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The love affair between Guardiola and De Zerbi

Two coaches united by a strong passion for football and compliments

The love affair between Guardiola and De Zerbi Two coaches united by a strong passion for football and compliments

"I would compare him to Ferran Adrià of El Bulli. He was the best chef in the world for years and revolutionised cuisine." Throughout his career, Guardiola has regaled us with effusive praise, futuristic comparisons and a handful of compliments to the most unsuspicious of people, but on the eve of the Premier League game against Brighton, the Manchester City coach could not resist speaking out about one of his favourite targets. Indeed, Roberto De Zerbi has been compared, rightly or wrongly, to the Catalan coach for years, ever since the latter started his Salida Lavolpiana from Reggio Emilia for his possession football based on obsessive ball control. Never, however, did the Brescia coach expect to be compared to the master of molecular gastronomy by the very man who shaped his ideal of the game.

Indeed, De Zerbi's Brighton were the real surprise of this Premier League, qualifying for European competitions for the first time after beating Southampton, by playing an inspiring game and upgrading previously little-known players. From MacAllister to Mitoma, Caicedo to Enciso, De Zerbi took over a team that had just lost its manager Graham Potter to Chelsea and made it even more attractive and conceptual, while also making some nice capital gains. Last November, when De Zerbi had just landed in England after being forced to leave Shakhtar Donetsk due to the Russian invasion war, Guardiola had already set his sights on the Italian coach, calling him 'one of the most influential coaches of the last 20 years'.

Indeed, in an interview he had described his way of coaching as counter-cultural compared to the style of football common in Italy and that he would be able to apply it to a team that was not considered elitist. He was also confident that De Zerbi would make a big impact at Brighton, as the philosophy of the coastal club was reflected in the play of the Brescia coach, who was able to build and develop home-grown talent like few others. De Zerbi was almost surprised by such a display of appreciation, so much so that he said into the Sky microphones: 'If you think I think Guardiola is the best coach in the history of football in the last 30 years, then you can imagine how pleased I am," to which he commented somewhat sheepishly.

Guardiola's obsession with De Zerbi, however, is much older and dates back to the time when the then Sassuolo coach was crushed by discussions between results and players. When he was a guest at the 2018 edition of the Trento Sports Festival, he surprised everyone by including the coach who had just arrived in Emilia from Benevento among those he thought were particularly interesting. And after more than five years of master and student having the opportunity to meet, get to know and hang out with each other, their relationship has become richer and deeper, bordering on friendship. And in between dinners and challenges on the sidelines, the two have embarked on a romantic romance in the name of Tiki Taka.

Tonight, the pair meet on the Falmer Stadium turf for a game that feels like a celebration for both Brighton and Manchester City following the Citizens' Premier League victory and the Seagulls' conquest of Europe. An evening of celebrating together and congratulating each other on who occupies the half spaces better. A pity that El Bulli was shut down a decade ago.