Ranking Pep Guardiola’s 13 weirdest signings: Zlatan, Bravo, Hleb…

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Barcelona striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates scoring against Osasuna at Camp Nou, Barcelona, March 2010.

Pep Guardiola is widely acknowledged as being one of the best football managers of all time for the countless trophies he’s won with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City – but that doesn’t mean he’s not made a few truly bizarre signings during his coaching career.

Guardiola has led teams that have dominated on both the domestic and European stage ever since he took his first steps into management, replacing Frank Rijkaard at Barcelona’s helm in the summer of 2008.

But for all of Guardiola’s success at Barca, Bayern and City, the 51-year-old hasn’t mastered the art of tiki-taka on a shoestring budget.

The two-time Champions League-winning coach is no stranger to searching for reinforcements in the transfer market. And the beauty of steering the ship at elite clubs in top leagues is that Guardiola has often acquired the creme de la creme of players.

But for all yer Bernardo Silvas, yer Xabi Alonsos and yer Thiago Alcantaras, some of the former Spain international’s signings over the last 14 years have left everyone scratching their heads.

We’ve ranked his 13 weirdest – not necessarily the worst – signings he’s made throughout his career.

13. Douglas Luiz

Luiz signed for Man City in July 2017 as a 19-year-old from Brazilian side Vasco De Gama but it all went wrong when City came up against the Home Office. Denial of a work permit saw the midfielder spend his two seasons as a City player turning out for Girona.

After making not a single City appearance, he was sold to Aston Villa in 2019 for £15million… and was immediately granted a work permit.

“[Luiz is] a guy who’s clever with the ball, he’s so physical and strong,” Guardiola said about the 23-year-old in April 2021. “He’s a lovely guy, unfortunately when he came, due to the work permit, he could not play.”

The Premier League titans had a buy-back clause inserted into the deal when they sold Luiz to Villa. But that option ran out in June 2021, so it looks like he’ll never have the opportunity to grace a Pep midfield.

12. Leroy Sane

“I am so demanding of him [Sane] and sometimes I like to be critical of him,” Guardiola said in 2019. “We know his potential and we want to help him to be more consistent in his game.”

Sane was brilliant for City when he played, but he never seemed to be able to please Pep, and the German moved to Bayern Munich in July 2020.

Some players just aren’t to a manager’s fancy after they see them up close and personal – even if Guardiola was the man who brought him to Manchester from Schalke for £37million.

Maybe Pep was just jealous of Sane’s wonderful hair.

11. Nathan Ake

Guardiola forged out £40million to bring Ake to City from Bournemouth as a backup option in August 2020.

Due to the defender’s lack of playing time in his first campaign, it was sometimes easy to forget at times that the once-coveted Netherlands international was at the club.

“One of the qualities we have as a team is the humanity we have, and Nathan [Ake] is the biggest expression of that. Everyone loves him massively,” Guardiola said in February 2022.

Roy Keane’s comments about Gareth Southgate’s selection of a not-fully-fit Jordan Henderson in his England Euro 2020 squad spring to mind: “Does he do card tricks, does he have a sing-song? Does he do quizzes in the evening?”

To be fair, Ake is now beginning to show his worth on the pitch as well.

10. Martin Caceres

Signing a player for £16.5million in 2008, they would surely be a major part of a club’s plans, you’d think. Well… not in the case of Caceres.

In a similar fashion to Ake at City, the ex-Uruguay international was fourth-choice centre-back in his one-season stay at Barca under Guardiola’s stewardship.

God knows what that transfer fee would equate to in the modern day.

Villarreal were happy to line their back pockets, but Guardiola quickly learned that Caceres wasn’t what he needed – 13 appearances was all it took.

9. Sinan Kurt

Kurt was considered one of German football’s hottest prospects when Bayern signed him as a teenager in 2014 from Borussia Monchengladbach – he became the club’s most expensive youth signing.

Guardiola has built up a reputation of nurturing young talents into superstars since his early Barca days, but the winger wasn’t one who made the grade under the Spaniard.

He made just one appearance at the club. It makes you wonder how someone so highly thought of couldn’t develop with the guidance of a great manager?

A poor attitude may well be the answer to that question. “Defending is not for me,” he once told Bayern’s club website on the subject of what he enjoys least about football.

All the best not defending when Guardiola’s your coach.

8. Danilo

“It’s true, it’s not easy to have a good relationship with him [Guardiola],” the Brazil international said in 2021. “He is never relaxed, he thinks about football all the time. I think at home, in the evening, he puts his wife on the couch as if she were a player on the pitch.”

Not quite sure why Danilo referenced Pep’s wife in his assessment, but it makes the point regardless.

The 30-year-old joined City in 2017 from Real Madrid but was used sporadically. He was sent to Juventus in a part exchange for Joao Cancelo just two years later. That deal’s worked out a little better.

