How much like Pep Guardiola is Enzo Maresca?


It is easy to see why so many comparisons are made between new Chelsea head coach Enzo Maresca and the man he used to be assistant to at Manchester City — Pep Guardiola.

Beyond their similar physical appearance, Maresca has adopted a football philosophy that could have been drawn straight out of the Guardiola playbook.

The circumstances of Maresca’s move to Manchester City in 2020 should serve to confirm the similarities to — or at least his suitability for — Guardiola.

City were looking for a new under-23s manager and sporting director Txiki Begiristain put forward Maresca’s name, having heard good things about him from former City boss Manuel Pellegrini, who coached Maresca at Malaga in Spain.

Maresca was part of Pellegrini’s backroom staff at West Ham United and Begiristain, always planning for the future, was keen to get him on board in some capacity, with half an eye on pairing him up with Guardiola — or possibly even succeeding him — in the future.

Having emerged as the strongest candidate for the position following a round of interviews, he led a fine City team to the club’s first ever Premier League 2 title before being picked up by Parma. After a season there, he returned to City to join Guardiola at last in 2022, as part of his first-team staff.

So, how similar are Guardiola and Chelsea’s new man in charge?


Tactical approach and football philosophy

Maresca studies managers and their playing styles from around the world, using folders on his laptop to keep track of teams that he thinks have been playing well or are worthy of further investigation, with a particular focus on patterns of play and modern tactical trends.

His research serves as an archive of footballing knowledge and coaching methods that he has, in some cases, tried to implement himself, and has also allowed him to establish the way that he wants his own teams to play.

That was one of the aspects that impressed Begiristain and others in the City academy during his first stint in Manchester but it was not just about style. “He was a winner. That stood out straight away,” says one source, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect their position.

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Enzo Maresca (left) during Manchester City’s Champions League final win over Inter in June 2023 (BSR Agency/Getty Images)

He has certainly demonstrated that with his success coaching City’s under-23s and being part of the treble-winning staff, and besides a 13-game spell at Parma, he has carried on that winning trend with Leicester City, leading them back to the Premier League at the first attempt.

He demanded high standards from everyone around him at Leicester and dedicated himself to long hours at their Seagrave training base.

Maresca is very much his own man, completely wedded to his philosophy, but without doubt, Guardiola will have had an influence on his approach.

He and Guardiola were in close contact throughout that 2020-21 season, while he was under-23s boss, in part due to the Covid-19 bubbles; contact was often limited with other people inside and outside of the training ground during that time, and so people inside their bubbles generally spent a lot of time together, but it is said that Maresca was the first under-23s boss to really make a connection with Guardiola. Due to their shared vision of the game, those two, Juanma Lillo and Begiristain spoke often, long before Maresca joined Guardiola’s first-team staff when he returned from Parma.

During Maresca’s time with City’s under-23s, he moved a full-back into midfield to provide an extra body before Guardiola found success by using Joao Cancelo in the same way. Guardiola was no stranger to doing that long before that season, of course, but it is thought that the two discussed it before deploying it with their own teams.

Guardiola’s own playing style is strongly defined and although some basic principles are non-negotiable — to dominate possession, to “run like bastards” — he does constantly adapt to the players he has, for example, shifting City towards a false-nine system in 2021 and 2022, only to integrate Erling Haaland since then.

When Jose Mourinho was manager of rivals Manchester United, Guardiola took exception to Mourinho being called pragmatic, arguing that he too could be pragmatic, just in a different way: through possession.

Maresca is committed to his ‘idea’ of dominating possession, moving the ball to move the opposition, with a full-back playing on the inside in front of a back three, with a high front five. It looks familiar.

However, so far, he has refused to compromise on his philosophy, although there were subtle tweaks in the system to counter stubborn opponents that Leicester faced, such as moving the inside full-back forward to make a front six.

Both are tactical sponges, always looking to learn and develop from all sources, not just within football. Maresca studied chess to draw parallels with tactical thinking — Guardiola has also noted similarities with the game — and took a lead on how to man-manage his City players from famous composer Leonard Bernstein.

Man-management

The following paragraphs will scream ‘Guardiola’.

During Maresca’s time with City’s under-23s, according to sources close to the team, he had ‘players and staff hanging on every word’, as one put it. He is described as “phenomenal” in terms of “how he would deconstruct the game in a way that players could understand simply, but he would also not suffer with anyone”.

Leicester players have stated similar numerous times this season how effectively and quickly he could get his ideas across, although when the message wasn’t sinking in quickly enough, Maresca wasn’t shy to vent to frustration.

With the City under-23s, Maresca established a culture where he picked his teams on merit. That may sound obvious but there were several examples of highly rated youngsters who usually trained with Guardiola, conferring an air of seniority and quality, but if their attitude was not right, they were not selected. The new Chelsea boss is still in touch with some of his old City youth-team players.

