A poor start, but Pep deserves patience

A recent colleague of Josep Guardiola provided me with a rare glimpse into his character that might be worth keeping in mind the next time the manager’s credentials are called into debate.

Pep Guardiola

Pep Guardiola Source: Getty Images

“Pep is a madman. An absolute madman. You need to be a little mad to work as hard as he does,” the insider said, shaking his head. “But he is a genius, and there is only one of him. He’s too good to be down for much longer.”

'Down' is being generous. City are out of the UEFA Champions League, made an early exit from the League Cup and just exited the FA Cup at the hands of under-performing Arsenal.  They are currently fourth in the English Premier League but could lose their precious Champions League place on Friday morning if Manchester United win a blockbuster local derby.


It has already been a hugely underwhelming season – and defeat would trigger an avalanche of negative commentary. Not least because of the man in the opposing dugout, Jose Mourinho.

I asked Pep's old colleague if the real Guardiola – the one the press and the public don’t see – would recognise the depth of the issue unfolding at the Etihad this season.

“Make no mistake, Pep will be devastated on the inside. That's why he’s getting so defensive [with the press]. He gets irritated when the players can't or won't do what he asks of them,” he said. “It happened at the start in Germany in 2013. It wasn’t easy there either. There were some issues early on but he worked through them and built a monster.”

So is Guardiola going to ever adjust to England, as he eventually did in the Bundesliga?

“First, there’s an obvious difference – City have five legitimate title rivals and Bayern had one,” he said. “But if he’s given time, Pep will get them. He will work harder than anyone else to find a solution. I can promise you that while everyone else at that club (City) will be in bed, he will be locked away in his video analysis room, taking notes, looking for answers, every single night of the week. His dedication for solutions and his ability to concentrate on such small details is what sets him apart.”

Unfortunately, when you are changing things as dramatically as Guardiola does, there will be pain. Lots of it. He’s not only trying to overhaul one club, he’s trying to overhaul an entire way of thinking – on and off the field – in an environment incredibly resistant to change.

What might makes it harder to comprehend is that things started so brightly. Six straight wins saw them race clear at the top of the Premier League. Even by the start of December, they had only lost once.

However, the seminal, season-defining 2-0 home loss to Chelsea marked the T-intersection for both clubs. Whereas City collapsed, losing three of their next seven games, Chelsea went into overdrive, storming through the Christmas-New Year period.

And while City won all four games in February and early March, three points from four games followed, and all hopes were dashed. Guardiola’s critics, ever lurking in the shadows, couldn’t contain themselves.

Player-turned-pundit Stan Collymore reckoned his first season was worth no more than a “three or four out of ten”.

“There’s no way City should be nervously wondering whether or not they are going to make the top four with the squad and resources they have — and Guardiola has to shoulder the blame for that,” he wrote in the Mirror. “The idea that they’d not win a trophy wasn’t in the script when they hired the Spaniard, and finishing outside of the Champions League places certainly wasn’t either.”

Collymore does make one point that I agree with: Leroy Sane is the only player to have genuinely improved under Guardiola. That's concerning, because improving players has been Guardiola’s trademark.

Sergio Aguero, regardless of what some say, has at least scored 29 goals in all competitions and has been a reliable finisher, even when consigned to the bench after the arrival of Gabriel Jesus. Kevin De Bruyne threatened to explode but has only done so intermittently. It's slim pickings elsewhere.

Too many players just aren’t performing or aren’t good enough to fight for the title. Claudio Bravo, Nicolas Otamendi, Jesus Navas, Gael Clichy, Pablo Zabaleta, Fabian Delph, Fernando, Bacary Sagna and Nolito would fall into one of these two categories. Yaya Toure is a shadow of his former self. All of the above either have been or could be very good players. But these days, nearly enough is not enough.

Guardiola cleaned out the Barcelona dressing room inside his first year and also made tough calls when required at Bayern Munich. He should be ready to do the same again. When he sells some of these fringe players, he’ll increase his hefty budget for the summer, with the owners already committing a reported £250 million to rebuild the squad.

Only then will Guardiola be able to put his stamp on this club – and only then should we be allowed to judge whether it’s been worth it. It's been a slow start, but history suggests he'll get right.

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5 min read
Published 26 April 2017 at 1:17pm
By Sebastian Hassett