Patrick Mahomes is already the Greatest of all Time.

And it’s not even close

By Will Barrett

It’s a scenario that fans and armchair experts debate endlessly; your team is down 6 with 2 minutes left to play. They receive the punt, and start from the 25 yard line. As the offense trots onto the field, who do you want to see leading the final drive? The names that rattle off the tongue are familiar to everybody with even a passing understanding of Canton, OH; Tom Brady, Joe Montana, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers. Each name, either enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame or very soon to be, epitomizes the very essence of what it means to be a legendary NFL quarterback, each in their turn delivering countless jaw-dropping moments, their greatness written and rewritten with every hair-raising drive. These are the men in which so much is invested, on whose shoulders rest the fate and fortunes of franchises and the NFL as a whole. More column inches, more air time is devoted to their exploits, their lows and dizzying highs than any other position in sports, and rightly so. Draft a good quarterback and you’ll be a good football team. Draft a great quarterback, and you could win a ring or two. Draft a legendary, once-in-a-generation quarterback, and the entire course of sporting history will change. 

Patrick Mahomes is a dazzling football player. To watch him play a game of football is to watch Da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa, to watch James Joyce write Ulysses, to watch the story of the greatest player to ever play the game unfold before your eyes. After just 5 seasons as a professional, his resume already reads like a quarterback destined to be enshrined in Canton; he has won 2 Super Bowls, 2 MVP awards, 2 Super Bowl MVP awards. He has the highest career passer rating ever at 105.7, the highest career playoff passer rating ever at 107.4. He is the quickest player to reach 10,000 passing yards, the quickest to 15,000, to 20,000 and, almost inevitably, will be the quickest to 25,000 next season. Such is the staggering success of Patrick Mahomes that in just 5 seasons, he has turned an irrelevant team into the most feared and feted organization in American professional sports. We don’t just wonder whether the Kansas City Chiefs will have a winning season; we expect them to win 13 games and make the AFC Championship Game. We don’t just wonder if their offence will be good this year; we plan for it to obliterate defences. Such is the power of Patrick Mahomes. His gravity has completely reshaped and redefined what is possible for his team and for its fans, and he has accomplished this while doing something far greater still; that is redefining and reshaping what is possible for the position of quarterback.  

In plain terms, the binary model of quarterback play exists as one of two avenues; the prototypical pocket passer who can react and adjust to defensive schematics and deliver the ball to an open receiver with rhythm and timing; and the maverick who can generate play with his physical tools, comfortable operating outside a collapsing pocket and delivering downs with his mobility and talent for improvisation. It is a sad fact, and indeed a terrible stain on the history of the NFL that many black quarterbacks have been pigeonholed into the latter category; their organizations prizeing their athletic talents over their ability to read the game. One only needs a cursory glance at the story of Lamar Jackson’s career thus far to see this bias at play. The horrific and demonstrably false narrative that black quarterbacks couldn’t succeed in the NFL has slowly been chipped away by players like Randell Cunnigham, Warren Moon, Cam Newton and Russell Wilson, paving the way for player like Jalen Hurts, Kyler Murray, Lamar Jackson and Tua Tagovailoa to light up today’s NFL with their brilliance. Next year will see the likely introduction of Bryce Young, a player who has dazzled at Mater Dei and Alabama, and who will surely revive whichever franchise selects him in the first round of the draft. 

Towering over every player however, is Patrick Mahomes. His genius has rewritten the rule book. More than perhaps anyone else in NFL history, he has redefined what is possible for a quarterback in the league. His combination of mind-boggling processing ability, masterful game management and an extraordinary talent for the ridiculously sublime has redrawn the map. He is the first black quarterback to win 2 Super Bowls, the first with 2 MVP’s. This year he and Jalen Hurts shared the distinction of being the first two black quarterbacks to start a Super Bowl. 

