Pep Guardiola is quite possibly the best manager in the history of football, but to work under such a genius, you’ve got to be a certain calibre of footballer.
Not only that, you’ve got to have the personality to match it and thrive under someone so intense. While him and famed rival Jose Mourinho are vastly different on the surface, they’re actually more similar than they’d probably admit when it comes to how polarising they are, and how particular they can be with the players they work with.
After looking at Mourinho’s most loyal soldiers, we thought we’d take a look at the players Pep has called upon most as a manager, from Barcelona, to Bayern Munich, to Manchester City.
11. Riyad Mahrez
The Algerian winger made 236 appearances for Guardiola after signing for City in 2018, successfully making the step up from an exciting Leicester side to an all-conquering City side and winning the second Premier League title of his career in his first season in Manchester.
It wasn’t that straightforward, though. Mahrez only made 14 Premier League starts in 2018-19 and had to be patient, but blossomed after a slow first season to become one of Pep’s most important players at City, culminating in winning the treble with the club before leaving in 2023.
Under the tutelage of Guardiola, Fernandinho quietly blossomed into one of the all-time great defensive midfielders.
We all should’ve seen it coming, but it feels like nobody really did until he was suddenly the absolute lynchpin to all of City’s biggest successes under Pep before leaving in 2022.
Upon departing City as a five-time Premier League winner and a Champions League finalist, the Brazilian thanked Guardiola for ‘making him fall in love with football again’. Wholesome.
He’d have probably had an entire XI of Fernandinho’s if he could – 244 appearances is testament to that.
#OnThisDay in 2017! 🚀
— Manchester City (@ManCity) October 14, 2023
9. Kyle Walker
Somehow, Walker appears to be getting better and better – and faster – with every year older he becomes. The guy is a complete animal.
“[As] a footballer, [he] has a genetic [quality that] is incomparable, physicalities, something unique,” Said Guardiola after Walker decided to stay at City ahead of the 2023-24 season. He’s a big fan.
266 appearances, five Premier Leagues, two FA Cups, four League Cups and a Champions League – and counting.
8. Raheem Sterling
Sterling was already at City upon Pep’s arrival in 2016, but elevated to another level in what feels like the first iteration of his City squad.
The winger made 292 appearances under Guardiola and weighed in with 120 goals and 85 assists, being one of the key figures in that devastatingly fluid front line.
He left in 2022 as he fell victim to the infamous rotation policy, but his influence cannot be forgotten.
We anticipate that Ederson might well finish his career in the very top spots of this list – he’s the ultimate Guardiola keeper.
After the Claudio Bravo experiment failed, Guardiola desperately needed to get his next goalkeeper signing right when ruthlessly replacing Joe Hart in a bid to turn City into a more ball-dominant side. That man was Ederson, who came straight from Benfica and took to the role like a duck to water.
He has his moments, but there’s not a freakish goalkeeper in the world when it comes to abilities on the ball. Don’t be surprised if Pep gives him a go outfield before the pair of them are done.
6. Ilkay Gundogan
After 304 appearances at City for Guardiola, Gundogan called time on an exceptional stint at City this summer to sign for Guardiola’s first club Barcelona.
“What could I say – it was an incredible seven years together,” Guardiola recalled when speaking to City’s website: “I don’t have the words to describe my gratitude to him. I wish him all the best in the challenge of his life.”
He added that his former club had ‘bought an incredible player’. The German took the captain’s armband from Fernandinho following his departure and overcame early injury struggles to prove integral to City’s fortunes under Pep.
5. Bernardo Silva
It’s somewhat surprising to see Silva so high up on this list, given that the noise around him leaving City in search of a more prominent role and a new challenge didn’t seem to want to disappear for the best part of the last year or so.
But alas, he’s still in Manchester and he penned a 12-month contract extension ahead of the 2023-24 season, highlighting exactly how important he is to Guardiola and City. His technical ability and positional awareness is something they’d struggle to replace overnight.
4. Kevin De Bruyne
It’s quite frightening seeing how City-dominant this list is and then realising that Guardiola has been at the club for longer than he was at Barcelona.
De Bruyne was also at the Etihad before Guardiola arrived, but it’s been under the legendary manager where he’s blossomed into one of the greatest midfielders of all time and – quite possibly – the best in the world when fully fit.
80 goals and 140 assists from 317 games under Pep is astonishing and still doesn’t do him justice. The Belgian has turned into an absolute mastermind, even whole battling injury struggles.
Is there a player in Premier League history with a better goal catalogue than Kevin de Bruyne? pic.twitter.com/oCU1ztuyaB
— ManCityzens (@ManCityzenscom) October 12, 2023
A surprising entry, Nolito is one of only three players who Guardiola has used at more than one club.
It’s a little bit of a cheat, but he was signed in 2008 – the year Pep took charge of the first-team – although he plied his trade in the B-team before eventually making his La Liga debut in late 2010.
He rejected improved terms at Barca the following year to sign for Benfica and was eventually signed again by Guardiola in his first summer as City boss, but left after just one season to return to Spain after failing to adapt to life in England. Part of a very elite club.
2. Yaya Toure
Another somewhat misleading one given the noise around the pair, Toure signed for Barcelona a year before Guardiola took charge of the first team, but almost immediately felt his wrath as he fell behind Sergio Busquets in the midfield pecking order.
Despite showing his class at centre-back, notably in the 2009 Champions League final win over Manchester United, the Ivorian was sold to City in 2010, where he would reunite with Guardiola six years later.
If you can look past a squabble involving a birthday cake, their second time together was more harmonious. Toure left City in 2018 having appeared 128 times under Guardiola – not bad for a pairing that supposedly didn’t mesh.
Yep, that’s right. A huge curveball at number one, Liverpool’s Spanish maestro is Guardiola’s most loyal soldier if taking into account how many clubs they worked together at.
The Spanish midfielder came through the ranks as a youngster at Barcelona and broke into the first-team in the early 2010s, looking destined to carry the torch in midfield after Xavi and Andres Iniesta. But when Guardiola headed to Munich in 2013, he followed his former boss to Bayern despite signing a new Barcelona contract just two years earlier.
Injury disrupted his first season in Germany, but Thiago bounced back and came on strong afterwards, highlighting to everyone why Pep had brought him over in the first place. He racked up 144 appearances under Guardiola across two clubs, weighing in with 17 goals and 25 assists.