Pep Guardiola has earned his reputation as the greatest coach of the modern era, but even he has made his fair share of dud signings over the years.
He’s had way more hits than misses, with the likes of Dani Alves, Robert Lewandowski, Bernardo Silva and Erling Haaland among the big-name arrivals that have thrived under his coaching. On the flipside, there are a number of big-money additions that just never clicked.
We’ve identified 10 of the worst signings of Guardiola’s managerial career.
The Belarusian midfielder is fondly remembered at Arsenal, having been a technically gifted and hard-working member of Arsene Wenger’s squad.
He’s less fondly remembered at Barcelona, where he was among Guardiola’s first signings in the game-changing summer of 2008. Hleb won the treble in his debut season at the Camp Nou but was a peripheral and oft-criticised part of the team.
For whatever reason, things just never quite worked out for Hleb at the Camp Nou. Years later Hleb spoke candidly to us about his regrets about leaving Arsenal.
Guardiola has made worse signings over the years. Ibrahimovic scored a respectable 21 goals in his one and only season at Barcelona, including a match-winner against Real Madrid, and won the La Liga table.
But the fact that Barcelona sent Samuel Eto’o to Inter as part of a swap deal – plus €45million – did not aged well. Eto’o went on to win a second successive treble at Jose Mourinho’s Inter, while Ibrahimovic just never fit in at Barcelona.
“I’d already got the impression that Barcelona was a little like being back at Ajax, it was like being back at school,” Ibrahimovic later reminisced in his autobiography.
“None of the lads acted like superstars, which was strange. Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, the whole gang – they were like schoolboys. The best footballers in the world stood there with their heads bowed, and I didn’t understand any of it. It was ridiculous.
“Everyone did as they were told. I didn’t fit in, not at all. I thought, just enjoy the opportunity, don’t confirm their prejudices. So I started to adapt and blend in. I became way too nice. It was mental. I said what I thought people wanted me to say.
“It was completely messed up. I drove the club’s Audi and stood there and nodded my head. I hardly even yelled at my team-mates any more. I was boring. Zlatan was no longer Zlatan.”
The Ukrainian centre-back was brought in to bolster Guardiola’s treble-winning Barcelona squad, alongside Ibrahimovic, in the summer of 2009.
“Chyhrynskyi is the first option, the second option and the third option,” announced club president Joan Laporta, with Chygrynskyi viewed as club captain Carles Puyol’s long-term successor to partner Gerard Pique in the heart of Barcelona’s defence.
Things didn’t quite work out that way. He last just one season, making 10 starts in all competitions, before returning to Shakhtar Donetsk at a considerable loss.
Chygrynskyi has no hard feelings about how things worked out, but still wonders today if things might have worked out differently.
“My biggest difficulty was that I came on the last day of the transfer window, so the season had already started and I didn’t have time for the adaptation,” he later told The Athletic.
“I had to integrate directly into the team and that was the difficult part because without knowing the language, not knowing the ideas of Guardiola… it was difficult just to come and start to play.”
A €14million signing that never made a single appearance for the club. We’re still left scratching our heads at what that was all about 15 years later.
AKA Keirrison mkII. Another bizarre Brazilian signing that barely made his mark at Barcelona.
Guardiola might have failed to deliver the Champions League for Bayern, but his three years in the Bundesliga were a period of unprecedented domestic dominance – a period of consolidation that laid considerable groundwork for the club going on to make it 11 titles in a row.
The greatest coach of his generation leading such a well-oiled machine somewhat inevitably meant that there were few mis-steps in the transfer market.
You can argue that Gotze wasn’t strictly a Guardiola signing, given that Bayern agreed to pay Dortmund a €37million fee for his release clause months before his arrival. But they arrived the same summer and the midfielder helped usher in the new era in Bavaria.
Gotze wasn’t a total disaster by any means. He actually scored more goals in fewer games than he did during his first stint with Dortmund, yet he struggled with injuries and never quite kicked on to become one of the world’s best as so many predicted he would playing under Guardiola for one of Europe’s elite clubs.
The World Cup winner’s three years at the Allianz actually synced perfectly with Guardiola’s. He was deemed surplus to requirements when Carlo Ancelotti arrived in 2016 and returned to Dortmund for an underwhelming second spell.
Given what City have achieved by implementing Guardiola’s non-negotiable play-out-from-the-back play style, not even the most old school of football dinosaurs could claim his decision to immediately bin off Joe Hart hasn’t since been vindicated.
The issue was identifying the right replacement. Chilean ‘keeper Bravo had proven his adeptness at playing in a possession-based game with title-winning seasons at Barcelona, but he seemed to lose confidence in Manchester and made a number of high-profile errors that left proper football men like Richard Keys yelping in delight.
The following summer City signed Ederson and never looked back. Bravo stuck around as a backup for another three years and proved useful enough as a squad player
It’s difficult to remember a time when Guardiola’s City weren’t an all-conquering juggernaut, but that first 2016-17 season was puzzingly skittish. Scattergun recruitment, inconsistent performances, no trophies and ending up third, 15 points off the top.
Looking back, Nolito can be seen as the poster boy for Guardiola’s lacklustre bedding in year. Thirty appearances, six goals, one headbutt. He lasted one season in England and was sold back to Spain at a small loss.
I just want someone to look at me the way Nolito looks at Adam Smith 😩 pic.twitter.com/afkBMhxX2q
— Nooruddean (@BeardedGenius) September 17, 2016
Having played alongside the likes of Bernardo Silva, Fabinho, Falcao and Kylian Mbappe for that unforgettable title-winning Monaco side, Mendy arrived at Man City for a mammoth £52million in the summer of 2017 – a record fee for a defender at the time.
But he was often injured and admitted to indiscipline off the pitch. He never justified that fee and allegations of rape and sexual assault by six women resulted in him being suspended by the club.
After a lengthy legal trial, Mendy was found not guilty. He’s now suing his former club for unpaid wages.
A really weird one that just never got going. A £45million fee, the beating heart of Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds and voted England’s Player of the Year after being ever-present in the run to the Euro 2020 final.
Yet you’ve always been left with the sense that Guardiola was never convinced – as evidenced by 911 minutes of football in 18 months. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but City surely would’ve been better off keeping hold of academy starlet Romeo Lavia and never signing Phillips.
“I feel so sorry for my decision for him,” Guardiola told reporters, not long before sending the 28-year-old out on loan to West Ham. “I’ve said that many times. He doesn’t deserve what has happened to him and I’m so sorry.”
Still, six starts and five trophies during his time at Manchester City. There are worse ways to earn your wage.