Wherever he goes, whatever he does from this point forward, he will forever be the first man on the moon. However you may feel about the fact that he is first, however you may feel about what that says about the at times shockingly racist history of the NFL, the fact is that he is there, now, and will always be. Even if he was an average player, this alone would immortalize him in football lore. The pleasure for football fans is that he is not. He is in fact, the most remarkable football player of all time. He is the only player who is being potentially tipped to catch Tom Brady at the top of the tree. Think about that for a minute. The most decorated and legendary career in all of American sports is barely over, and already Brady is looking over his shoulder. Winning 7 Super Bowls is an absurd accomplishment, playing 23 years alone in the most brutal league in the world is staggering and beyond all comprehension, and yet, Patrick Mahomes is so absurdly brilliant, that he is already being appointed as the man to reel in Tom Brady’s records. Mahomes is just 27 years old; this shouldn’t be happening. 

Inevitable. That is the word that comes up time and again when pundits describe what happens when Patrick Mahomes trots onto the field and walks off it again having led the Chiefs on a game-winning drive. The confidence he inspires is so absolute that we just know, we feel intrinsically, that he will find a way. If you posed me the question, if you gave me the choice of one quarterback to seal a game, I’m going with Patrick Mahomes. I’m going with the greatest football player of all time.           

The Perfect 10 

The greatest rugby players of all time

Quite why I have chosen to open my series on the greatest rugby players of all time with the fly-half position may at first seem like an exercise in sado-masochism. The most fabled and storied position in the game is a home to some of rugby union’s greatest and most iconic players, and to wear the number 10 jersey is to define and encapsulate the philosophy of your team and even your country. Through the fly-half all things are possible, and much like Jesus Christ there is more scope to be deified and crucified in equal measure. To be counted among the greatest fly-halves in the history of the game is to immediately put yourself in pole-position to be considered the greatest player in the history of the game, such is the reach and scope of the position’s importance. To answer who exactly is fit to wear this crown, we must first examine what it is to be a first five-eighth, and from there we may assess each candidates place in history.

The fly-half position in rugby union defines and dictates how the game is played and as such is as important as the quarterback in American Football. He is responsible for almost all of the decision making that happens on the field of play; assessing where to attack, how to defend and how to strategically acquire an advantage over the opposition.  As invariably the first receiver following a breakdown in play he calls the shots, and as such it is inevitable that the comparison is often made between he and a general in battle. Pithy allegories between sport and war aside, the outcome of contests can often be decided by the vision and decisiveness of the “midfield general”, and so it follows that one would want an Alexander, a Caesar or a Napoleon, rather than a Caepio, to produce a result. It is here where the comparison to the quarterback ends however, as the fly-half, in addition to his aforementioned responsibilities should also be able to defend, kick (both strategically and for goal), and offer a serious threat with ball in hand. It is here where 10’s distinguish themselves from every other position on the field; in no other position is it a prerequisite to have such a complete skillset as a footballer, where small weaknesses in your game could be brutally exposed in the test arena and relegate you to being merely a good club player. 

Going forward then I want to first address the players that didn’t make the cut in no particular order. Jonathan Sexton – has all the creativity of a boiled potato, Owen Farrell – not even the best fly half in the England team, Quade Cooper – leakier in defense than a tramps hat, Ronan O’Gara – there was literally no-one else in Ireland, Stephen Jones – Ronan O’Gara again, just in a red shirt. While this collection of players certainly enjoyed impressive careers, I doubt many would push for them to be considered an all time great. 

To start in historical and somewhat unconventional terms I would suggest that the Welsh magicians Barry John and Phil Bennett deserve canonization as all time greats. To my mind it is impossible to separate the twin masters, such is their impact on the position of fly-half. It is with them that the mystique of the Welsh fly-half begins and ends, the idea that the number 10 was effectively Merlin in a red shirt, able to conjure something from nothing, and have mastery over space and time itself. It is from their example that modern players such as Carlos Spencer, Danny Cipriani and Quade Cooper draw their attacking powers, standing flat and having the defensive line hesitate, never quite knowing what feat of brilliance they will produce. John and Bennett defined an era of international rugby, conquering the great southern hemisphere powers in consecutive victories on tour with the British and Irish Lions, and dominating the Five Nations Championship with an unprecedented 8 victories in 10 years between 1969 and 1979. Such is their place in the mythology of the Welsh game that they have become the benchmark for how all Welsh 10’s are expected to perform, leading to years of bitterly underwhelming players never quite reaching their dual brilliance, and reaching its nadir in James Hook, a talented attacking talent weighed down by the weight of the woolen shirts of past glories. 

