May 21, 2024

Pep Guardiola has put England on course for Euro 2024 and World Cup glory. The Manchester City manager might never have set foot inside St George’s Park, the English Football Association’s training base, but his influence on Gareth Southgate’s squad and the production line of talent beneath the senior squad extends to more than 30 players on duty at all levels this week.

While six members of Southgate’s squad, who face Malta and North Macedonia in the Euro 2024 qualifiers in the coming days, either play for City or have played under Guardiola at the Etihad, a total of 27 players who have graduated from the club’s academy since the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach became manager in 2016 have been selected in their respective age-group squads for England’s fixtures during the international break.

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“Pep’s the best coach in the world, in my opinion, and I’m a huge admirer of what he does,” Southgate said in June this year. “It has been brilliant for our players to work with him and they have learned from him, individually and tactically and, as much as anything, their mentality.”

From Phil Foden, Cole Palmer, and Rico Lewis in Southgate’s senior group, to seven academy graduates being selected in the Under-17 squad that is preparing for Euro U17 qualifiers against the Faroe Islands, Kosovo and Croatia this week, the influence of Guardiola is clear and is a culmination of what Southgate predicted in 2018, two years into Guardiola’s time at City.

“I think he’s in danger of having an impact on English football,” Southgate said. “Who coaches our youngest players? It’s dads and parents who coach junior teams, and the impact of seeing [Guardiola’s] Barcelona team was enormous.

“He’s been an innovator. When I watch kids’ football now, when they can get on pitches that aren’t flooded or frozen, I see them playing out from the back. I don’t see [coaches] with heads in their hands saying ‘get it forward.’ I think that’s an impact of his team, with the likes of Andres Iniesta and Xavi.

“I always talk about us not getting off the island, so it’s great we’ve had coaches coming in to the island to help us.”

When City hired Guardiola to take charge of the first team in 2016, the 52-year-old’s remit stretched far beyond simply winning major trophies including the Champions League and Premier League.

Having invested over £200 million in building the City Football Academy (CFA) training campus adjacent to the Etihad Stadium — a complex with 16 full-size pitches, a mini-stadium and state-of-the-art medical facilities that opened in 2014 — chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak also tasked Guardiola with overseeing the development of the club’s youth policy, with the ultimate ambition of building a talent factory comparable to Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy, which produced Lionel Messi, Iniesta and Xavi and many more besides.

That challenge has been met. City’s under-21 and under-18 teams have won their respective Premier League titles for three successive seasons, while 26 academy graduates have been handed a first-team debut by Guardiola since his arrival in 2016.

“We are clearly creating players of high quality for our club and English and European football,” Al Mubarak said when announcing the club’s annual report this week. “In doing so we are delivering important players and sustainable revenues for Manchester City’s broader football ambitions.”

But while City are clear beneficiaries of Guardiola’s influence at all levels at the Etihad, so are England and even City’s Premier League rivals, with Chelsea‘s best player right now — Palmer — moving to Stamford Bridge in a £40 million transfer in September. England U21s won the European Championship for the first time in 39 years this summer with City graduates Palmer, James Trafford, Taylor Harwood-Bellis, and Tommy Doyle all making significant contributions to the success of a team coached by Lee Carsley, who spent a season as City’s U18 coach under Guardiola in 2016-17.

When the U21s regrouped for their first game of this season in September, 10 of Carsley’s squad had come through the City Academy and two of those (Palmer and Lewis) have now been elevated to the senior squad.

But it isn’t just the numbers that make this a significant point. Guardiola’s demand for players who are comfortable on the ball and versatile enough to play in a variety of positions has given Southgate’s senior squad players who are able to perform at the highest level of international football. Palmer can play anywhere across the front three or as a number ten, while 18-year-old Lewis has performed in the Champions League as a full-back and defensive midfielder. Foden is a long-established member of Southgate’s squad and another who is comfortable in several positions.

Beyond that, there are City players who haven’t developed in the club’s academy but have been shaped by Guardiola such as Jack Grealish, Kyle Walker, and John Stones, who misses this international break due to injury, also bring numerous qualities to the England squad.

When Southgate was handed the England job in the autumn of 2016, the national team was at its lowest ebb having been knocked out of Euro 2016 by Iceland before Sam Allardyce came and went as manager after just one game in charge. England have thrived under Southgate, reaching the 2018 World Cup semifinals before finishing as runners-up at Euro 2020, but England’s rise has also coincided with Guardiola’s deepening influence on the English game at City.

Although England boast talents including Real Madrid‘s Jude Bellingham, Bayern Munich’s Harry Kane, and Arsenal‘s Bukayo Saka, the bedrock of Southgate’s squad comes from City and Guardiola’s football philosophy.

If England finally realise their potential by scoring a win at a major tournament in the coming years, Guardiola will have registered a significant assist.

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