Pep talk may be idle gossip

THE PROSPECT of Pep Guardiola leaving Manchester City seems rather remote, but the media is whipping-up a story that the enigmatic Spaniard is on the brink of leaving the Etihad for a stint as head coach at Juventus.

The Guardian claimed that Pep has the “four year itch” and is ready to move on. The Waldorf and Statler’s of the football world continue to mutter about City’s “decline” this season, even though they could end up as Champions League winners and retain both the Football League Cup and FA Cup. Guardiola is unhappy, others insist, because his intense regime is unable to accept “failure”. Paul Merson, for example, said Pep has “been found out”, a harsh and contentious assessment of a man who has won five of the last six domestic prizes in England. The fact is, Guardiola and City have more competition this season in the form of Klopp and Liverpool.

It could just be that City’s squad is lacking some motivation after almost sweeping the board in 2017-18 and 2018-19. This could be their Champions League season – little wonder that Guardiola has said the forthcoming round of 16 tie with Real Madrid represents his biggest challenge as City coach. There’s a lot riding on this clash.

The media are calling Juventus’s bid to lure Pep to Turin as an audacious move. Sam Allardyce, talking to the Daily Mail, said Pep will “revolutionise Serie A” and rather lazily labels the Italian league “negative”, which shows that Big Sam is still stuck in the 1970s. Serie A has long moved on from its Catenaccio-infused culture. Nevertheless, Guardiola would shake things up in Milan, Turin, Rome and Naples!

This all spells bad news for Maurizio Sarri, who inherited an ageing team and Cristiano Ronaldo. La Repubblica is calling for “Sarri out, Allegri in”, hoping for the return of the club’s previous coach who departed at the end of 2018-19. Forbes says that Juve’s confidence is on the brink of draining, while Tuttosport urges Sarri to “wake up”.

Juventus have real competition this season, something that has been rather limited over the past eight years. Inter are top and Lazio in third, which promises to make the next few months very interesting in Italy. It’s not such good news for Juventus who have allowed their team to go a little stale, and that’s not necessarily Sarri’s fault. Their answer is hiring Pep and also, if the tap room talk is anything to go by, signing Lionel Messi. While the little Argentinian is still brilliant, he is also 32. At present, Juve need some younger legs, but they have spotted a weakness in the Barca armoury in that Messi has fallen out with director of football Eric Abidal after the former French international blamed players for the team’s under performance. Messi, apparently, felt Abidal should be sacked, but Barca have stuck with him.

Guardiola is coming to the end of his fourth season with Manchester City. It may be wishful thinking on the part of rivals that he may decide to go in the summer, but much will hang on the outcome of the Champions League campaign. Guardiola has never managed longer than four years at any one club, but he will be only too aware that he hasn’t won the UEFA Champions League since 2011 – the greatest manager of his age has not even reached the final in that period. Jorge Valdano, told Marca that, “Pep Guardiola has had the biggest influence on World Football.” But on the other hand, The Telegraph asked the question, “Does greatness have a time limit?”.


Photo: PA

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