If there was no successor to the throne of John and Bennett in Bryll then we may look to New South Wales and to Mark Ella. The greatest first five-eighths of the 1980’s, Mark Ella built on the standard set by the Welsh masters, combining brilliant attacking play with astute game-management. Whereas Wales looked to John and Bennett to produce a line-breaking piece of footwork, Mark Ella looked for the Australians around him, judiciously playing his team-mates into space. The time that Mark Ella had in possession was impossible; to stand as flat he was to the defense and draw a man out of position before unleashing an onrushing team-mate is something that very few modern fly-halves have the capability to do, let alone a player from the amatuer era. His singular brilliance  ended New Zealand’s stranglehold on the Bledisloe Cup, and his famous Grand Slam tour of the Home Nations in 1984 bought four tries and four wins against the shell shocked British Isles. To watch Beuden Barrett, the most outlandishly talented footballer of the modern game is to be reminded of Mark Ella and his astounding abilities, and such is Ella’s legacy that both Barrett and Stephen Larkham were manufactured into world class fly-halves from their perhaps more natural positions of fullback in an effort to recreate his brilliance. 

In the buildup to the game going professional in 1997, the role of the fly-half was shaped and evolved by two men, and, much like Barry John and Phil Bennett, it seems futile to separate the two. Throughout the late eighties and nineties, the fly-half changed from brilliant virtuoso to conductor, taking a step back from the position occupied by Ella on the field and becoming much more of a distributor and director, and no men encapsulated this shift more than Michael Lynaugh and Joel Stransky. World champions in 1991 and 1995 respectively, Lynaugh and Stransky embodied the calmness and precision which is expected from the modern number 10, often seeming to float above the melee that was happening around them. Simultaneously they realised the potential the fly-half as a match winner with the boot, Lynaugh retiring as the all-time record points scorer in Test history with 911, and Stransky famously scoring all 15 of South Africa’s points in the 1995 World Cup final. While not especially captivating in their own right, Lynaugh and Stransky showed rugby that the fly-half could allow the team to sparkle, and this line of thought has persisted up to the present day, with players such as Stephen Jones, Ronan O’Gara and Aaron Cruden representing a distillation of their mould. 

With the advent of the professional era of rugby union in 1997, two radically different approaches to the position of number 10 have emerged. The first, that the fly-half should dictate the play, winning matches by virtue of his accuracy in both distribution and his boot, managing engineering the game to his advantage, and the second that he should turn the game by virtue of his individual brilliance. No two men encapsulated their respective schools of thought, the public’s imagination and indeed their nation’s playing philosophies more than the twin figures of Stephen Larkham and Jonny Wilkinson. Each man was everything the other was not; Larkham the heir to Mark Ella, all lighting fast decision making and impossible angles, Wilkinson the evolution of Lynaugh and Stransky; the midfield general who ran the game, creating for others and grinding down the opposition with his unrelenting, torturous accuracy with the boot. For the romantics Larkham was the posterboy for expressive, scintillating back-play, but in terms of sheer dominance Wilkinson is the outlier. Quite apart from winning every major honour available to him, including besting Larkham in the 2003 World Cup final, Wilkinson bought a new level of defensive intensity and prowess hitherto unseen in a number 10. His sheer ferocity is perhaps the reason that so many of his prime years were spent in the treatment facility, robbing the game of his singular dedication to excellence and self-improvement. In Larkham and Wilkinson we see two sides of the coin – one face glamour and excitement, the other calculating and relentless.

At this point it seems natural then that our final contender for the title of greatest fly-half of all time would unite the twin faces of Wilkinson and Larkham, and indeed, he does. There is one player that looms largest in the imagination, someone who came to dominate rugby union for more than a decade. Let me first give you some statistics. 1598 points. 2 World Cups. 9 Tri-Nations/Rugby Championship titles. 3 IRB Player of the Year awards. A Test win percentage of 88.4%. I am of course talking about Dan Carter. To score 14 points in the course of a game represents a good day at the office for many top international players, to average 14 points per game for your entire career is frankly ridiculous. To watch Dan Carter play is to be given a lesson in how to play rugby union. Throughout his career he has been peerless, and stands comparison to greats from other sports such as Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky or Pele. From the moment he announced himself on the world stage with perhaps the finest individual display in the history of the game (his evisceration of the British and Irish Lions in 2005), to his majestic final Test match (his superlative study in game control in the RWC final in 2015), Dan Carter has stood alone as not only the greatest fly-half of all time but the greatest rugby player of all-time.              

