‘They are perhaps the best side I’ve faced in my career… I am in love with Napoli.’ Those were the words of Pep Guardiola after watching Manchester City beat Maurizio Sarri’s side in the Champions League last season.
It was glowing praise of the style that took Napoli to the brink of the Serie A title and led Sarri to replace Antonio Conte at Chelsea this summer. Sarri has since paid Guardiola a compliment of his own. ‘He for me is a friend, but he is the best coach in the world now, or one of the best,’ the 59-year-old said on Friday.
As the duo prepare to do battle in the Community Shield on Sunday, we analyse some of the similarities and differences between two of football’s most highly regarded managers.
Guardiola: It is no secret that Guardiola demands a possession based system that is focused on attack. His famed 4-3-3 worked wonders at Barcelona and Bayern Munich and, although it initially took time in England, helped City to the Premier League title in emphatic fashion. Every player must be comfortable on the ball while pace and flair in the final third of the pitch ensure there is no lack of cutting edge.
Sarri: His Napoli team played a unique brand of attacking football that became known as ‘Sarri-ball’, earning widespread praise across the continent. Also using a 4-3-3, Sarri’s teams probe with short, sharp passing patterns designed to move defenders out of position. When they can’t create an opportunity they recycle the ball and hold on to possession but more often than not, they eventually found a way through with every player capable of contributing to their attacking play.
Guardiola: Away from the pitch, Guardiola spends time devising his tactical master plans in his office. Music is said to be played constantly in there and the manager has been known to go shoeless to really unwind. His former assistant Domenec Torrent recently revealed his love of Sade’s music and Brazilian food and admitted the two used to watch matches in the restaurant of Manchester United star Juan Mata.
Sarri: The 59-year-old smokes relentlessly, around five packets a day, on the training ground and even in the stadium. German club RB Leipzig even had to construct a special smoking cabin for him when Napoli visited the Germans in the Europa League last season.
Guardiola: He is never afraid to splash the cash, that is for certain. Guardiola has spent over £530million since his arrival at the Etihad Stadium in 2016 and last summer completely overhauled his back line with the expensive additions of Ederson, Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy, Danilo and Aymeric Laporte. Riyad Mahrez is the latest big money signing under Guardiola, joining for £60m from Leicester this summer. He has also overseen costly deals at both Bayern and Barcelona.
Sarri: Sarri prefers to work with his players on the training ground trying to implement his system on the squad rather than throw money at the problem. A prime example is when 38-goal striker Gonzalo Higuain was sold by Napoli to Juventus and his replacement Arkadiusz Milik suffered a long-term injury. Instead of buying a replacement, he responded by converting Belgian star Dries Mertens to a striker. He went on to net 34 goals in his first season as Napoli’s No 9.
Guardiola: The Spaniard has a mixed record when it comes to his former players and they either love him or loathe him. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is among one of his fiercest critics but it seems if you have his backing then there aren’t many better managers to play under. Raheem Sterling has credited him with changing his game in his brief spell in Manchester, while a string of stars have praised Guardiola’s training methods.
Sarri: His former defender Gianbattista Scugugia described Sarri as ‘a maniac of football’. He said: ‘He aimed for perfection. Also, I’ve never met such a hard worker in my career. Fifteen years ago Sarri took care of every smallest detail, every day. Now he’s changed a bit but is still a hard worker as well as a winner. He doesn’t like to finish second.’
Guardiola: Guardiola has never been afraid to speak his mind and can often be seen gesturing on the touchline if he doesn’t like a performance or decision. It sometimes gets the better of him and can prove costly though as we saw in City’s Champions League quarter-final exit to Liverpool last season. Guardiola was sent off after telling Spanish referee Antonio Mateu Lahoz to shut his mouth and his team were not the same afterwards.
Sarri: He was known as a controversial figure in Serie A after some rather ugly incidents. Sarri was fined for aiming a homophobic slur at former Inter Milan coach Roberto Mancini back in 2016 and told a female journalist: ‘You’re a woman, you’re beautiful, for those two reasons I won’t tell you to go f*** yourself,’ after one hostile question. As Napoli headed to Turin for a crucial Serie A match against Juventus in April, Sarri offered a middle finger to Juventus supporters gathered around his team coach.
Guardiola: There are not many managers within the game to have won more than the 47-year-old. His time at the Nou Camp saw him win three La Liga titles and two Champions Leagues and Copa del Reys. Guardiola also enjoyed domestic dominance at Bayern, winning the Bundesliga three years in a row and the German Cup twice. As well as the Premier League crown he also lifted the League Cup as City completed a memorable double last campaign.
Sarri: The Italian joins with just four seasons of top-flight experience under his belt and no managerial honours to date. Sarri has spent most of his career in the lower divisions of Italian football with spells at sixth-tier Sangiovannese all the way to Serie B with Pescara and eventually Empoli. In his second season in Tuscanny he took Empoli to automatic promotion and then kept them in the top flight.