The master working as an assistant to the apprentice sounds like a strange fit but, in appointing Juanma Lillo as Pep Guardiola's number two, Manchester City have flipped the traditional order.

Of course, in terms of footballing success in the 21st century, there are few who can rank above Guardiola – whose innovative tactics have helped to inspire a generation of coaches, with his Barcelona, Bayern Munich and City piling up the trophies.

By contrast, Lillo, whose post in Manchester will be his 21st role in a nomadic coaching career that has taken him from his native Spain to Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Japan and China, has never lifted a major honour.

This, however, is largely irrelevant to the City boss, who earlier this year stated it gave a "bad, bad message" to judge coaches simply on the trophies they win.

It was hard not to imagine he was referring in part to Lillo – a tactician he holds in the highest regard.

"Juanma Lillo has played a significant role in Guardiola's career," wrote Marti Perarnau in his book, Pep Guardiola: The Evolution. "Johan Cruyff gave Pep his opportunity as a player and eventually promoted him to captain Barcelona, but it was Juanma Lillo who guided him through his transition from player to coach."

It is significant that Guardiola's biographer, who enjoyed inside access to his entire Bayern tenure, should rank anyone close to the great Cruyff in the prepping of Pep.

"You hear all these people saying, 'Oh Pep, what a good manager he is'. Forget about it. Cruyff was the best, by far," Guardiola told the Guardian in 2016. Lillo is in rarefied company in the City manager's affections.


A little known figure in English football overall, it is likely City's first-team squad are well aware of the man whose hands-on approach will soon be helping to hone their efforts on the training ground.

"Hardly a day passes without Pep making reference to the ideas of one of his two great mentors," Perarnau said of Guardiola's time at Bayern, much of which hinged – as did his early days at City – upon the ability to implement his methods outside of Barcelona's Cruyffian temple.

"At work, much of his conversation starts with, 'As Juanma used to say…'."

Now City's players will get to hear first hand such pearls of wisdom as: "The faster the ball goes, the faster it comes ball" – a snappy Lillo phrase Guardiola repurposed to persuade Bayern's players to invest in his playing style.

"They'd say, 'Who cares! Get it up the pitch right away, hit the ball long'," Guardiola told Perarnau. "It was a f****** pain in the neck to get it over to them and I had to explain it over and over again, as no doubt I'll have to in England as well."

As City were transformed from a trophy-less outfit limping to third in Guardiola's first season to the 100-point 2017-18 machine, it is impossible to imagine their players did not become well-versed in the teachings of Juanma Lillo.


This is the pair's first professional union since Guardiola opted to end his playing career in the unlikely location of Culiacan, Mexico, where he travelled to play under Lillo – a coach who become LaLiga's youngest at just 29 with Salamanca in 1995 and one he had long admired.

"There's only one thing that gives or takes away order in a game and that's the ball itself, so I like my players to be in lots of different partnerships but also strung across different areas of the field," Lillo told Perarnau when explaining his preferred playing style.

"If their passing is good, then we'll be moving our rivals all over the pitch and then you’re going to find free men easily because they'll either be forced to break up playing partnerships or string themselves out across the pitch.

"If the players don’t take time to construct play it will be difficult to get the ball to the right places up the pitch and then dominate the opposition."

Sound familiar? Lillo's approach basically amounts to an undiluted and entirely uncompromising version of Guardiola's juego de posicion.

It would be unfair to cast a man of such experience and strong opinions as a 'yes man', but Guardiola is essentially going to his tactical Rosetta Stone for the next phase and possibly last phase of his City career. The 2020-21 season will be the final year of his current contract and the first time he has ever started a fifth consecutive season at the same club.


Vincent Kompany and Xabi Alonso were two of the names linked with the position of number two before Lillo's arrival. There was a common thread to be spotted between those two esteemed players of the modern era and Mikel Arteta, who left City to take the top job at Arsenal in December.

Lillo certainly represents a departure from that thinking. Any younger man appointed would have been lumbered with talk of being "Pep's heir". Does the apparent lack of succession planning suggest Guardiola putting down roots or clearing the ground for a tidy exit? The length of Lillo's contract was not disclosed, but he never tends to hang around anywhere too long.

It also feels like a move in step with the major pivot points in Guardiola's career, which circumstances suggest we have reached. City are set to have their recent domestic dominance ended by a formidable Liverpool team, as they also appeal against a two-year Champions League ban and look at how that might impact any squad refit.

When he took one point from his first two matches in charge of Barcelona, Guardiola was buoyed by Cruyff's blessing and pressed on with a blueprint that secured a LaLiga, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble in 2008-09.

When Bayern's players persuaded their coach to take a more direct approach, only to be picked off and humiliated by Real Madrid in the 2014 Champions League semi-final, he swore 'never again'.