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Maresca had two spells at Manchester City (Lindsey Parnaby/AFP via Getty Images)

At Leicester, Maresca dropped young winger Wanya Marcal completely before a game against Rotherham United, despite him performing well and scoring his first goal for the club the week before against Cardiff City, because he didn’t like the way he trained afterwards.

Guardiola has abided by that mantra ever since the earliest days of his coaching career, jettisoning Ronaldinho as soon as he took the reins at Barcelona. To this day, he will not pick players with attitude problems or those who have complained about being left out. Joao Cancelo found that out abruptly at the start of last year and plenty of others have, too.

Guardiola’s man-management can be as hard to pin down as his match-day tactics: when the players are at their lowest moments, he will be closer to them. He will shower them with love in training sessions but very rarely explain his line-up decisions. Sometimes aloof, sometimes overbearing. The general rule is that, as long as he feels you are pulling in the right direction, you’re fine.

Maresca was similarly supportive of striker Patson Daka when he was on a tough run of form in the second half of the season, continually picking the Zambian, despite criticism, to show faith in him.

Overall, both have taken the football knowledge of those willing to learn to another level.

As Riyad Mahrez once said of Guardiola: “I thought I knew football to a decent degree when I came. Pep made me feel like I knew nothing. He’s opened my eyes to so much. He’s kind of reinvented my brain.

At Leicester, defender James Justin was equally impressed with Maresca. “I was in my mid-twenties when he joined and I thought that I knew about football before he came. It turns out I knew just the tip of the iceberg.”

Approach to the media

Guardiola will often detect either a trap or a criticism in a question, or at least provide an answer that he believes cannot be misconstrued by bad-faith actors online.

While the media spotlight was not so strong on Maresca last season in the Championship, he interacted with the media in a similar fashion, sometimes even coming across as overly sensitive.

In his early days at City, Guardiola never felt the need to get close to journalists behind the scenes, choosing not to do the established trend of a pre-season sit-down interview with local reporters. Ultimately, he would have felt that he did not need any extra help or goodwill, and that extended to some of his spikier/stranger public comments, such as his “I’m so happy, Happy New Year” effort seven years ago.

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(Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images)

Generally speaking though, Guardiola is great from a journalist’s point of view: he can be insightful enough to help explain what he wants his teams to do, he is willing to talk about wider issues (he is rarely as engaging as when he has to become club spokesperson during an FFP crisis) and the bottom line is that you rarely leave a press conference feeling bored.

Similarly, Maresca was at his best when he was asked a tactical question, seizing on the opportunity to explain in detail his approach. He looked less keen to have to be the club spokesman when the club was being accused of profit and sustainability rule breaches by the EFL and Premier League.

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Touchline temperament

If Guardiola generally keeps his cool in the media, it is a different story on the touchline. He will never criticise referees publicly but he is one of the more argumentative inside his technical area, making his displeasure known either through sarcastic claps and thumbs-ups, or the more traditional shouting in the ear.

For somebody who says “body language is life” and wants his players to be positive in their efforts, he can get incredibly tetchy when things are not going to plan and he will berate his players if he feels the need to.

Generally speaking, though, his touchline antics are usually confined to wild hand gestures and sinking to his haunches in fear when the opposition have a set piece or come forward on the break.

Maresca, who doesn’t adopt Guardiola’s casual fashion sense on the touchline and is the quintessential tracksuit manager, is slightly less theatrical but still incredibly animated, especially when a big goal is scored. He was booked for running on the pitch to celebrate Harry Winks’ late winner at West Bromwich Albion in December. That was one of three bookings he received for his touchline behaviour and he served a ban against Ipswich Town in January.

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Maresca celebrates with his Leicester players during their win over Birmingham in April (Plumb Images/Leicester City FC via Getty Images)

Dealings with hierarchy

At City, any idea of friction with the hierarchy is laughable. There have been times when Guardiola and his people have been frustrated at the failure to land a transfer target, but that is about as dramatic as it gets and even that negativity fades away overnight.

Guardiola has been close with Begiristain for years; they share exactly the same footballing philosophy, which again speaks to Maresca’s views, and although the City boss does not always agree with the club’s decisions — if he could do pre-season in Europe every year, he would do — there has never been a suggestion, during eight years, of any kind of rift or even a situation that needed to be resolved.

City have basically built everything around Guardiola and things have been a lot calmer than at his previous clubs.

How Maresca handles the various challenges of managing Chelsea will also be something to keep an eye on.

At Leicester, he had good support in terms of the biggest budget in the Championship last season and got most of what he wanted in the summer transfer window, but he wasn’t slow to express his frustration when he was told he would have to sell to buy in January when the club’s PSR worries started to emerge, a development Maresca said publicly he hadn’t been warned about when he first took the Leicester job.

Maresca is a strong, demanding character, who will not shy away from clashing with authority if he feels it is justified: whether that be referees or his club’s upper management.

It will be interesting to see how he handles the co-sporting directors at Chelsea.

(Top photos: Getty Images)



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