Guardiola has a topsy-turvy history with No 9s and big personalities

Falling out with Zlatan, pushing David Villa out wide and phasing out Aguero – but Lewandowski turned out alright! Pep Guardiola has a topsy-turvy history with No 9s and big personalities… so, how will Erling Haaland fit in at Manchester City?

  • Erling Haaland’s £51m move to join Manchester City was announced this week 
  • Norwegian will work under Pep Guardiola, who has a history with star strikers
  • The Spanish coach struggled to get on with Samuel Eto’o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic
  • He enjoyed fruitful relationships with Robert Lewandowski and Sergio Aguero
  • Sportsmail takes a look at Guardiola’s record working with world-class forwards

Manchester City’s elimination from the Champions League in dramatic fashion last week against Real Madrid triggered bemusement all around – just how had the English champions squandered their European dream once again? 

Well, ex-Man Utd captain Patrice Evra has a theory.

‘Manchester City needs leaders,’ he said, ‘but Guardiola doesn’t want leaders. He doesn’t want personality. He’s the leader.’

Guardiola, who has also had successful spells at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, hit back, strongly. 

‘I’ve had nice, incredible players in my past at Barcelona, Bayern, Man City,’ Guardiola said. ‘I could give a good list in terms of personality and character. Most of them have won World Cups, European, Champions Leagues and leagues.’

Pep Guardiola responded to Patrice Evra saying that he doesn’t want ‘personalities’ in his team

Guardiola had been criticised for failing to train ‘people with personality’ by Evra (right), with the Manchester United legend taking a swipe after City’s semi-final Champions League exit

He added: ‘Patrice – if we were together, I would show you the personality and character of my players right now that we have, absolutely.’ 

City themselves have responded to their European disappointment by signing one of the hottest properties in European football, with Erling Haaland’s summer move for £51million announced on Tuesday.

But, given Pep has often utilised formations without a traditional No 9, how will Haaland fit in at the Etihad? And, in a managerial career stretching nearly 15 years, how has Guardiola dealt with big attacking personalities in the past? Sportsmail takes a look… 


Though Ronaldinho was not a traditional No 9, he was certainly a big personality and one of the first big decisions of Guardiola’s managerial career was what to do with the Brazilian superstar as he took over as Barcelona boss in the summer of 2008. 

The World Cup winner, though still effective at the top level, was offloaded to AC Milan in order to give Lionel Messi the starring role in this new generation of tiki-taka football. 

It reaped the rewards almost immediately, with Messi thriving and Barca winning the treble. 

By all accounts the split was amicable, with Ronaldinho recently saying: ”When Guardiola arrived, I explained to him that I had other dreams to play at another club… It was a friendly conversation.’ 

Guardiola offloaded both Ronaldinho and Deco (right) during his first summer at Barcelona 


Less amicable was the relationship between Guardiola and Samuel Eto’o during one season working together at the Nou Camp. 

With the Spaniard settling on keeping the Cameroonian after initially being willing to sell him as he took the reins at Barca, the pair won the treble, with Eto’o scoring in the Champions League final triumph against Manchester United. 

Yet Eto’o was sold in part-exchange for Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Inter Milan and he has since criticised Guardiola, recently saying: ‘I first of all reminded Guardiola that he’d never been a great player.

‘As a coach he had proven nothing, he didn’t even know the story of the dressing room.’

In fact. Eto’o’s most famous remark about the Spaniard was in comparison to an old foe, and showed there was no love lost. 

‘I can’t compare Mourinho to Guardiola,’ the striker said. ‘One of them couldn’t win the Champions League with Bayern Munich and the other one did it with Porto.’ 


Guardiola won the treble alongside Samuel Eto’o in 2009 but the pair did not really get on 

The Cameroonian striker later joined Inter Milan, in part-exchange for Zlatan Ibrahimovic 


Perhaps the most famous of Guardiola’s fall-outs, he simply could not see eye-to-eye with Swedish star Ibrahimovic. 

Brought in for £57m plus Eto’o, the towering frontman grew tired of what he believed was favouritism towards Messi, and was later shipped out to AC Milan. 

Writing in his autobiography, Ibrahimovic said: ‘I yelled, “You have no balls!” at him and probably worse things than that. 

‘You are s***ting yourself because of Jose Mourinho. You can go to hell!’ 

He added: ‘When you buy me, you are buying a Ferrari. If you drive a Ferrari, you put premium petrol in the tank, you hit the motorway and you step on the gas. Guardiola filled up with diesel and took a spin in the countryside. He should have bought a Fiat.’ 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic did not get on with Pep Guardiola during their one season working together

In fact, Ibrahimovic has said countless times on the record he preferred Jose Mourinho (right)


Henry won the only honour missing from his personal collection when he secured the Champions League under Guardiola in 2009, as his fabulous European career came to an end. 

