware of his derogatory nickname.

After last September's shock defeat at Norwich City, the Manchester City manager was given the chance to throw his players under the bus for what had been an error-strewn display at Carrow Road.

There was no chance of that happening, though.

"They gave me all the prestige I have in England," Guardiola told the assembled press.

"In that first season, when it was 'fraud' Guardiola, 'Fraudiola', and [people were saying] it's not possible to play [my way] because you need to have [more] tackles, these players gave me the prestige I have.

"Now all around the world people say how good a manager I am, so, it's because of them, not because of me."

Guardiola has always been the first to admit that he has been fortunate to have worked with some incredible players since taking his first job at the highest level, at Barcelona, 12 years ago – chief among them Lionel Messi, with whom he won two Champions Leagues.

However, they remain the only two Champions Leagues of the Catalan's coaching career to date, and the 'Fraudiola' myth is rooted in the idea that the former Spain international is nothing special without Messi.

Indeed, there are those that believe that Guardiola's reputation as one of the game's great tactical thinkers is without foundation; that he was lucky to inherit a once-in-a-generation group of players at Camp Nou; that he achieved nothing of note in his next position, at Bayern Munich; and has proven himself to be little more than an effective 'chequebook manager' at Man City.

Such views do Guardiola a great disservice, as he is one of the most influential figures in modern football history.

His Barcelona side can lay claim to being the greatest of all time but he wasn't simply the right man in the right place at the right time. He was the key player in a necessary Camp Nou overhaul.

The Blaugrana had won the Champions League two years before he was appointed head coach of the senior squad in 2008, after a season in charge of the B team.

However, the rot had well and truly set in at Camp Nou and Guardiola, in conjunction with Txiki Begiristain, set about getting rid of the dead wood.

Edmilson was released, while Oleguer, Deco and, most notably of all, former Ballon d'Or winner Ronaldinho were all sold.

Of the side that started against Arsenal in Paris in 2006, only Victor Valdes, Rafael Marquez, Carles Puyol and Samuel Eto'o remained.

Guardiola, thus, constructed the new team around Lionel Messi, who had missed the Champions League final through injury, and Xavi and Andres Iniesta, who were unused substitutes in Paris.

He was undoubtedly lucky to have three of the greatest players in football history at the same time.

Messi, though, has always admitted that he "developed a lot" under Guardiola, whose decision to deploy the Argentine as a 'false nine' transformed the diminutive attacker into the most lethal attacking force the game has ever seen.

Xavi and Iniesta made Barcelona tick but both insist that had it not been for Guardiola and his intricate, possession-based brand of football, neither they nor the club would have enjoyed anything like the same success between 2008 and 2012.

Indeed, both immediately realised that Guardiola's methods could make Barcelona virtually unbeatable.

"When he started at Barcelona, there were doubts about him," Xavi told the Daily Mail. "We started the season with a defeat and a draw but these two games, I was already saying to my friends and my family, 'If you could see how we're training... We're going to win so many titles!'"

Iniesta was in total agreement with his fellow midfield maestro and even sought to reassure Guardiola after the team's tough start to the season.

As revealed in the book 'The Artist: Being Iniesta', the Fuentealbilla native went to his coach's office and said: "Don’t worry, Mister. We’ll win it all. We’re on the right path. Carry on like this, OK?

"We’re playing brilliantly, we’re enjoying training. Please, don’t change anything."

As he went to leave, the usually humble and soft-spoken Iniesta then declared: “We’re in f*cking great shape, we’re playing bloody brilliantly. This year we’re going to steamroller them all!"

And they did, completing the first treble in Spanish football history by beating Manchester United in the 2009 Champions League with a performance that left Sir Alex Ferguson marvelling over Iniesta and Xavi.

However, Sergio Busquets had started alongside them on that famous night in Rome – a virtual unknown the season before who effectively ended Yaya Toure's Barca career after being promoted from the B team by Guardiola.

"The crucial moment of my footballing life was when Guardiola crossed my path," Busquets later told BT Sport. "When you're with Guardiola, you become a master in football."

Those sentiments are shared by Pedro, who was also plucked by Pep from the B team. Like Busquets, he would go on to write himself into Barcelona history, becoming the first man to score in six different competitions in the same year, in 2010.

"A great coach can teach you how to find goals, and that's what I learnt with Pep," Pedro would later admit to The Independent.

Of course, a number of high-profile players don't have quite as fond memories of working with Guardiola.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic infamously labelled his former boss at Barcelona a "spineless coward" and others, such as Eto’o and Toure, have criticised Guardiola for the way in which he deals with players deemed surplus to requirements.  

Whether Guardiola's communication skills can be found wanting is open to debate. However, a coach shunning certain players is certainly nothing new

Liverpool's legendary manager Bill Shankly even went so far as to ignore injured players, on the grounds that they were no use to him. "You became a non-person," according to former Reds forward Roger Hunt, while even some of Sir Alex Ferguson's most loyal servants have openly discussed the Scot's "ruthless" streak.

Both will go down as coaching icons. As should Guardiola, who has a proven track record of both improving and reinventing players, and not just at Barcelona.

His work at Bayern Munich is completely undervalued – even though he won three consecutive titles and has the greatest win rate in the competition's history (80 per cent) – simply because he failed to win a Champions League.

And yet Guardiola made a lasting impression on so many of those he coached.

David Alaba is presently being deployed as a centre-back but it was Guardiola who first spotted the former full-back's potential for playing at the heart of the defence and the Austrian told Bild he is "still benefitting a lot from Pep's time" at the Allianz Arena.

Joshua Kimmich, meanwhile, is now renowned for his versatility and says Guardiola helped him "discover completely new spaces on the pitch... He has an incredible vision football."

It's been a similar story at Manchester City, where Raheem Sterling has become a prolific winger – Pedro has even noted the similarities in his own development under Pep – and even the brilliant Sergio Aguero has claimed to have become a better player since Guardiola's arrival.

Has Guardiola benefitted from City’s unrivalled spending power? Undoubtedly, but the fact remains that after being written off as a fraud during a difficult first season in Manchester, he won back-to-back Premier League titles with a combined tally of 198 points, and a first ever domestic treble.

What’s more, he did it playing arguably playing the most beautiful brand of attacking football England has ever seen. It was a similar story in both Germany and Spain.

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As Xavi said, Guardiola’s Barca side was great “not only because we won everything, but because of the way we did it.”

If Guardiola wins another Champions League, his ‘Fraudiola’ nickname will undoubtedly disappear. It would no longer hold any water, but it’s utterly irrelevant anyway.

Guardiola has already won countless trophies, and improved countless players. He’s changed the game, and for the better. No baseless nickname will sully such a legacy.