Things haven’t gone to plan for Pep Guardiola’s first season in charge at Manchester City, but it seems he expected this would be the case from the beginning.
Hands up if you’ve been put into a difficult situation in work and not received any credit for digging yourself out? Ok, too easy, how about if this has happened to you just this week? Imagine being Pep Guardiola right now. Yes, he’s rich, but leave the financial factor aside because he probably still can’t afford a season ticket for Arsenal.
In his inaugural season at the helm of Manchester City, he has no trophies (for the first year in his career), no fullbacks and no hair. What he does have, is the legacy of being among the best coaches in the history of the sport and a boatload of problems.
Said difficulties were highlighted earlier this week in Spanish Paper La Nacion. Featuring input from Guardiola confident Marti Perarnau, the article would state that the current problems faced by City were predicted by Pep as early as April 2016 and he had already resigned himself to failure to reach the level, in the Champions League at least, set by his predecessor Manuel Pellegrini.
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What this means is, essentially, despite the pomp and ceremony of his arrival to the Etihad, Pep knew all along that he was in for a season of disappointment. It makes sense, as Guardiola took pains to distance himself from any talk of success when the Blues managed 10 league wins in a row, a club record, early on. The hard times were coming, he said. And come, they did.
It seems to me that Guardiola saw early on the whole he had been placed in but knew there was little he could do but bide his time to dig out, taking the blows to his credibility along with it. Perarnau alludes to as much. It seems that, despite City planning for Pep’s arrival since 2013, the club fell asleep at the wheel when it came to actually preparing for his arrival.
Key signings were not made, Perarnau identifies Leonardo Bonucci and Alex Sandro as two examples, and the club failed to replace them with suitable candidates that were both skilled and could act as a leader in dressing room. Indeed, Perarnau points out that City were overly reliant on star striker Sergio Aguero to step up to the mark in this regard, however this is completely at odds with his personality and it simply failed to materialise.
In short, Pep’s been sold a pup. For fullbacks he had the unenviable task to try to adapt Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna, both long in the tooth, to his very unique and technical style of football. When that didn’t work out, needs must, converting Jesus Navas, he of 100 professional football matches without a goal, to Right Back and hope for the best. The spine of his squad he inherited from his predecessor’s predecessor and the time, effort and energy required to get them up to snuff would all exceed the length of time on their respective contracts.
If all that is a bit depressing for your average Blue, then put down the whisky bottle and consider this: Perarnau believes the Guardiola project won’t be well underway until 2018 at the earliest. Given Manchester City are in the middle of a rebrand, have finally acquired the manager they’ve been after since he became Barcelona’s most successful ever and look set to replace at least 6 first team players in a major squad refresh, another two seasons to reap the benefits doesn’t seem so outlandish.
That said, for Pep, only the best is good enough and serious improvement across the board, in both performances and results, would be absolutely essential for the train to stay on the tracks next season. Key performers, Aguero among them, need to step up or can expect to sit down. Guardiola too needs to work with what he’s got, as he’s had to do this season also, and try to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear in the meantime. More digging seems all but inevitable. Oh well, at least there’s always the money.