The Pep Perspective
Are Manchester City fans of the glass ‘half empty’ or ‘half full’ persuasion?
On May 13th, 2012 they were encouraged to ‘...drink it in’ at 93:20 showing on the clock, as Sergio Aguero swept City to a tumultuous grand finale and a first top tier title in 44 years.
Now, 53 months on, another Premier League crown and two League Cup trophies later, City have a man universally acknowledged as THE best manager in football at the helm.
A club – mockingly and ridiculously dismissed by knuckle-dragging Neanderthals as having ‘no history’ – is on the cusp of a glorious Guardiola-inspired era where the objective is to rule not only English football, but the European game as a whole.
10 straight wins spread over three competitions, had many City fans not only feeling ‘Glad All Over’ but even a tad giddy, at the heights being scaled.
The mischievous media went into speculative overdrive; ‘Would City lose a single game all season?’ ‘Could they win the Premier League by Easter?’ ‘Could Pep win the Champions League at his first attempt with City?’
But behind the hyperbole lay a veil of deceit woven by the pernicious press – the veneer purporting to praise and eulogize Pep – hid the dagger of true intent.
With malice aforethought, the so-called pundits were slavering at the prospect of stabbing City’s Catalan Commander-In-Chief between the shoulders, at the first sign of adversity.
The bile and venom has spewed out in the wake of City’s 4-0 defeat at the Nou Camp, ironically a game where master tactician Guardiola’s gameplan was actually working, even at 1-0 down, following Fernandinho’s unfortunate slip and Lionel Messi’s opening goal.
If you’re of the ‘glass half empty’ school, then City were battered by Barcelona, Claudio ‘The Clown’ Bravo is the worst keeper in City’s history (pre-supposing we have one) and Pep completely lost the plot, leaving Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany out of his starting line-up.
The merchants of doom would also question why City don’t practice penalty-taking in training, and maintain that all would’ve been hunky dory had that nasty Guardiola not jettisoned Joe Hart with unseemly haste.
God forbid, some fans with short memories were even lamenting the lack of Yaya Toure, when first Kevin De Bruyne and then Aguero missed spot kicks against Everton.
True, Toure has never missed a penalty in City’s colours, but neither has he bust a gut or shown himself to be a ‘team player’ for the best part of two seasons…and that’s before we even mention his agent and ‘mouthpiece’ – slime-ball Dimitri Seluk!
But for those Blues who view their vessels as 50% full, they see a team that is very much ‘work in progress’, sitting aloft the Premier League, still odds on to progress to the Champions League knockout stage, and in a strong position to take down Manchester United for a second time this season, this time in defence of City’s League Cup title.
It’s now four games without a win – shock horror – but it’s utterly laughable to say, as some of City detractors would have us believe, that Pep has somehow ‘ been found out’ and his team ‘rumbled’.
For those who like a good laugh, they should go and watch ‘Dad’s Army’ in which the advice of ‘Don’t Panic Captain Mainwaring’ from the film’s Lance Corporal Jones, is equally well applied from Pep to the City faithful.
It was wonderful to see Pep fighting fire with a veritable inferno at his pre-match Friday press conference, when asked if he had to change his style of play now that he’s in England.
“I think about changing the way I play but the solution is not better than what I believe. In seven years I won 21 titles, three titles per year playing in that way. I am not going to change.” Cue a journalist shot down in flames.
With speculation surrounding the futures of Aguero and Kompany – sparked by the media itself – gathering momentum, Pep, displayed integrity and transparency when he said: “The next time you give your opinion and decide Sergio is not in my plans you can call me.
“I appreciate him as a football player and as a man. When Sergio decides to leave Manchester City it will be his decision.”
Pep reiterated Aguero was omitted at Barcelona for tactical reasons, to give City an extra midfielder. Kompany was not ‘perfectly fit’ and not even risked on the bench.
He was quick to acknowledge Bravo’s error saying; “I know from the beginning when Claudio Bravo makes a mistake, he will be on the front page…” but, tellingly, the City boss still added that Bravo’s decision to pass the ball was correct, albeit the execution was lousy.
The bitter irony of the 4-0 defeat – City’s fifth consecutive, and worst numerical, loss to the Catalans in the Champions League – was that for a long period it was their best performance against Messi, Neymar, Suarez & Co.
It sounds illogical, but with Alba and Pique going off with first half injuries, it’s a contest City could and should have won.
Guardiola’s tactics were spot on, but Bravo’s dismissal – the fourth City player sent off in the five matches against Barca – kicked any realistic hopes into touch.
If lessons have been learnt, City can lay their nemesis to rest on November 1st in the return leg, but not by a similar four goal margin.
Any win would bolster City’s grip on second place in Group C, but Barcelona’s present five points and 12 goal advantage, renders thoughts of topping the table delusional.
Pep rightly plays down any notion that he was going to sweep the board in his first season in the world’s most competitive domestic league.
It’s not defeatism – far from it – just pragmatism, from a man who resolutely refuses to compromise his football principles. It’s the essence of a man who is a proven winner and who knows he’ll do likewise in England.
Guardiola is refreshingly honest – staggeringly so – he doesn’t seek fatuous excuses or spin noxious tales to deflect blame.
He praised Spurs after Mauricio Pochettino’s team deservedly beat City 2-0.
Equally he recognised the worth of Ronald Koeman’s comments after Everton escaped with a 1-1 draw.
The Dutchman said City were a ‘fantastic’ team and the best he’d ever come up against in his managerial career.
And the beauty of it all is City can only get better.
Pep inherited a pretty pedestrian and disheartened group of players who had floundered and underachieved with Manuel Pellegrini.
He’s only had one transfer window so far but already he has injected youth, class and vibrancy in the shape of John Stones, Leroy Sane and Ilkay Gundogan, with Gabriel Jesus on the way in January.
Nolito’s bagged six goals and, despite the incessant sniping, Bravo will settle and prove an effective keeper in Pep’s ‘play out from the back’ style.
Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne are hitting new peaks in performance, even Aleksander Kolarov looked awesome in August and most of September, but not so much in October!
The defensive frailties are clear to see with a lack of pace a clear and present danger to any immediate trophy ambitions.
Sagna will be 34 years old in February, Zabaleta 32 in January, Kolarov 31 in November, whereas Clichy hit 31 last July – they won’t be at City for much longer, but it’d be too cruel to mention Dad’s Army again.
And then there’s the omnipresent topic of City’s Captain Fantastic Kompany,
conceivably the best centre back in the world, but forever seemingly injured. Even if Vincent somehow regains and sustains a good level of top flight fitness, a new central defender is a must.
Pep loves to nurture young talent so the likes of Pablo Maffeo, Angelino, Tosin Adarabioyo and Cameron Humphreys-Grant will get a look in, but that won’t preclude big money signings in defence.
There’s a colloquial American phrase ‘The whole nine yards’ which loosely means ‘everything’ or the ‘full extent of something’. Pep is going the distance at City with success virtually guaranteed in his initial three-years and, who knows, hopefully much longer stay at the Etihad.
It could come that bit sooner if his star players master the art of penalty shooting from 12 yards – never mind nine yards – ensuring City win plenty of ‘cups’ and the glasses of all Blues are full to overflowing.
A nice case of carry on drinking it in!
By David Walker
Dedicated to a beautiful baby blue – Eva Leigh Welland who entered the world on 21st October 2016 – and her loving parents Sarah & Lee.