Kalvin Phillips of Manchester City applauds the fans

7 players Pep Guardiola has struggled to get the best out of: Phillips, Ibrahimovic…

There’s no denying that Pep Guardiola is one of the greatest managers of all time, but that’s not to say that he’s always got the best out of every player he’s worked with.

The Spanish coach has won 38 trophies throughout his illustrious career and he has undoubtedly had a positive impact on the vast majority of players that he has worked with throughout his time with Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City.

However, for varying reasons, some players just don’t seem to click under Guardiola. We’ve picked out seven examples who Guardiola has struggled to get the best out of.

Kalvin Phillips

It usually takes players a good 12 or so months to settle into life under Guardiola, but one year on from Phillips’ £42million move from Leeds United, we aren’t seeing much progression.

The England international had to play second fiddle to Rodri in Man City’s treble-winning campaign and he’s only managed 645 minutes of first-team football since making the move to the Etihad.

“Marcelo [Bielsa] got the best out of Kalvin in his career,” Guardiola told reporters. “I would love to have done with Kalvin what Marcelo had done with him, but it is what it is.”

Mario Gotze

The German midfielder became Guardiola’s first signing for Bayern Munich as they snapped him up from Borussia Dortmund in 2013. While Gotze did get his hands on seven trophies with the German giants, Guardiola never managed to unlock his full potential.

Despite delivering 36 goals in 114 appearances under Guardiola, Gotze struggled to replicate his best form while playing under the Spanish coach.

“Technically, [Guardiola] was a tremendous asset,” Gotze told DAZN in 2018. “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.”

Medhi Benatia

Guardiola splashed around £22million on Benatia in the summer of 2014 and the pair spent two years together at Bayern Munich. The Moroccan defender struggled to showcase his best form while in Germany as he was often in and out of the starting 11.

In an interview with Radio Monte Carlo last year, Benatia opened up on where things went wrong between himself and Guardiola: “Guardiola is someone who does not attach much importance to human relationships.

“He said to me: “I bought you, I wanted you. You have this quality and the other quality. I need this, I will teach you this and that, you are here to do what I say, but we are not here to be friends.”

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan’s blockbuster move from Inter Milan to Barcelona in 2009 sent shockwaves throughout the footballing world. The Swedish forward was one of the best in the business at the time and this seemed like a match made in heaven.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take long until the cracks started to show. As Guardiola wanted to build his new system around Lionel Messi, Ibrahimovic quickly found himself playing second fiddle to the Argentine genius.

The Swedish forward ended his sole season under Guardiola with 16 league goals, which pales in comparison to the sort of numbers he put up with Inter, AC Milan and PSG.

“He (Jose Mourinho) is the exact opposite of Pep Guardiola,” Ibrahimovic wrote in his book. “If Mourinho lights up a room, Guardiola draws the curtains.”

Alexander Hleb

Following some noteworthy spells with Stuttgart and Arsenal, Hleb linked up with Guardiola at Barcelona ahead of the 2008–09 season. However, unlike his time spent under Felix Magath and Arsene Wenger, Guardiola struggled to get a tune out of the Belarus international.

Hleb only lasted one season under Guardiola until the Spanish boss decided to ship him out on loan for the remainder of his time at the club.

“I didn’t regret my move to Barcelona,” Hleb told a Russian sports programme. “However, after I left Barca, I actually started to feel it. But honestly, I’m the one to blame. There were changes in my personal life, I was nervous, I didn’t listen to anyone.

“When Guardiola told me to learn Spanish, I took his words aggressively and kept my collision course. Surely, what coach would put up with all this stuff?”


The Brazilian defender might have picked up two Premier League titles under Guardiola, but there can be little debate that he struggled to live up to expectations in England.

Danilo was in and out of the starting 11 at Man City as Guardiola struggled to get a consistent tune out of him. After two fairly unspectacular years, Man City sold him to Juventus, where he has been more of an established first-team star.

“It’s true it’s not easy to have a good relationship with him [Guardiola],” Danilo told Repubblica. “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.”

Dmytro Chyhrynskyi

Signed during the summer of 2009, Guardiola rolled the dice on Chyhrynskyi and splashed around £22million on the Shakhtar Donetsk defender.

Despite originally pushing for the signing, Guardiola struggled to get the best out of the Ukraine international and he spent just one season at Camp Nou before he returned to  Shakhtar.

“I never say that I played for Barca. I say: ‘I was at Barca’,” Chyhrynskyi explained. “And that’s different, because to say that you played there you need to have been an important part of the team.”

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