To the Manor Born

Kylian Mbappé and the enduring appeal of Real Madrid 

All roads, as the frequently appropriated quotation goes, lead to Rome. In the ancient world, when Rome stood as the center of western civilization and the seat of power, it was there that men went to measure themselves, to win honor and fame, to achieve immortality. In the career of the modern-day footballer the path to superstardom, to greatness, to footballing nirvana, leads to Real Madrid. In the long history of European football Real Madrid towers over the continent, a vast monolith of brilliant white and gold, its grandeur casting a long shadow over all other pretenders to the throne. Only Real Madrid can be kings of Europe, no one else. ¡Viva Los Reyes!

Twasever thus. Beginning in 1956, Real Madrid won the European Cup 5 times in a row, the greatness of Ferenc Puskás and Alfredo Di Stéfano sparking what would grow to become an obsession for la Madridistas. The culmination of this great side, their 7-3 devastation of Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1960 European Cup final, exemplified and codified the aura and arrogance (in the best possible terms of course), of Los Blancos, the idea that all other football clubs, all other expressions of the game, were but flies to be swatted, mere speed bumps in the path of the unstoppable force of Spanish greatness. This of course is to say nothing of adoption and weaponization of Real Madrid as a force for Spanish nationalism under General Franco, the details of which are distressing, and deserving of exploration on their own terms. After their 5th title in 1960, Real Madrid became the first club to be awarded the trophy on a permanent basis, and, with their recapture of the title in 1966, they cemented their relationship with a trophy that no other club has matched since. 

However, as Real Madrid would come to define the European Cup, so too would the European Cup would also come to define Real Madrid. For a club that has won a record 34 La Liga titles, such paltry accolades can often be regarded as mere window dressing; the managers who claim them disappointments and failures. With the hegemony that has emerged at the top of European football, the almost pathological desire to claim the Champions League that was once the hallmark of Real Madrid has spread further afield, infecting and radically shifting the ethos of teams across the continent. Clubs such as Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Juventus, Barcelona, and Manchester City prize the Champions League above all else, the life-cycle of managers and coaches unduly influenced by the acquisition of a winners medal. In the cases of PSG and Manchester City this is perhaps unsurprising; with both clubs yet to claim club football’s ultimate prize their place among the top echelon of European football is the most tenuous, their place amongst the superclubs secured by Emirati riches rather than any pretensions of a grand and illustrious history. For a vast majority of the European elite though, emphasis on the Champions League is borne from the monopolization of domestic honors, the likes of which has never before been seen. With such an embarrassment of riches and paucity of competition, it is small wonder then that the Champions League has taken priority of place amongst the elite.

With this singular goal in mind, recruitment for such clubs can often resemble little more than an arms race. With such a concentration of talent shared amongst these sides, the question is not merely which superstar plays for your club, but which superstars. “Manchester United have signed Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho, and Raphael Varane to play alongside Bruno Fernades.” “Bayern Munich have added Dayot Upemacano, continuing their practice of poaching talent from their domestic rivals.” “Chelsea have signed Romelu Lukaku because the striker they signed last year wasn’t good enough.” “Manchester City added Jack Grealish for £100m, but should they have spent £150m on Harry Kane as well?” “PSG signed Lionel Messi, Sergio Ramos, Achraf Hakimi, an F-17 fighter jet and 3 intercontinental ballistic missiles, but will it be enough?”       