Mocked as a man who did not coach tackles as mid-season hammerings derailed 2016-17 at City, Guardiola played and pressed and passed some more until English football danced to his tune.

In adversity, he tends to double down. In the face of Liverpool's awesome opposition, Lillo's appointment suggests Guardiola's answer is to go Full Pep.

Juanma Lillo has joined Manchester City as assistant coach to boss Pep Guardiola.

Lillo's arrival ends City's search for a number two to replace Mikel Arteta, who left to take on the top job at Arsenal in December, with Rodolfo Borrell stepping up to assume extra duties in the interim.

Former captain Vincent Kompany and ex-Spain midfielder Xabi Alonso were among those linked to the post, although Lillo's appointment brings considerable intrigue given his long association with Guardiola.

The City manager concluded his playing career with a six-month spell under Lillo at Mexican club Dorados in 2006.

Guardiola's biographer Marti Perarnau described Lillo as an influence to rank alongside the late Johan Cruyff when it came to honing the famed playing style he enjoyed considerable success with at Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now City.

"I am delighted to have joined Manchester City’s coaching staff," Lillo said after penning a deal that runs until 2021 – when Guardiola's current contract at the Etihad Stadium expires.

“My relationship with Pep goes back many years and I am thrilled to be joining him as part of this exciting team.

"Manchester City has enjoyed much success over recent seasons and played a brand of beautiful football we have come to expect from this club and its manager.

"It’s a pleasure to become a part of this group and I hope to make an important contribution to the club's success going forwards."

Lillo's most recent post was as head coach of Qingdao Huanghai, where he guided a side featuring City great Yaya Toure to promotion to the Chinese Super League.

His previous job in Asia was not as successful, with his Vissel Kobe team finishing mid-table in the J-League despite recruiting the likes of Andres Iniesta, David Villa and Lukas Podolski.

Lillo came to prominence in the mid-1990s, when he guided minnows Salamanca to LaLiga, becoming the youngest man to lead a team in Spain's top flight, aged just 29.

The last time he worked as a head coach his homeland was a stint in charge of Almeria, which ended with an 8-0 defeat at the hands of Guardiola's Barcelona.

A nomadic coaching career has also seen him serve as number two for Chile and Sevilla under Jorge Sampaoli – like Guardiola, a disciple of Marcelo Bielsa's methods.

City's director of football Txiki Begiristain said: "Juanma's vast experience working across three continents and with some of the most famous names in world football will be an invaluable asset to Pep and his team.

"We look forward to him playing a vital role as we return to football."

City resume their Premier League campaign after the coronavirus shutdown at home to Arteta's Arsenal next week.

They are poised to relinquish their top-flight crown to Liverpool, but still retain hopes of adding their FA Cup and the Champions League to a third consecutive EFL Cup, which they lifted in March.

However, City's future in Europe's top competition beyond 2019-20 is currently being decided, with the Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing their appeal this week against a two-year ban for contravening UEFA's Financial Fair Play regulations.

Spanish coach Juanma Lillo has left Chinese club Qingdao Huanghai amid reports he could join Pep Guardiola's staff at Manchester City.

Lillo's departure was announced on Friday, with the impact of the coronavirus cited as the principal factor behind the decision.

He led Qingdao to promotion into the Chinese Super League last year, but the 2020 top-flight championship has yet to begin due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Former City midfielder Yaya Toure featured in Lillo's team, but now Spanish sport daily Marca claims Lillo is poised to link up with Guardiola at the Etihad Stadium.

Qingdao confirmed 54-year-old Lillo's exit on their website, with the club praising his ""excellent business skills and coaching skills" and his successful transition to Chinese football.

A statement said Lillo's mother had been ill in Spain at the same time as the coronavirus taking hold across the world and "needed urgent care".

The Chinese club said that with uncertainty over when the league would begin, Lillo "feels that he cannot help and support the team's daily training and regular games", and added that an agreement had been reached to part ways.

"From now on, Mr Juanma Lillo will no longer serve as the head coach of Qingdao Huanghai Football Club," the club said. "We thank him for his outstanding contribution to Qingdao football in the past period of time, wish him all the best in his future work and life, and sincerely wish his mother a speedy recovery.

"Regarding the future, Mr Juanma Lillo said he will continue to coach in Europe."

Lillo issued a farewell statement in which he did not mention his future plans but thanked Qingdao for taking him on, expressing the hope China would qualify for the 2022 World Cup.

He said his departure was "due to the impact of the worldwide coronavirus outbreak".

If Lillo does join City, he would take up a role on a coaching staff that lost a significant figure last December when Mikel Arteta left City to become manager of Arsenal.

Lillo and Guardiola are long-time friends, according to Marca. Lillo's list of former clubs includes Real Sociedad, Real Zaragoza, Salamanca, Tenerife, Almeria and Vissel Kobe.

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