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Humble Guardiola a welcome contrast to Mourinho

By Ian Herbert

Published 09/07/2016

New surroundings: Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola meets the media at the Etihad
New surroundings: Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola meets the media at the Etihad

The acclimatisation is underway. Pep Guardiola has already become acquainted with Manchester's 'Iberica' and 'El Gato Negro' Spanish restaurants and there was one of those cultural initiations which come at moments like this.

He wanted to know more about the contents of the gift set he had been handed when he was introduced to the club's fans last Sunday.

It prompted an explanation of Vimto, a product which his new home city gave to the world.

Yet he did not sound like - or claim to be - a man convinced he had all the answers when he arrived to talk yesterday. This is the individual whose presence on the Premier League's managerial landscape has been more anticipated than any other, and yet we saw diffidence, humility, even uncertainty in him.

It was a remarkable foil to what we saw at the start of this week from Jose Mourinho across town.

Mourinho knows this territory like the back of his hand. His acquaintance with the Premier League began fully 12 years ago. Yet it was he who armed himself against potential critics by producing that bizarre list of players he has 'developed'.

Guardiola might be just starting out in his new landscape but he didn't require props. The first question of his first press conference as City manager included a reminder of how he told Barcelona's supporters to "fasten your seatbelts" when he took over at the club eight years ago.

So he used that as a device for some self-effacement. He replied: "It's our first time here. Fasten your seatbelt for the other side of the car."

The generally accepted managerial custom is to bang a drum and proclaim that there will be trophies and glory, though Guardiola was so far removed from such proclamations that he did not offer an answer to the questions of where City might be three years from now. He said: "It depends on what happens."

This was not false modesty. Guardiola looked mildly nervous when proceedings began in front of so many cameras. He has never been the showman like Mourinho. When he later sat down to talk more intimately in a side room, he made it clear that he knows what he is up against.

It was here, for example, that he could address the question of Mourinho's head start on him.

"In the Premier League, yes. He has coached here for six or seven years," Guardiola said.

There was a sense in much of the Spaniard's discussion that he knows the Premier League can't be bent to his style of football in quite the same way as La Liga and the Bundesliga.

His most significant words came in that side room, where he observed that he had not, "come here to think I can change the mentality or culture of England".

The course of the conversation shifted between Guardiola suggesting that players would fit with his style and acknowledging that he must fit with the environment he now occupies.

He is offering the diplomatic answers where Mourinho is concerned, though he was honest enough to say, in response to the question that the two of them might dine together, that a chance encounter at a restaurant was as good as it would get.

He said: "It will happen naturally. One day I will arrive and he will be there. It will be, 'Hi, how are you?' He will say, 'hi' as well.

"I don't need two months to know here will be different. When I see a guy who played here, they say, 'It's tough. It's tough'. I don't know why. That's what I want to discover."

There were a striking number of references - five - to what the effects of a City setback would be. "I know when it's not going well you are not going to help us," he said to one journalist. "Sometimes when we are close friends and we play badly you have to say, 'Oh, this team played bad'. And I'm disappointed. That's why it's better to be a little bit far away. You do your job freely and I can do mine."

Of course, Mourinho's approach is more binary - charm, abuse and nothing in between. The trade-off for his quotable one-liners is an expectation that there will be no criticism. Set against that perspective, Guardiola's style was actually welcome.

No certainties, then. No sound bites. No commitment to City for life. Just a man who has a challenge and is not entirely sure how he will approach it, yet. Whatever the outcome, Guardiola and his understated intelligence are a liberating force amid the Premier League noise, which so frequently signifies nothing.

Belfast Telegraph

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