Amidst the avalanche of transfer activity this summer among Europe’s top clubs, Real Madrid seemed conspicuous by their absence. Granted, they were able to pick up David Alaba on a free transfer and paid Rennes £25m for one of the continent’s most exciting young talents in Eduardo Camavinga, but, most unusually for them, they seemed hesitant to wade into the chaos. To be sure, this dabbling in frugality is owed largely to the ravages of the pandemic, the effects of which have wreaked havoc on every club’s finances; decimating La Liga and in particular Barcelona. Nonetheless, Real’s relative inertia did seem strange, the usual buzz around the comings and goings at the Santiago Bernabéu replaced with an almost haunting quiet. Then, just as it seemed as though Los Blancos had allowed themselves to be overshadowed, a warning shot fired from the Spanish capital. Real Madrid had lodged a bid for Kylian Mbappé.  Florentino Pérez is a man who enjoys the spotlight. As curator of the world’s grandest footballing institution, one might think that this would be a prerequisite for the role of president, but Pérez luxuriates in it, never missing an opportunity to bask in the warm glow of his own self-reflection. His tenure as president, stretched over two separate reigns, has become synonymous with ego, efficaciousness, and staggering excess. Under his regime, Real Madrid have lifted themselves out of the relative slump they experienced in the latter half of the 20th century to a period of undeniable success. A record of 5 Champions Leagues, 5 La Liga titles, 4 European Super Cups and a host of other honors would qualify as a glittering period by anyone’s standards, even standards as lofty as Real Madrid, and surely have earned Pérez favorable comparisons to the legendary Santiago Bernabéu. However, while Pérez would surely feel that his name should be mentioned in the same breath as the man whose name is emblazoned above the stands in Madrid, his name will enduringly be synonymous with another; Galácticos.

As long as there have been football clubs there has been competition for elite footballers. In 1893, when Aston Villa paid £100 for the Scottish international Willie Groves, it would have been inconceivable that such excess could be flaunted in a sport that had its foundation in muscular Christian morality. Yet, as the fees for talent climbed ever higher over the coming century, aided of course by the Bosman in 1995, it became apparent that collecting not just talented players, but superstars, was the surefire way to prove the status of your club, if not necessarily a way to guarantee success. No man, save perhaps Roman Abramovich, has understood and weaponized this concept more than Florentino Pérez. Before Neymar and PSG broke football in 2017, Real Madrid under Pérez seemed more akin to MGM during the Golden Age of Hollywood; their immortal slogan, “more stars than there are in heaven”, having similar resonance at the Santiago Bernabéu. An exhaustive list of the stars of Florentino Pérez would be exhausting, and even to limit ourselves to the marquee names is to list a veritable who’s who of the world’s greatest footballers; Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham, Luis Figo, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Garett Bale, Mesut Özil, Kaká, Ronaldo again. 

It seemed only a matter of time therefore, before Kylian Mbappé would be subject to a bid from Florentino Pérez. Set to dominate the conversation around the world’s greatest footballer for the next decade, Mbappé always seemed destined to wear the white and gold of Real Madrid, to continue the legacy of great players that stretches back to Alfredo di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskás. It is preordained, as inescapable as death and taxes, if for no other reason than Florentino Pérez’ ego wills it, and that failure to secure a player who draws comparisons to Pelé would be anathema to Pérez’ conception of himself, and indeed, the club he fronts.

Kylian Mbappé is, indisputably, the ultimate expression of what a Real Madrid player should be. Supremely skillful, lightning fast and devastatingly clinical, Mbappé has long been perceived as football’s ultimate talent, the next guy up, the natural heir to the Ronaldo-Messi duopoly that has dominated world football for the better part of 15 years. As such, a move to the Spanish capital would be a natural evolution of his already glittering career, the final stepping stone on his path to greatness. The problem, however, is that an imminent move to Los Blancos really only benefits one party; Madrid. Real Madrid are in an unusual situation, or at least, what might be imagined as an unusual situation for Real Madrid. The swaggering team that won 4 Champions League titles in 5 years has all but vanished, the last vestiges of that imperious side entering the twilight years of their illustrious careers. While still a force to be reckoned with, this current iteration of Madrid is perhaps not the ideal launch pad for Kylian Mbappé. It of course goes without saying that Mbappé would improve Real Madrid, but the idea that his magnetism could overcome the serious deficiencies through the spine of this Madrid team is rather fanciful. Madrid have parted ways with arguably the most dominant centre back pairing of the late decade, suffer from an alarming gulf in age profile in central midfield, and have yet to see the best of the superstar forward that they already possess; Eden Hazard. Were Mbappé to insert himself into the maelstrom, one might worry that the sisyphean task of getting Madrid firing again might, at last, overcome him. 