7. Keirrison

“The club has decided to sign him,” Guardiola commented. “In principle, he’ll go out on loan. I won’t be counting on him for this season.”

These were the words of Guardiola after Barcelona signed highly-rated Brazilian youngster Keirrison in the summer of 2009.

He might as well have packed his bags and flown back to South America there and then. The forward was loaned to Benfica nine days after joining the European giants.

He never played a game under Guardiola and, if we’re honest, was not good enough to merit the move in the first place.

READ: What happened to Keirrison, the Barca wonderkid Pep never wanted?

6. Scott Carson

Carson must’ve been thanking his lucky stars when Guardiola snapped up his signature from Derby County in August 2019.

As a goalkeeper in the latter stages of his career, he couldn’t have dreamt of a better last few years. He trains with the world’s best players and relaxes on the bench every week. Making Pep cups of tea is probably the most challenging part of his week.

After handing his third-choice keeper a rare run out in a Champions League group stage dead rubber in February 2022, Guardiola said: “We are delighted – he [Carson] is very important behind the scenes.

“The chemistry with Eddy [Ederson] and Zack [Steffen]… people listen to him. It was important and he made a big save to ensure we didn’t lose the game.” 

This was only the former Liverpool man’s second competitive outing for City, and it will likely be his last.

5. Claudio Bravo

Bravo was viewed as the goalkeeper who could pass out from the back after Guardiola sent Joe Hart packing in his first transfer window at the Etihad in 2016 – Man City signed the keeper from Barca for £17.1million.

“He [Bravo] is a goalkeeper I have admired for a number of years and I’m really happy he is now a City player,” Guardiola said when the Chile international arrived.

How things changed.

At the end of the 2016-17 season, the City boss realised that it would’ve been a good idea to buy a keeper who was equally comfortable stopping the ball from going in the net as he was with his distribution.

Ederson was the man – and Pep categorically got it right the second time around. Bravo primarily played in domestic cup competitions for his remaining three seasons at the Premier League club.

4. Aleksandr Hleb

“I learned more from [Arsene] Wenger than Guardiola, but Pep is a good coach,” Hleb said in 2012. “Guardiola is not the best coach in the world because he coached the best team in the world, with the best players, and that’s why he won.”

The former Belarus international was one of Guardiola’s first signings as Barcelona manager in 2008.

Despite arriving from a high-flying Arsenal team, Hleb was used sparingly and saw himself sent on loan to Stuttgart a year after arriving at the Camp Nou.

The Barca legend might’ve remembered that he already had some half-decent midfielders at his disposal – you remember, Andres Iniesta and those fellas.

Hleb’s comments about Pep are ones you’d expect from someone cast aside.

READ: Alexander Hleb: I cried over Arsenal exit; most players regret leaving

3. Serdar Tasci

The 14-time capped Germany international was signed by Guardiola when in post at Bayern Munich on a six-month loan deal in January 2016 from Spartak Moscow.

Bayern had a host of injuries in defence at the time, so, on the face of it, bringing in an experienced centre-back made complete sense. And then you look at the stats and see Tasci played just three times for the Bundesliga side.

What was the point?

2. Dmytro Chygrynski

The towering centre-back was picked up by Barcelona from Shakhtar Donetsk for £20million ahead of Guardiola’s second season in charge.

“Chygrynski twice played the ball long for Zlatan. And it was on. Zlatan nearly went one-on-one with the keeper. Pep took him off at half-time, because he didn’t respect the pattern,” former Barca forward Thierry Henry said about one of Chygrynski’s first games for the club.

Guardiola’s fabled style of play isn’t easy to get to grips with. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian was shown the exit door just one year after the Spanish coach pushed hard for his signature. Chygrynski returned to Donetsk, tail between his legs.

Utterly bizarre.

Inter Milan coach Jose Mourinho with Barcelona's Pep Guardiola and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Camp Nou, Barcelona, 28 April 2010.

READ: Guardiola’s 11 most expensive Barca sales & how they fared after leaving

1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

There are a few players on this list that didn’t see eye-to-eye with Guardiola – but none more so than the iconic AC Milan striker.

It looked like a match made in heaven initially, Ibra scoring 11 goals in his opening 14 league games after Barca paid a mega fee to secure the signing from Inter Milan in July 2009.

But things quickly turned sour. Guardiola’s preference to play Lionel Messi in a central role was a triggering factor in the deterioration of the relationship.

“When you buy me, you are buying a Ferrari,” Ibrahimovic wrote in his autobiography. “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.”

The big Swede left Catalonia to join AC Milan on loan after one season before he later made the switch back to Italy permanent.

For all of Guardiola’s great football, he’s never really excelled with out-and-out strikers, so in hindsight, it was a weird signing from the get-go.

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