Pep Guardiola is going to finish the season trophy-less. That’s the story in Spain, not that Manchester City are going to finish the season with little to show for huge investment and the recruitment of arguably the world’s best manager.
There’s almost a Catalan slant that Manchester City and English football have let Guardiola down. Here’s a man who doesn’t deserve to finish a season trophy-less, and yet he’s having to go through this indignity for the greater good.
In their Wednesday edition Catalan newspaper Sport have an article on Guardiola’s troubles and, naturally, begin by explaining that managers like Manchester United’s Jose Mourinho can win trophies with ugly football… but that just won’t do for Guardiola.
Mourinho has won the EFL Cup in his first Manchester United season, and his side have a good chance of picking up the Europa League trophy too.
But that’s not what really counts, as Sport explain: ‘On the other side of the scale (to Jose Mourinho) we have Pep Guardiola, respected, admired and rewarded for his non-negotiable reliance on possession of the ball, extreme play, offensive football and the pursuit of excellence.
‘There is an unquestionable truth: City is the team that plays the best football in England (Qué? Tottenham?) and that is a value in itself. Guardiola will not change his way of understanding the sport to win a title.’
Hurrah! Manchester City can add principles to their trophy cabinet this season as Manchester United try and accept the EFL Cup as more than the half embarrassment they used to see it as.
But if Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United were able to push Pep Guardiola’s protectors of football out of the top four, then the former Barca boss can have all the principles he wants… his first season will have been a huge failure.
It’s already a failure, but no Champions League next season would be a further blow. The same goes for Mourinho, if he misses out on top four then he’s failed in the league, but at least he’ll have a trophy or two, and maybe CL qualification anyway, to wave around.
Next season will almost undoubtedly be different, but that doesn’t necessarily change the failure of the current one. The Spanish, particularly Catalan, reflex to protect Guardiola is understandable even if sometimes, like with Sport today, a little over the top.
It’s ok to question Guardiola. It doesn’t mean you think Wetherspoons is a restaurant, that you voted Brexit, holiday in Benidorm, believe Nandos is exotic, and wouldn’t know a fine wine if it nudged past the Lambrini and made its way to your lips.
There hasn’t been a philistines of football reaction to Guardiola, quite the opposite, even if some Manchester City fans would like to claim otherwise.
Guardiola was welcomed with open arms. An English self loathing has built up over the years in a typically ham fisted attempt to dismiss, and yet probably encourage, the elements of society which embarrass us most.
We English accept that we’re probably shit as a nation at most things we enjoy, Olympic success is pretty uncomfortable and can’t be enjoyed without a comforting reminder that we’re clueless at the national game.
A Catalan genius coming in to save us was welcomed. That he’d deem our gloomy and backward land a place worthy of his talents was cherished.
Everyone wanted Pep, including many Manchester United supporters. Until it became abundantly obvious Guardiola was going to Manchester City, fans of other big clubs wished their side would be the chosen one.
Rarely, perhaps not ever, has a football manager been welcomed to a country with such enthusiasm. Even the circus of his Manchester City presentation was largely ignored, because it was Pep, so it was ok. And anyway, he managed to make the cringeworthy seem classy.
Of course there were people who wanted him to fail, there’s always a desire for a big shot getting a big job to fall flat on their face, whatever their nationality, and football rivalry makes the feeling greater. The desire for Mourinho to fail was probably stronger, given the Premier League enemies he’s built up.
Just as Mourinho’s season and struggles with certain players shouldn’t be repackaged as a masterclass of man-management, Guardiola’s failure to achieve what was expected can’t be alternatively presented as a small victory for the art of the game.