This is by no means to say that Mbappé is not more than capable of such a herculean task, but merely to state that such an undertaking seems  like an unnecessary risk. As currently situated, Paris-Saint Germain are ideally placed to capture their maiden Champions League trophy, alongside continuing their dominance of Ligue 1. The opportunity for Mbappé to play a leading solo in Mauricio Pochettino’s glamorous orchestra is surely one that is too good to pass up. Should Pochettino manage to harness Lionel Messi, Neymar, Di Maria, Marco Veratti, Achraf Hakimi and Sergio Ramos alongside Mbappé, what glorious music they could make. What conjurations and what mighty magic should even just Messi, Neymar and Mbappé create? It is a mouth-watering prospect, and one that surely should cause Mbappé to think again, if not merely for the example that a current teammate has given him. 

When Neymar shattered the world transfer record by a simply mind-blowing margin, it was to move out from under the titanic shadow that Lionel Messi had cast during his time at Barcelona. Upon entering his 5th year at PSG, his harshest critics would consider his move ill-advised at best, as, for all his dazzling quality, he has been unable to carry PSG to the promised land. While harsh – the Champions league is a brutal competition that can be heavily contingent on the rub of the green – it nonetheless serves as a dire warning for those looking to burnish their reputations, rather than their trophy cabinet. 

Perhaps fate will be kinder to  Mbappé than it has been to Neymar. Perhaps he is, to paraphrase one of his great predecessors at his next club, the final layer of gold paint on the Bentley. He will take his rightful place amongst the pantheon of great players who have worn the white and gold. We must only hope that it is not too soon.   

What we talk about when we talk about Pep

Why Pep Guardiola is deserving of more criticism than he currently receives

At the risk of sounding like the meditation app you currently subscribe to for $14.99 per month, I would like to invite you to close your eyes. Focus on your breathing, allowing yourself to relax into that steady rhythm of in and out. As you feel whatever tensions and worries you carry begin to melt away, an image starts to form in your mind’s eye. The outline of a man, finely groomed and immaculately tailored; resplendent in silk and Italian leather, his bald head gleaming in the glorious afternoon sunshine. What sensations do you feel, what images does this man conjure, what do you think about when you think about Pep Guardiola?

Do you think of the football revolutionary, the young genius who inspired countless pale imitations, unleashing the greatest player of his generation, in the greatest team of its generation, to devastate and mesmerise in equal measure? Do you think of the intricate passes, the outrageous possession statistics; “that carousel that can leave you dizzy,” the telepathic understanding between the holy trinity of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta? Do you think of the goals that seemed to be crafted by Michelangelo himself, the cashmere jumper for a chilly night, the relentless evangelising from fans of the Blaugrana that Barcelona was “more than just a club,” as though even had they not been winning so relentlessly, they would have been content to sit in a field, holding hands and singing kumbaya?

Do you think of the sabbatical, the exchanging of philosophies with Marcelo Bielsa over red wine, the emphatic return to management with Bayern Munich? Do you think of his elevation of Manuel Neuer to the best goalkeeper in the world, of Philip Lahm recreated in his own image, of Robert Lewandowski scoring 5 goals in 9 minutes?

Do you think of the three Bundesliga titles in a row, of the 75% win rate, of Xabi Alonso spreading passes to Frank Ribery and Arjen Robben on the wings? Do you think of the questions raised, gently at first, over his failure in the Champions League, of the 5-0 aggregate loss to Real Madrid, of the fact that for all the technical mastery of Guardiola’s Bayern Munich they failed to register a shot in a tie with Barcelona?  

Do you think of his unveiling at Manchester City, of the beaming smile and scarf held aloft, of the tantalising promise of domestic and European domination?  Do you think of full-backs tucking inside, of costly defensive errors, of being ripped apart by Jamie Vardy and Leicester City on a torrential evening on Merseyside? Do you think about his triumphant second season, the breathtakingly beautiful football, the record goal tally, the record points total? 

