ORANGEBURG, N.Y. — Pep Guardiola labeled his first season at Manchester City a disaster after finishing third in the Premier League.
However, Guardiola made it clear that he would not alter his methods and the result was back-to-back Premier League titles.
His lieutenant for the 2017-18 championship was current New York City FC head coach Dome Torrent who endured a stretch of 22 matches with only four victories as the NYCFC manager.
And after opening the 2019 campaign winless through Week 7 of MLS, the Catalan’s position with the club was in jeopardy.
“Without the result, you know what happens in soccer and I accept that,” Torrent said after Monday’s training session in preparation for a midweek match against the Seattle Sounders at Yankee Stadium.
The storm clouds have dissipated in the Bronx – NYCFC is unbeaten in 13 matches, including the club’s first two triumphs in the U.S. Open Cup.
Torrent suggested there have been parallels between his experience in Manchester and what he has encountered at New York City.
“I remember our first year in Manchester was not easy for Pep and for me, but the second year was much butter and then third year much better,” Torrent said. “Every single coach needs time. Soccer is not about one or two months you change everything, especially if you want to create a style. You need time to know your players and your players need to know you.”
Torrent joined the club last June in place of Patrick Vieira and from the outset he struggled to properly communicate his tactics. The evidence of frustration was noted after his second match with the club when City surrendered a 2-1 halftime advantage and suffered a 3-2 road loss to the Chicago Fire.
“It’s my mistake,” Torrent said afterward. “Because when a coach is not able to convince the players – we are in trouble. The most important thing for me is you have to play positional. When you move too much for me you don’t play well – it’s impossible. The players play that way because they think its better for them and better for the team. But no, the coach said you play here, you play here. If you want to improve and play better, you have to respect your position on the field.”
Ismael Tajouri-Shradi is the clearest example of a player who needed to adjust to the tactical guidelines of his new coach. Under Vieira, Shradi lived on the wing, but with Torrent the Libyan international needed to be patient in the half spaces.
Shradi was second to David Villa with 12 finishes in 2018, but played only 21 minutes over the first three matches this season. There were consistent questions about the whereabouts of the second-year forward.
“I needed to find the right position for Ismael,” Torrent said. “He’s playing much better in between the lines now, but not last year. Last year he was wide, this year he now understands exactly the reason why you have to be patient and stay in the position and not move all the time. Move at the right moment.”
The concept of positional play was established by the late Johan Cruyff while he was the manager of Barcelona (1988-96). A midfielder for Cruyff who combined the ability to move the ball and move the opponent through deception and spatial awareness was Guardiola.
Torrent was Guardiola’s top assistant for 11 seasons at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City.
In the book “Pep Confidential”, Guardiola reviewed his first season at Bayern with author Marti Perarnau.
“I’ll need a bit more time,” he said. “I’m trying to implement something that flies in the face of culture here.”
As it did at Manchester City and the Premier League. As it has in New York City and Major League Soccer.
“This is normal, especially when you want to play positional, right?,” Torrent said. “It’s very important for me to play positional because that is the reason they can understand in different shapes what is expected.”
Positional play is defined by the ability to create numerical superiority around the ball by the players’ movement and placement off the ball. The method is premeditated and perfected through repetition and study.
Captain Alex Ring said it permits his team to morph comfortably into various shapes at critical moments in a match.
“In games things change really quick and if you go down by one maybe the shape you are in at that moment won’t work for you and at the moment we are able to shift to react to the way the game is going,” Ring said. “You need to practice it in training. We get ready tactically with video analysis, too. It’s been our strength to be able to react if something is not going well.”
Torrent admitted that he has made personal modifications in order to successfully institute his beliefs and theories.
“I think I changed a lot since I arrived from Man City,” said Torrent, whose team has earned 54 points in the first 34 games of his tenure – identical to the point total in Vieira’s initial 34 matches. “I know how difficult it is for the players to understand new ideas and right now they understand that and I understand them.”
“The state of confidence we are in at the moment even though things might not be working, we know we have the confidence that we will have chances and get better into the game,” Ring said. “It’s a sign of a good mixture of players who can adapt quickly, good tactical approach from the coaches and I think in the long run its going to take us to where we want to. At the moment we are just enjoying ourselves. We are in a good place.”