WHEN the manager of one of the world’s richest clubs says his team may not be able to compete with its peers, it is hard to have real sympathy with him. Success and failure are all relative and you don’t have to travel far from Manchester City’s glittering campus to find a town that saw its club fail to overcome its problems. How Bury fans were thinking when Pep Guardiola bemoaned City’s lack of competitiveness is pretty easy to guess. “Poor little rich kid.”
Admittedly, Guardiola, in 2019-20, may never have had it so bad as a manager. He’s not used to failure, if being in the top three and still in the UEFA Champions League, League Cup and FA Cup can ever be deemed so. Guardiola, since being appointed as Barcelona manager in 2008, has never lost more than six league defeats in a season. He has lost four in 16 games in 2019-20.
Guardiola’s body language has not been good recently, particularly when discussing refereeing decisions and VAR. City’s form has been patchy this season and their defence, at times, has been woeful. Some have blamed the departure of Vincent Kompany, but that’s ridiculous, Kompany only played 39% of all league games during Guardiola’s time at the club. He may be missed as a person, as an influence, and in the dressing room, but he was scarcely a vital component on the pitch during the last three years.
City’s team may be on the brink of change. David Silva is 33, Sergio Agüero 31 and Fernandinho 34. These three players have been pivotal figures in the recent history of the club. City have younger players, but perhaps the team that won five in six domestic trophies over the past two seasons is past its best?
Guardiola said City might not be able to compete with the best teams in Europe and that the club would have to “accept that reality”. This may have been an attempt to write off the title race, which is looking beyond City after their defeat against Manchester United left them 14 points behind leaders Liverpool. Suddenly, Guardiola is bracketing United with Liverpool, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus – strange, given the type of campaign their cross-town rivals have experienced. He kept talking about the need to improve.
Undoubtedly, City will throw more money at restocking their squad, but rumours are growing that Guardiola is ready to pack his bags, and one of his former clubs, Barcelona, is keen to re-hire the man who won two UEFA Champions League in 2009 and 2011.
Have City got a genuine problem at the moment, one that goes beyond simply having a key defender missing? There could be motivational issues – how do you keep raising a team that wins everything on the domestic front? Is Guardiola still as pumped-up as he was three years ago?
This is a man who can write his own cheque, pick his own club. There’s not a club in the world who wouldn’t want Guardiola if he suddenly became available. But he has unfinished business at City – the Champions League, which he has not won for more than eight years.
It is possible City will start spending again on their squad even though they will almost certainly relinquish their crown to Liverpool this summer. The difference between the two clubs was one point last season and since then, Liverpool have been highly motivated and have accelerated forward while City were still polishing their trophies. Liverpool look hungrier and on a mission.
There are also stories that City are looking at possible replacements for Pep should he decide to move on – he is a man with his own mind and sense of destiny. He was Barcelona’s manager for four seasons (seven trophies), Bayern for three (five) and City for four (five). There’s a pattern and if that trend continues, he will be looking for his next challenge.
However, there’s plenty to play for and City are well placed to life the Champions League come May 2020. Pep may have been just managing the enormous expectations at the Etihad. On the other hand, he may have been signalling the end of an era – or the start of another.