Yet Guardiola wasn’t afraid to upset the French star, once hauling him off in the Champions League – despite scoring – as a result of lazy positioning. 

Nonetheless, this isn’t one to file in the ‘Pep bust-ups’ category. 

In fact, Henry has said in recent years that he still keeps in touch with the Manchester City boss. 

Guardiola enjoyed a good relationship with Thierry Henry and the pair remain in contact 


Bought as the next attacking star following Ibrahimovic’s departure, the Spanish World Cup winner was part of a formidable attacking trio in that famous 2010-11 season, alongside Messi and Pedro. 

Villa scored 23 goals in all competitions in his first season but his influence wavered in his second season, scoring just nine times. 

The ex-Valencia star was shifted out wide, usually on the left, to accommodate Messi’s roaming role. 

It remains to be seen if Haaland would accept a similar fate when he pitches up at City. 

David Villa won a glut of trophies under Guardiola at Barca but was shifted to a role on the left


Onto the Bayern years now and an Eto’o-esque fallout here with Croat No 9 Mario Mandzukic after one year together. 

The pair won the Bundesliga in the 2013-14 campaign but he was sold to Atletico Madrid, and afterwards blasted the Catalan for a supposed lack of respect. 

‘Guardiola disappointed me because he didn’t treat me with respect and it was twice as good when Jupp Heynckes was there,’ he said. 

‘Would I sit down with Guardiola for a coffee? That is something that’s not going to happen. 

‘In my professional life I don’t have to like everyone but if I feel a negative energy coming from a person then I try to avoid them.’

Mario Mandzukic accused Guardiola of disrespect after one season together at Bayern 


A year prior to his World Cup winning goal for Germany in Brazil, Mario Gotze started the train of Borussia Dortmund stars leaving for their biggest rivals and was Guardiola’s major signing in his first window as Bayern boss. 

Yet the partnership was perhaps not as fruitful as anticipated as he struggled to have a sustained influence on the team. 

In the years since, while talking up Jurgen Klopp’s influence on his career, Gotze has been less complimentary towards Guardiola. 

‘Technically, [Guardiola] was a tremendous asset,’ he said. ‘But he is very focused on the game and doesn’t think about players outside of his plan. 

‘He didn’t have much empathy, and empathy is part of being a world-class coach.’ 

Mario Gotze accused Guardiola of a lack of ’empathy’ during their time together in Germany


Should Haaland want to look optimistically at Guardiola’s relationships with leading strikers, he should look no further than Bayern’s leading marksman Robert Lewandowski. 

Guardiola pounced in 2014 when he brought in the Pole on a free transfer – raiding Dortmund of their star man once more – and Lewandowski thrived under his tutelage at the Allianz Arena. 

Having scored 67 goals over two years together, Lewandowski’s stature as one of Europe’s great finishers has only increased. 

Guardiola signed Robert Lewandowski and the Pole thrived in two seasons with the Spaniard 


One of Guardiola’s first signings at City was the quickly-forgotten Spanish forward Nolito from Celta Vigo. 

But, a combination of never settling in Manchester and not being utilised consistently by Guardiola saw him leave the following summer for Sevilla. 

He said at the time of his impending departure: ‘I want to play and try to be happy but I don’t think Guardiola has any faith in me. 

‘I guess City will want to receive a big fee for me because they paid a lot for me and they will have settled on a price.’

Nolito’s one-year stay at Manchester City during Guardiola’ first season was quickly forgotten


As he was throughout his 10 years at the Etihad, Aguero was more often than not Manchester City’s leading goalscorer. 

His relationship with Guardiola was excellent, to the point that being phased out of the side in his final season in the Premier League was not story-worthy. 

In fact, the deep relationship was highlighted last year when Guardiola travelled to Barcelona for Aguero’s emotional press conference after he was forced into an early retirement due to health concerns.

Guardiola fazed out Sergio Aguero (left) to no consternation from the Argentine striker


In many ways, the Norwegian is the final piece to the City jigsaw, following their failed attempt to sign England captain Harry Kane last year. 

The 21-year-old is fast, powerful and works hard up top. Yet he will still have to evolve in order to meet Guardiola’s demands and fluid tactical systems. 

For instance, how will Haaland respond if told to shift away from his centre-forward role? Could he adapt to play deeper, or even out wide? 

And how would he respond – as one of the best players in Europe – when he is rotated week-in, week-out, due to the sheer depth of City’s attacking reserves? 

Top players adapt to their manager and Haaland would be wise to listen to Guardiola’s knowledge to harness and evolve his game even further than his considerable talents now.  

Erling Haaland will have to adapt at times in order to thrive under Guardiola at Man City 

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