Belfast Telegraph

Creaking Manchester City a whole new hurdle for Pep Guardiola

By Ian Herbert

The irony of it all was that after suffering the indignity of answering the "Is Pep Coming?" question so often in the past six weeks, no one decided to ask Manuel Pellegrini on the day when he actually wanted it out there that he would be on his way on June 30.

So after an indication that he had "something to say," at the end of a sparsely attended press conference convened to discuss tonight's match at Sunderland, Pellegrini took it upon himself to break the worst-kept secret in football.

The last of the questions he fielded as the permanent Manchester City manager was more telling than any which might have been designed to provoke a conversation about departing Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola, though.

It went along the lines of: "Are you concerned you've not won two Premier League games in a row since mid-October?" and to be fair, he did admit that an improvement was necessary. It certainly is.

Beyond the glitter and anticipation attached to City's thrilling and exceptional coup in landing the most celebrated manager on the planet, though, there is the not insignificant question of the rebuilding job required of Guardiola.

It is a very different landscape to the one Ferran Soriano, the City chief executive, surveyed when he last hired the Catalonian, as his Barcelona manager in 2008.

Back then, it was the 37-year-old Guardiola's willingness to keep things just as they were that most impressed the Nou Camp senior management.

"It was Josep's good judgment to take the team left by (Frank) Rijkaard, make only a few changes to it, and regain the commitment of very talented players so that the club could go on to win several titles in the following season," Soriano reflected years later.

It won't be the same this time. This is a creaking squad Guardiola takes over. Its spine was established as far back as Roberto Mancini's tenure and two of the core components - Vincent Kompany and Yaya Touré - increasingly seem past their best.

The ankle of David Silva, another of that extraordinarily well-judged sequence of signatures from that era, has become a frequent worry and the dependency on Sergio Aguero is more acute than ever.

Reshaping will be necessary. And though City's player recruitment system, based on the Barcelona model Guardiola knew so intimately, is the most enlightened in the Premier League - problem positions agreed months ahead with four or five targets for each one - the acquisitions have not always delivered immediate dividends.

Eliaquim Mangala, Nicolas Otamendi, Jesus Navas and Wilfried Bony only go to prove as much. You also wonder where the route back is for Samir Nasri, omitted from City's Champions League squad after three months out with hamstring trouble.

The logic behind Nasri's exclusion from the group who face Dynamo Kiev, to accommodate Kelechi Iheanacho, as outlined by Pellegrini yesterday, underlined the perennial anxieties attached to Aguero, even though he has an uninterrupted month of football behind him now.

"We need Kelechi, because with Wilfried Bony injured we cannot afford any risks if Kun (Aguero) is injured," the Chilean said.

Guardiola, whose arrival on these shores has been more talked about than any other, will also find the expectations amplified by this early announcement - however much anticipated it had been.

Players have experienced the same when their names have been trailed months before their signing. The weight of anticipation will be monumental by the time he - prophet, renaissance man and football genius - actually drives up the Ashton New Road.

It will be Jurgen Klopp and Liverpool to the power of 10 - and few untested Premier League managers have been proclaimed such a saviour as the German was ahead of an English baptism which revealed the complexity and level of difficulty domestic football represents.

There is certainly much for Guardiola to savour, too. In Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling this season, there have been more than enough signs that City invested incredibly well.

Both look like the nexus of a new incarnation, while Aguero still has five years in him and Joe Hart is as good a goalkeeper as an incoming manager could wish for.

City are also through the hard yards of their "accelerated spending" now, having reached Europe's top table. They break even - the irony being that the credibility of financial fair play was shot when its creator, Michel Platini, was so disgraced.

They have a player of their own, too, in 19-year-old striker Iheanacho: an incredibly serious prospect. Those who know City best have been telling us that much since the 2014-15 pre-season tour.

Agents talk about the attraction attached to this club for young prospects. "They do have a pedigree now. The interaction with them is excellent," said one.

The reason why Soriano judged Guardiola to be way ahead of Jose Mourinho when the two men were competing for the Barca job was the coach's preference for working with a small squad with "stable hierarchies and not a lot of internal competition."

Guardiola chose "to work with 14 or 15 players that have his total confidence," Soriano wrote.

Well, that's a happy consequence when the group happens to have Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets in their number. It is a materially different kind of challenge this time. But whoever said that cracking England was going to be easy?

Guardiola's pedigree managerial record


July 2008 – June 2012

G 247 W 179 D 47 L 21

Win ratio: 72.47%

2008-09 Guided Barca to a treble in his first season.

Won La Liga, beat Athletic Bilbao in the Copa del Rey final and beat Manchester United 2-0 in the Champions League final.

2009-10 Won a second successive league title with a record 99 points – and one defeat.

2010-11 In his third campaign, Barca went on a 23-match unbeaten run on the road and won the league again. Beat United again in the Champions League final, 3-1 at Wembley.

2011-12 Reached a record-equalling fifth consecutive Champions League semi-final.

Bayern Munich

June 2013 – present

G 137 W 105 D 15 L 17

Win ratio: 77%

2013-14 In his first season, Bayern won the Bundesliga and the German Cup.

2014-15 Won the league again.

2015-16 Bayern are on track for a record fourth consecutive Bundesliga title this season.

10 facts about Pep

1. As a youngster doing ball-boy duties, Guardiola was once refused an autograph by Michel Platini.

2. Guardiola is an art lover, and spent much of his sabbatical in New York - after leaving Barcelona - around the galleries of the Big Apple.

3. Guardiola’s clothing has made headlines in the past with smart suits and even t-shirts in press conferences.

4. Speaking of clothes, Guardiola’s relationship with wife Cristina Serra grew around the latter’s family clothes shop in Manresa, in Spain’s north-east.

5. A keen golfer, Guardiola attended the 2012 ‘Miracle in Medinah’ on the invitation of Europe’s Ryder Cup captain and compatriot Jose Maria Olazabal.

6. Aside from his playing career in Europe, Guardiola spent time with Al Ahly of Qatar and then Dorados de Sinaloa of Mexico, which proved his swansong.

7. Guardiola does not conduct one-on-one interviews - only press conferences.

8. Guardiola is from the small Catalan town of Santpedor and the home football club has named their ground after him.

9. The municipal council also named Guardiola their “favourite son of the town” in October 2009.

10. When preparing for life in Germany, Guardiola spent long hours with a German teacher learning the language.

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