As currently situated, it is clear then that Pep Guardiola without question belongs in the upper echelons of the managerial pantheon, his place in footballing mythos bolstered further by a third Premier League title, and, at the risk of raising the ire of Chelsea fans, what should have been a third Champions League trophy. When we talk about Pep Guardiola we talk about this. We talk about the beautiful football, the genius who has defined how the game is played for a generation, the ceaseless, unrelenting commitment to winning. We talk in outraged tones about the money he has spent, ($500million on defensive players alone!), about his failure to win a Champions League title in 10 years, (10 years!), about whether he would have any success managing Brighton & Hove Albion on a shoestring budget, (let’s see him win the league by 20 points with a midfield of Yves Bissouma, Pascal Groß and Leandro Trossard!).We talk about his laissez-faire attitude to traditional managerial attire, his partiality to a bottle of full-bodied red, his exacting standards eventually taking their toll on both himself and his players.

This is the Pep Guardiola that we immortalise, the Pep Guardiola that we love, and the Pep Guardiola that we hate because he isn’t the manager of our football club. However, if reality is little more than perception, how we perceive Guardiola and his accomplishments has invariably been rose-tinted. Half-hearted criticisms that he has bought his success aside, scrutiny as to where the gold that has built the road to El Dorado comes from has very rarely, if indeed ever, fallen at his door. Now do not get me wrong, the cabal of billionaires that run elite football clubs are all, to put it politely, less than savoury individuals. As we have seen with the fiasco over the European Super League, the one thing that these immensely rich and powerful individuals can be relied upon to do is act terribly, and almost exclusively in their own interests. If this new bourgeois had spent years relentlessly and ruthlessly accumulating wealth and power at the expense of working people, did anyone seriously imagine that they would entertain the opinions of common fans?

While it would be overly harsh to criticise every top manager for taking extraordinary amounts of money from men with an extraordinary lack of scruples, not all billionaires are created equal. While it is a reasonable assumption that every member of the billionaire owners clubs have exploited people to some degree, it is unreasonable to assume that all of them have exploited people to the same degree. The state ownership of Manchester City may have done many wonderful things for the city of Manchester, this much is true, but they seem rather less concerned with enriching the lives of their own people. Flogging and stoning are legal punishments in Sharia courts, Homosexuality is a crime punishable by death and exploitation of migrant workers is common practice. The UAE has a long and miserable history with human rights abuses, which is devastating and catalogued by groups such as Amnesty International, but distressingly, they, along with other countries in the Middle-East are successfully rebranding themselves as champions of sport. 

In June 2017 Pep Guardiola addressed his fellow Catalonians from the steps of Montjuic in Barcelona, declaming to the 40,000 strong crowd that “we have no other option but to vote.” Throwing his full voice behind the movement for Catalonian Independence, his fist held high and clenched above his head he invoked the spirit of revolutionaries and freedom fighters the world over, evoking cheers and raucous applause from his fellow countrymen. In the back of his mind, I wonder if he spared a thought for the political dissidents of the UAE, dissidents that his current employers have abducted and tortured. I wonder if he thought about the citizens that his employers have held without trial and have denied access to counsel, for daring to speak out against their government. I wonder if his hypocrisy left a bitter taste in his mouth, whether the 40 pieces of silver he has won for Manchester City have been enough to assuage his qualms over his monumental hypocrisy, whether the riches he has earned during his tenure with the Citizens provided a balm for the burning knowledge that he is free to protest and demonstrate in the interests of his people, but the citizens of the UAE are met with violent suppression by his employers for voicing their own political dissent. Perhaps he has reconciled it within himself, or perhaps he never suffered any internal dilemma over this contradiction, content, conceivably, that it is not his problem to solve. 

It is, however, our problem to solve. When we talk about Pep Guardiola we immortalise him with our praise, praise for his beautiful football, for his bursting trophy cabinet, for his hilarious penchant for sticking two fingers up at the traditional managerial wardrobe, turning up to coach looking like the cool father who lets his daughter’s boyfriend stay the night. It’s understandable that this is how we categorise Guardiola, as it is far easier to talk about his genius as a tactician than having to grapple with the complex issues of global politics, and his place within them. However it is important, perhaps now more than it ever was, to contextualise Guardiola and others like him in terms of his position as the figurehead of a club run by an oppressive, totalitarian regime, to discuss his role as a puppet in the current era of sports washing, to realise that he is employed by people who would not tolerate him and his agenda if hewas their citizen. So by all means let’s talk about Pep Guardiola, but as we talk about his greatness, we must also talk about his hypocrisy.