Erling Anarchist Haaland
Can Pep Guardiola finally drive a Ferrari?
“When you buy me, you are buying a Ferrari,” Zlatan Ibrahimović added some Zlatan spice to his autobiography from 2011 when he was describing his spell in Barcelona. “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.”
Twelve years on, another Ferrari has arrived in Pep’s garage. If Zlatan was a sharp, intense Modena, then the new one is that wild F40 twin-turbocharged V8 engine Ferrari, which centrifugal and centripetal and who-know-what forces make you squirt like an average BBC viewer during the King Charles’ accession ceremony.
Boy, has he arrived! It is only October, and he already has 22 goals to his name. When he drops his head on his chest for better aerodynamic effect and gallops in super long steps while his arms are uncontrollably swinging, as a defender, you can just pray the motherfucker won’t hit you. Untameable! He breaks all the defensive structures and in a split second, he is already in the space three meters in front of you, waiting for the ball. And then, when he is about to hit the ball, only for a moment, his body gets the composure needed for execution before his limbs finally lose form again in an uncontrollable celebration. He is so dominant that he produces that peak Virgil van Dijk effect, which makes you ask yourself: “Is this even legal?”
With his unpredictable runs Haaland breaks tactical structures and defensive systems, but that is not all he breaks. You know… His untameable character does not limit to the pitch. Oh, no! He does not submit to structures and systems of any kind. Like Ibrahimović, he carries a dose of anarchism wherever he goes. We could have seen it after his very first Premier League match for Manchester City when he said “shit” in a post-match interview. And then when a journalist, in the higher calling of a moral judge, told him “steady with the language,” Haaland, as a proper piss-taker/anarchist, as if by accident repeated “oh shit,” to the surprise of the journalists and pundits of always order-oriented, manners-driven Sky Sports.
So, how does Pep Guardiola deal with someone so untameable? That very Pep Guardiola who ranks the system higher than anything and anybody, who craves order. He has brought his system to the point of perfection where every single person knows their role and also gives up on their individual needs and desires in the service of the “higher good.”
System requires order. And order requires authority. In Pep’s system, he is the only and unquestionable authority.
The only player ever played under Pep who was not part of that regime, who was beyond the system, and who had the freedom to express himself fully was Messi. He could take the ball in his box, or receive it in the opponent’s one. He could even lift the ball off the ground, which was considered a mortal sin in Pep’s Barcelona. If he wanted to, he didn’t need to run in defence. Not because he was an anarchist, but because his understanding of the game was simply beyond anybody’s knowledge. That was divine intelligence expressed through that little guy. Pep knew it, he let him be and in return, Messi made him one of the greatest coaches in history.
For everybody else, Pep’s words have been the Holy Law.
Zlatan Ibrahimović couldn’t stand that: “Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, the whole gang — they were like schoolboys. The best footballers in the world stood there with their heads bowed, and I didn’t understand any of it. It was ridiculous. Everyone did as they were told. I didn’t fit in, not at all.”
Anarchism despises authority.
Just as everybody else who challenged Pep’s authority, Ibrahimović was dismissed swiftly. Despite winning everything in four years in Barcelona, subsequently Pep had a rough departure with the club as well. His obsession to control everything started hunting him back, and he lost the team.
Too much order is not sustainable.
He took a year of break from football and travelled to New York, where he spent his time thinking about life. He probably read Zlatan’s book next to some pool in Manhattan. He spat on the book when he saw what Zlatan wrote and decided to go to perfectly organised Germany where his obsession with control would be seen as a beautiful virtue. He joined Bayern where he established order and again won everything, but this time, the Champion League trophy slipped away. And let’s be fair, way less prolific coaches have won league titles with Bayern before and after Pep. The Champions League trophy is the one you want with Bayern. Pep’s mission was not accomplished.
After three years in Germany, he joined Manchester City and, using his language, “killed the Premier League”. Four titles in six seasons. Outrages! But still no Champions League. Last summer marked ten years since he won his last Champions League with Barcelona, and perhaps Ibrahimović’s words sparkled in his mind.
“…Pep is a spineless coward…”
Pep must have asked himself: “Can I win the Champions League without anarchists in my team? Without that touch of chaos they bring into the mix?”
Maybe it was finally time for Pep to face his biggest fear — losing control. And so he brought Jack Grealish. The motherfucking Jack Grealish! Definitely not a schoolboy who bends his head. “The last football maverick” is what the English media called that man. That one does not band. To this point, he didn’t find his game in the system of Manchester City, but significantly enough, he didn’t fight with Pep either.
What is that telling us?
I guess that was enough for Pep to gain a new perspective on anarchists and start believing some balance between order and chaos can be found. So, this summer, Pep went all in. Eleven years without his favourite trophy, he decided to fully face his fears and bring a proper anarchist. And could it make a bigger challenge for Pep than a man, who was crowned by Ibrahimović himself as “the next superstar in football,” — Erling Haaland.
Why did he crown him? Well, clearly because he recognised some of his own personality traits in Haaland.
“He talks and delivers, that is how a footballer should be. I really like it,” Ibrahimović said.
At the same time, Haaland’s childhood idol reportedly was Zlatan.
Unlike Ibrahimović, so far Haaland praises Pep, and Pep praises Haaland. But rest assured, it is not that simple. If you look carefully, you will see fear in Pep’s eyes when saying that Haaland is amazing, humble, and so on. And funny enough, there has not been a single press conference where journalists haven’t put up Haaland’s name in Pep’s mouth. He looks pretty uncomfortable when answers the questions about him. Also, am I the only one who thinks that Pep’s reactions to Haaland’s goals look fake? It seems as if he is trying too much to show that he is happy for Haaland.
There is a difference between Zlatan and Haaland, though. While Zlatan is ego-driven, Haaland is not to that extent. Actually, he might be not at all, but that is yet something I need to figure out. And also, Pep Guardiola is more than ten years more experienced than he was when he was coaching Zlatan. In Barcelona, there was no chance of balance between Pep’s obsession with control and Zlatan’s anarchism. Pep was too young and Zlatan too rough. In the meantime, Pep has softened a bit, faced his fears, and probably mastered some new perspectives on life. Pep is changing, there is no doubt about it. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to stay at the top of the ever-changing game of football all these years. Somewhere deep down, he knows he must give some space to anarchists. It will be Pep against himself. At the same time, Haaland is not as rough as Ibrahimović. He can bend if needed.
A lot, and I mean a lot, of understanding will be needed from both ends. Recently Haaland said that his dream is to score five goals from five touches. Guardiola reacted and said that he would be happier if Haaland got more involved in the game, and touched the ball more.
Haaland will need to give up on some of his dreams, lose some of his freedom and his game to serve the system, and Pep will need to agree to lose some control over the system and put some petrol in that untameable Ferrari F40.